Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Storm spotters keep eyes on the skies

CLOVIS — Head in the clouds? Dreaming of dew? Riding on the storm? If so, the National Weather Service might have just the volunteer position for you.

Tonight an NWS meteorologist from Albuquerque will lead a “Skywarn Spotter Training Class” from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Clovis-Carver Public Library, part of an annual push for volunteers in advance of the spring severe weather season.

The training covers “basics about severe weather including thunder storms, flash flooding, how to recognize down-burst winds, spot tornados and measure hail size,” said NWS Meteorologist Brian Guyer.

The class will end with a quiz and the newly credentialed volunteers will be given contact information to the state’s main NWS office, to which they will report essential weather information when conditions in eastern New Mexico demand it.

“So they’re basically giving the right names of the clouds, right names of the features and other information,” said State Climatologist Dave DuBois. “And that goes directly to NWS to help them be the eyes, ears and sometimes even the nose of (meteorologists) on the ground.”

There are almost 100 such trained volunteers on file in Curry County and about 50 in Roosevelt County, said Guyer, but those numbers may still include participants who have left the area or otherwise become inactive. Still, many of the skills are transferable from one region or state to another.

“The information that the spotters provide the National Weather Service is really critical information because a lot of times we don’t have an observation in an area where there is a severe thunderstorm,” Guyer said, noting the information can help forecasters make better predictions about developing weather events and also can help to corroborate radar data.

In tandem with the Skywarn is a similar training for volunteers with the state’s “Community Collaborative Rain Hail & Snow Network,” typically abbreviated as “CoCoRaHS.”

Whereas a Skywarn citizen volunteer reports information during severe weather, a CoCoRaHS volunteer provides daily data on moisture, even when there doesn’t seem to be much to share.

“It’s a precipitation program,” said DuBois, who is also the state coordinator for CoCoRaHS, which started as a grass-roots non-profit in Fort Collins, Colorado and expanded to New Mexico in 2005.

“You’re looking at your gauge every morning. It’s actually really easy for us in New Mexico most of the time, because it’s usually zero. But zero is data. If it’s successive weeks of zero, we use that information to help us gauge drought.”

Most of the training this evening will be for Skywarn, but a later section in the program will also train volunteers on measurement standards in the event of hail or snow.

“If and when it does (precipitate), those are the people who are sort of the front line for getting precipitation data, because it’s far and few between National Weather Service sites,” DuBois said.

Statewide there are 237 volunteers on file for CoCoRaHS, but those in Curry and Roosevelt counties are still in the single digits, he noted.

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