National Weather Service offers storm spotting class Thursday

No registration necessary, free to join

The National Weather Service is offering storm-spotter training this Thursday.

According to statistics from the National Weather Service, there were roughly 500 deaths in the United States related in severe weather in 2015.

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service in La Crosse said it’s critical to have trained eyes in the sky when severe weather strikes.

Kevin Holcomb lives for the thrills of storm spotting.

“It started back in 2011, when the tornado came through La Crosse,” Holcomb said. “Ever since then I’ve been interested and wanted to get into it.”

Out in the field, Holcomb goes by his federal amateur radio call sign, “KC9ZGD,” reporting back observations to the National Weather Service.

“We’re looking for things like wind damage, large hail, tornado spotting. Sometimes in the winter we’ll be looking for snowfall reports, blizzard conditions, you name it,” said Dave Lawrence of the National Weather Service. “If it’s severe weather, we’re pretty much looking for it.”

Meteorologists said new technology is improving forecasting every day, but having spotters near the storm can be just as important.

“We can see a lot of things in the mid-levels of storms, but we have to know what’s going on at the ground, and those spotters are our eyes and ears on the ground to correlate what we see on the radar with what’s happening where people live,” Lawrence said.

The National Weather Service said anyone is welcome to their storm-spotting class Thursday.

“There’s a lot of folks that pay attention to the weather on a routine basis. Those folks are typically the ones that will come to these classes, although everyone is welcome,” Lawrence said. “We’re just going to give them about an hour and a half instruction as to what to look for, and then report that back to us in real time, if possible.”

For Holcomb, storm spotting is not just about fulfilling a passion, it’s about keeping the community safe.

“It’s a good way to protect the community. I’d like to know if something is coming,” Holcomb said. “Just helping them get … away from a dangerous situation if it comes to that.”

The class is this Thursday, at the Marycrest Auditorium at Mayo Clinic Health System at 6:30 p.m.

No registration is necessary, and the class is free of charge.