LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) – Teachers, parents, even your next door neighbor could be the best defense when a storm hits East Texas.
Along with first responders, unpaid volunteers called the SKYWARN storm spotters are helping the National Weather Service. They are the first line of defense against severe weather, trained by the National Weather Service.
"We train them on what to look for and how to identify certain features in storms so they can relay that information back to us and use it in our actual warning program," said Keith Stellman, Warning and Coordination Meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Shreveport.
East Texas packed Lufkin City Hall eager to become certified storm spotters. Anyone can become a storm spotter. Volunteers include fire and police personnel, dispatchers, EMS, workers and concerned citizens.
"Weather changes so easily and so quickly. to be prepared for what might come is good for anyone and everyone," said Jeanie Miles, Emergency Service Manager with the Red Cross.
Another critical part of the SKYWARN program, HAM radio operators like Sgt. Randy Ware.
"If communication gets knocked out, we have radios where we can talk around the county, you know locally, statewide," said Ware.
When a disaster hits, spotters are trained to properly recognize storms.
"They teach people how to identify wall clouds, shelf clouds, how to identify hail sizes, what to look for when tornadoes begin spinning up," said Stellman.
The program has been around since the 70's but after Hurricane Rita officials started pushing for more education.
"It's been an effort on the county's part and also the city's part to work together to better prepare the community," Angelina County Emergency Management Coordinator, Ricky Conner.
It's an important step in keeping local communities safer.
"We have to rely on people telling us what's going on because there are limitations to the technologies we use. People in the field are vital to every piece of the warning process," said Stellman.
Saving time and hopefully lives.
The SKYWARN program does not teach people to be storm chasers. Anyone with an interest in public service and access to communication can become a storm spotter.