Weather service seeks volunteer spotters - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Weather service seeks volunteer spotters

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Posted: Saturday, March 14, 2009 8:16 pm | Updated: 12:35 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Violent monsoons have a way of seizing people’s attention, like it or not, so why not make yourself useful while you’re watching?

The National Weather Service is seeking volunteers to monitor those storms, and then report what’s going on. With these spotters’ help, the agency can better issue warnings to protect lives and property.

The first spotter training session of 2009 will be held Wednesday in Gilbert. Over the coming weeks, other sessions will be held in the East Valley.

Ken Walters, the warning coordinator meteorologist at the weather service’s office in Phoenix, said spotters are necessary because, for one reason, radar can reveal what’s happening thousands of feet in the sky but not on the ground.

“We need spotters to be our extra set of eyes at the surface,” Walters said. “It’s a vital role.”

When severe weather is expected, the weather service will provide a heads-up to its network of spotters. And when that weather turns nasty, be it a blinding dust storm or a torrential downpour creating a flash flood, spotters on the scene report to the weather service what they’re witnessing.

No only do the reports help Walters and his colleagues issue timely warnings, he said, but the spotters’ data often is used long after the event by emergency management officials and insurance companies.

Currently, Walters’ network has about 800 spotters throughout his office’s forecast area, which stretches from southern Gila County into southeast California. All but a few dozen are located in the Valley.

“We value spotters everywhere in our area of responsibility – but we especially value ones in the lesser populated areas, the more far-flung locations,” Walters said.

Near the East Valley, Walters said he would like more spotters in northern Pinal County, Coolidge and Florence.

The training classes are two hours, and Walters said volunteers will learn what to look out for and how to report, via phone, e-mail or ham radio, what’s going on.

Severe weather spotter training

7 p.m. Wednesday: Gilbert Fire Department Administration, 85 E. Civic Center Drive; registration required through email ( or phone (480-503-6142).

7 p.m. April 20: Tempe Fire Training Facility; 1340 E. University Drive.

10 a.m., May 29: University Center (1100 Building); 1100 E. University Drive, Suite 106, Tempe; registration required through e-mail (

6:30 p.m., June 1: Chandler Fire Training Center, 3550 S. Dobson Road; registration required through sign-up at or by phone (Loretta Warren-Ellis at 480-782-2116; when leaving a message, provide name, including spelling, e-mail address and telephone number).

TBA: Apache Junction, Florence, Mesa and Phoenix; dates and locations to be announced at

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