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Roger Erickson, warning coordinator for the National Weather Service’s Lake Charles Office, speaks during a SKYWARN training class for weather spotters at the Port of Morgan City’s Emergency Operations Center.


By ZACHARY FITZGERALD
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Meteorologists have full-time jobs watching and forecasting potentially hazardous weather. But they still need help from volunteers known as spotters.

The National Weather Service’s Lake Charles Office, Port of Morgan City and St. Mary Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness hosted a SKYWARN training class Monday to show people how to spot and report severe weather.

Roger Erickson, warning coordinator for the Lake Charles office, led the class. Erickson emphasized the importance of people reporting weather events they see, because there are some things, such as specific local damage, officials won’t know about unless they’re reported.

But Erickson also stressed the need for weather spotters to be safe and not put themselves in harm’s way.

“This is not a storm-chaser training class,” he said. “Stay where you’re at. Stay in a safe spot. When the storm’s passed, let us know what happened in your area.”

As a storm approaches, a wall cloud indicates possible tornadic development. A wall cloud can be identified as a cloud that rotates, has wind blowing toward it and rain following it. Conversely, a shelf cloud indicates possible strong, straight-line winds. This cloud doesn’t rotate, wind blows toward the viewer, and the cloud leads the rain, Erickson said.

The weather service issues a hazardous weather outlook twice a day with generic information on potentially severe weather to watch for during the next weeks. Forecasters then issue a watch for multiple parishes or counties three to six hours before severe weather is projected to occur.

When a severe event is occurring locally, the weather service is- sues a warning.

If a weather spotter reports seeing a tornado but doesn’t see debris flying off the ground, then that phenomenon is probably a funnel cloud, Erickson said. A tornado over water is called a water spout. Forecasters will often issue a tornado warning for the Morgan City area when a water spout
is spotted on Lake Palourde, because the lake is small enough that the spout could make landfall, he said.

Unlike hurricanes, the magnitude of a specific tornado is not known until after it hits.

Tornado intensities range from an EF0 with wind speeds of 65 to 85 mph to an EF5 with winds of over 200 mph.

Winds of 95 to 110 mph are usually required to knock down trees, and those wind speeds fall in the range of an EF1 tornado. The recent devastating tornado in Alabama was an EF4, which has 166 to 200 mph winds. That magnitude tornado flattens buildings.

During  bad  weather,  people shouldn’t stay in “large spanned- roof buildings,” such as gyms or cafeterias, because strong tornadoes can easily rip through buildings with few interior walls, he said.“The bottom line is put as many walls (as possible) between you and the tornado,” Erickson said.The east end of St. Mary Parish typically sees fewer tornadoes than the west end of the parish. Analysis of data since 1950 shows that March through July is the highest likelihood for tornadic activity in St. Mary, and 3 a.m. to 9 a.m. is when the bulk of tornadoes have occurred in the area, Erickson said.But most tornado fatalities in the area have occurred from October through January and in the middle of the night, he said. Most of the time, multiple tornadoes occur simultaneously in one area.Flash flooding can be extremely dangerous, too. One foot of moving water can lift 2,000 pounds, Erickson said. So moving water could pick up an average-sized vehicle and carry it off the roadway if the water is 2 feet deep. Lightning is another potentially deadly weather hazard that kills roughly as many people each year as lightning strikes. Officials advise staying away from large trees or open areas when lightning is in the area. To report severe weather, call the National Weather Service’s Lake Charles Office at 337-477-5285 ext. 1. Erickson can be reached directly by calling 337-477-5285 ext. 223 or emailing roger.er-This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..Weather can also be reported quickly and anonymously through the mPing app.

Published by Daily Review 03/26/19

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