Weather warriors

If you have ever gazed into the approaching thunderstorm and admired the way the storm tower climbs past the anvil to form an overshooting top, then weather is more than an inconvenience to you. It's something to be admired, respected and reported.

It's for that type of person that weather spotter training classes are offered each year by the National Weather Service, hopefully leading to public members becoming official weather spotters.

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Basic and advanced weather spotter training was conducted at the Moffat County Fairgrounds Pavilion on Tuesday evening, and Warning Coordinating Meteorologist Jim Pringle with the NWS will be hosting another class tonight.

"It's an outreach to the public to let them know what we do," he said. "The volunteer weather spotter is as important as radar and computer imagery models."

Weather spotters are spread about the country in all towns and cities, on ranches and farms. Their job is to report weather conditions to the National Weather Service when they see anything out of the ordinary.

Tornados, hail, strong winds and fog are all conditions the weather service would like to know about. Any weather-related damage is important information in the hands of the weather service.

Many weather warnings have been issued before the forming tornado rips into residential areas, saving lives.

People attending the weather spotter training classes will leave the classes knowing the difference between a funnel cloud and a tornado, and they will be able to identify wind speed by their observations. They can tell you what makes thunder, and how far away the lightning is from your location.

"We train law enforcement and dispatchers, along with the media and anyone with aviation interests," Pringle said. "We catch as many as we can each trip. Many people come simply to gain extra weather knowledge."

Pringle's presentation includes videos of tornados slicing through power lines and cars being caught by flash floods.

His respect for weather is evident as he describes the 1997 hailstorm in Rangely that did $1 million in damage, and the six tornados experienced by Moffat County since 1955.

The session reminds those attending that 100 deaths in America occur each year from lightning, and knowing the signs and taking the right steps can save lives.

A few years ago in Kremmling, 24 people were hit by lightning during a golf tournament when they failed to heed the warning signs, Pringle said.

Carolyn (Beth) Sundberg of Hayden has been the town's official weather observer for the past 35 years, and she attended Tuesday's class because she enjoys weather.

"It's always fun, and always interesting," she said. "They originally asked my husband to do it because he was in the forest service. He was too busy, so I decided to do it, and that was in 1972."

The main goal of the National Weather Service and the weather spotters they hope to enlist tonight is simple, Pringle said.

"To protect lives and property."

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