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Anything outdoors!  Tornadoes, eagles, blizzards, or auroras.  If it is in the sky, running through the woods or swimming in the water, I'm there!


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Has Metro Skywarn become obsolete? This post is going to tick some people off!

They sure do good on hail reports....and that is about it.

First off, I get to be critical of Skywarn since I willfully provide whatever material any NWS WFO requests from me for Skywarn training. Am I being arrogant for making this statement? Damn right because I am sick of seeing the Metro Skywarn dead horse get beat over and over and over and over...

For anyone who missed the drama of last Saturday, let me bring you up to speed. There was a pretty good threat of tornadic supercells over the Minneapolis metro area that evening as a weak low pressure system approached from the west. The event wasn't one which caught anyone who has their finger on the weather pulse as the NWS and the local media outlets were talking severe potential for a few days before the event.

Fast forward to August 8th 2009, the day of the event. The cap held, the low weakened, but a supercell still went up right in front of the low, quickly strengthened and promptly dropped a torn. Although a weak EF1, it did cut a 9.5 mile long path though the western suburbs and again over in Wisconsin just over the border. Let the games begin.

Here is what we have so far. A very good, very experienced chaser had an obstructed view of the action area. Once he was able to identify a wall cloud (mind you this storm was in a tree infested, hilly suburban area dotted with lakes and a poor road network), he waited 10 minutes to report it since he was not sure if it was rotating or not. Good call as that is what the Skywarn program teaches if you cannot see obvious persistent, organized rotation. Shortly thereafter the NWS puts a torn on the cell and it does drop a tornado in the Minnetrista / Orono area which the same chaser reports.

OK, now we have a tornado warned storm with a confirmed tornado moving into a major metro area. This is where the local Skywarn group should shine. After all, this is what they have aggressively trained for every other year for an entire afternoon or morning!

Um, no. Utter failure. Reports of "striations" and a "multi vortex wall cloud" start coming in. At this point to show how inept Metro Skywarn is, let me point out the ridiculous wall cloud report was made by a METRO SKYWARN BOARD MEMBER!! Boy am I glad chasers take the time to donate as much material as possible to the Skywarn program for training. But why isn't it paying off? In my opinion, the training material and the manner in which it is presented has become MUCH better in the past 5 years. So why do Metro Skywarn's spotters continue to be pretty much incompetent while several outstate spotter groups are flourishing? When I say "flourishing", let me qualify that statement in terms of providing useful service and not just participation.

Some people are just morons. There is no way to get around that. Lets take 25% of the current metro spotters and throw them in that category. Unfortunately there is no hope for these people and are a waste of training efforts (not to mention free donuts and coffee). The old saying "you can't polish a turd" applies.

10% are crusty old hams who have little to no interest in the weather and are just looking for a reason to get on the radio. They think they know it all but in reality they don't know s***! This group is dismissed and can go sit in the corner with the window licking idiots from the first cut. They have no business being involved in Skywarn as weather nets are not social nets.

The next 15% are hams who have an interest in the weather but are "fair weather" spotters. Yeah, they go to Skywarn training every other year, eat a donut, drink some coffee, and watch the latest chaser submitted training video. They kind of half-ass watch the weather and will report hail if it is falling on their house. This group is not worth any extra training effort either as they lack the drive to become better spotters but they will find a sweet spot for the next field day outing for their local ham club. They don't do any damage but they really don't help either.

The next 25%...the problem children. This group has more sub-categories than Metro Skywarn has bad wallclouds and "possible non rotating funnel cloud developing" reports. Yes, this was a real report made on the 147.000 in 2008 by an individual who has been commissioned with running a net and even working the Skywarn desk at MPX in the past!!! This group is where the problem lies and needs to either sh** or get off the pot. These spotters need to do it right or don't do it at all. The problem is they don't see their own weaknesses and will never admit incompetence. They know just enough to be dangerous when it comes to reporting but not enough to do it right. Unfortunately these idiots have either schmoozed or bullied their way into some position of power and are as hard to get rid of as herpes. Another sub-category would be the self proclaimed Super Spotter. He is a legend in his own mind. Reads the HWO and wears a HT wherever he goes. Preparedness is how he rolls and no matter what the disaster, he is ready to save the world. Too bad Bud Light is already working on a "Real Men of Genius" segment for Mr. Jumpsuit wearing-got a HT in my pocket-and a weather station on my roof-guy. Hopefully Darwinism comes knocking at their doors sooner than later. Honestly I have no good solution on how to deal with this group. Scary stuff.

We have now eliminated 75% of Metro's spotters. This leaves us the top 25%. Of these I'd say 15% are too close to the border of the previous group to be considered "salvageable" so lets focus on the top 10%. These are the guys and gals Metro needs to both run the show and be in the field during events. They are tech savvy, calculating, and self motivated learners. These are the people you see showing up to one or more Skywarn classes every year. They sit in the middle of the pack and take in everything. They read the HWO's and stay in the know on what is coming up on the weather horizon. These people are level headed and are able to stay objective no matter what the situation. This is the group which should be keyed in on by the NWS and actively recruited to lead Metro Skywarn and not the current regime which has showed how inept they can be as they came out of group #3.

OK, we now have, in theory, a group of potential spotter / Skywarn superstars so what do we do with them? Good question. How about the training program as a whole?

Here are my thoughts:

1) Bring back a standardized test WHICH MUST BE PASSED BY ALL SPOTTERS!!! Good golly, hams have to take a test in order to get their ticket. Having the power to set events in motion sending millions of people into a panic is not a good thing when the person who has to make decisions sees nothing wrong with eating a little Play-Doh from time to time. If you fail the test, you retake the class until you do pass (this will eliminate 80% of the morons and also the fair weather spotters who won't make the effort to retake the class). I also suggest having a pool of questions and more than one version of the test. The FCC does it to hams....why not Skywarn? Eliminate the garbage in / garbage out cycle the program is currently stuck in.

2) Take a long hard look at the current Metro Skywarn trainers. Have a test the trainer test. Let the ham people take care of the reporting procedural stuff as they already are but EVERY TRAINER DOING THE ACTUAL WEATHER RELATED SEGMENTS MUST HAVE A WORKING KNOWLEDGE OF METEOROLOGY, EXTENSIVE FIELD EXPERIENCE AND PROOVE THEY ARE QUALIFIED TO BE A TRAINER. Until you can read the sky, you don't know squat. Trainers are to be tested annually (not the train the trainer bull **** which is the current method). If they don't know their stuff, they are only compounding the garbage in garbage out issue. Every new trainer must have a "sponsor" from the NWS and at least one other current trainer to vouch for them. Places a little accountability with the current trainers also as their reputation is on the line by sponsoring a new trainer.

3) Technology. Ham radio is a dying hobby and is so far behind the curve now it should play second fiddle to the internet. Between e-spotter and more importantly Spotter Network, real time reporting is faster than ever. There is a caveat to this topic. Note I said ham communication is second fiddle and not obsolete. There is the contingent possibility of a wide spread grid failure. Not likely from a tornado but likely from a nuke or terrorist attack. This would be the time for ARES and RACES which are total different animals than Skywarn. My point is ham should now be the backup and not the primary.

4) Item 3 leads into this one. The mindset of Skywarn being ham based needs to change. I find it sad to see people at Skywarn classes for Metro basically denied the opportunity to report solely because they are not hams and the Skywatcher program pool is flooded. I can guaran-damn-ty you some of these people would be better objective spotters and possibly be in the top 10% category. Give 'em a test and see how they measure up against the hams! They sure as hell couldn't be any worse than the knotheads currently making some of the reports via a ham rig. Metro needs to start seeing Skywarn as weather based and not ham based!

There is a fine discussion going on over on F5chaser.com regarding this topic and the cluster**** Metro once again manufactured. One of the Metro trainers is also on board for the creation and use of standardized testing before anyone with a ticket and a morning spent gnawing free donuts and guzzling coffee while watching chaser provided training material walks out with a pretty little card to show the world they are "qualified".

To the current Metro board members, spotters, and NWS staff who read my blog, this is a great opportunity to change the dismal path Metro is following. No one can argue with the past factual failures of the spotters on several significant events over the past 5 years. Letting the status quo continue would be the signal Metro has no interest in truly serving the public and would just a soon keep the Metro Skywarn a semi private good ole' boys club.


Midwestchaser said...

Well not sure what else I can add that you didn't point out already. I think its effing ridiculous that the test was removed. Skywarn trainers need to be able to say NO to those who dont pass. I dont see why there should be an exception to the test rule for Skwywarn when every clud (i.e. ham radio, Spotter Network, etc) require a person to pass in order to have that "rank". When I heard that the test was removed I was almost pissed since like you said some of the people in those classes are complete f%$*@*^g morons. Whether these people realize it or not their reports can save lives, and that responsibility that should be taken lightly. Not everybody is capable of responsibly taking that task on, especially if they dont have the knowledge to know what they are doing or reporting. Personally I don't think the old test was hard enough, I say make it hard enough to the point where only a small percent pass, this will give you the people you actually want giving reports. Unfortunately this problem isn't confined to just Metro Skywarn, I've heard horror stories like this from places that face high risk severe wx events way more ofthen than Minnesota. Ok, so this post was unorganized and parts of it may not make sense, but my main point is that I agree 100% with what you said.

n0kbd said...

Though I can't say I appreciate your tone, nor agree with your characterizations of most spotters and trainers, I value your opinion and contribution. I want to ask you to be part of the solution. Running down a volunteer organization is an easy thing to do. Stepping up requires time and commitment.

The only reason there was no test is that no one stepped up to offer to write one.

Would you write the test? Will you be an instructor? Will you come to the next board meeting and air your complaints with recommendations for solutions?

Jenny Loraine said...

I have to respond to this. I try not be vocal, but honestly you have pointed the issues out with Metro Skywarn and would like to see change. That's great. But the thing that got me the most is the commenter above me (n0kbd) is that a "true" adequate Skywarn Group should already have someone who can write a test. There is no reason to have someone else do it. I took the class once, years ago when there was a test. I was not impressed at all. The class was barely a class, and there was one "real" trainer and a whole bunch of newbies who honestly knew nothing.

When I am in the field chasing, I have never heard such an incompetent group speak on the radio. Honestly, a lot of "SLC" training needs to take place. Also that spotters are now being held reliable and I think the last thing a non-profit spotting group wants is the Federal Government investigating false reports given by their spotters due to lack of training, adequete trainers, and a well organized reporting system. You can teach all you want about the proper reporting procedures, but once its real and its going on, people sometimes loose their mind and report false information just by shear poor judgment. Remember a good number of the public now have scanners and listen to the group. The last thing they want to hear is reports of a "multiple vortex "wall"" cloud...they don't exist...they would be called funnels....if it was even a wall cloud and not just the "fingers".

Btw. this just comes from a person with Bachelors in Meteorology and a Masters in Aeronautical Sciences, so I have no idea what I am talking about...

...And for Bill: Thanks for speaking up! You don't know me but you at least know my boyfriend through f5 online (dfruechte).

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