California University of Pennsylvania offers training for weather spotters
Brittany Kusniar remembers dime-sized hail raining on her car while she was driving home to Uniontown last summer, and how her severe-weather training kicked in.
The SkyWarn volunteer with the National Weather Service took measurements and reported them through a Facebook page run by the agency's Pittsburgh office.
“It wasn't all that bad, but it is still nice for them to know,” said Kusniar, 21, a junior meteorology major at California University of Pennsylvania. “On radar, a meteorologist can assume hail is probably falling ... but it's nice to verify it.”
Kusniar in 2012 attended her first training session for the SkyWarn program. She will attend her second on Tuesday, when Cal U hosts its annual basic training session. It begins offering an advanced online course on Monday.
Both are free to the public. Sessions last about an hour.
SkyWarn trains people to be severe-weather spotters and report events across the country to the National Weather Service. Nearly 300,000 people participate, including about 4,000 in the region that includes Western Pennsylvania and parts of Maryland, Ohio and West Virginia.
“We teach people to be the eyes and ears for us when severe weather strikes,” said Fred McMullen, the warning coordination meteorologist at the agency's Moon office. “It's a way for them to help us, partner with us, to fulfill our mission to protect life and property.”
The training sessions inform people what to look for and how to report it. The agency takes reports by phone, email, Facebook and Twitter.
“If you see something, tell us. That's it,” McMullen said.
The agency offers training sessions each February, March and April in advance of anticipated storms in May and June, McMullen said.
The sessions next week are the last for this year.
Kusniar volunteered at the Moon office last summer, spending considerable time tracking reports from other SkyWarn spotters.
“Once a week, every week, there was some severe thunderstorm,” she said. “When we have these events, the phones are ringing off the hook at the weather center. The training enhances (spotters') credibility.”
Jason Cato is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or firstname.lastname@example.org.