Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Residents gather for storm training


March 13, 2019

Ron Warnick

National Weather Service meteorologist Jennifer Shoemake teaches how to become a SKYWARN weather spotter during a class Wednesday at Mesalands Community College.

About a half-dozen Quay County residents gathered Wednesday night in a classroom at Mesalands Community College to learn how to become SKYWARN weather spotters for the National Weather Service.

A weather spotter isn't the same as the adrenalin-junkie storm chasers risking life and limb to capture video of tornadoes.

"We don't advocate that," said meteorologist Jennifer Shoemake, who ran the class as part of the college's Community Education program. Shoemake is based out of the NWS' Albuquerque office.

Regardless, Shoemake said weather spotters provide valuable data for the agency.

"We can't see everywhere in New Mexico outside of our window," she said. "We need someone to tell us in these far-reaching places to tell us what's really going on to provide some verification to what we see on radar."

New Mexico has only three weather radars, with the Cannon Air Force Base radar near Portales the closest to Quay County. Because of that relative lack of coverage and mountains that block radio waves, radar remains an imperfect way to assess current weather conditions, especially in corners of the state such as Farmington and Clayton.

Citing one of the uses for weather-spotter data, Shoemake said insurance companies assess roof damage from hail reports. She said weather-spotter data also can assess drought severity and flash-flooding potential.

Shoemake said Quay County has fewer than 20 weather spotters, and "we're always looking for more, especially in sparsely populated areas."

Quay County, which Shoemake summarized as a High Plains climate, sees plenty of weather extremes.

"You can run the gamut of any kind of severe weather here - tornadoes, large hail, flooding," she said. "People think they don't get weather out here, but it's just not true."

Shoemake said weather spotters should report 1-inch hail or accumulations of it, winds of 50 mph or higher, flooding, torrential rain in short time, significant snow or ice, wildfires, general weather damage, funnel clouds and tornadoes.

She encouraged residents, including children, to join the Community Collaborative Rail, Hail and Snow Network, called CoCoRaHS. Online training and sign-ups can be found on its website at cocorahs.org.

Shoemake spent much of her presentation showing how to spot tornadoes and differentiate them between lookalikes such as gustnadoes and land spouts.

She also debunked a myth - that highway overpasses are good spots to take shelter from tornadoes. On the contrary, overpasses can magnify the severity of winds, and too many vehicles parked under them during a storm can block emergency vehicles.

Tera Singleterry of Tucumcari said her interest in severe weather was sparked by the 1996 disaster movie "Twister." She said she learned much from Shoemake's presentation and would encourage local Boy Scouts to enroll in the CoCoRaHS program.

Singleterry said her job requires her to travel in Quay, Curry and Guadalupe counties, and her weather-spotter training may prove useful.

"If I can keep someone safe by knowing what's going on, it's nice to know what's going on around me," she said.

Those who want more information about the National Weather Service SKYWARN spotter program can call the agency at (888) 386-7637.


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