National Weather Service trains storm spotters

SULLIVAN -- When severe weather strikes, just a couple extra minutes can save lives. That's why the National Weather Service trains ordinary people to serve as storm spotters.

Rusty Kapela at the National Weather Service's Milwaukee-Area office teaches people how to detect a twister before it drops from the sky. "We've come a long way with our warning program, but I think society still has a long way to go yet until we are, what I would like to call, a weather-ready nation," Kapela said.

Outside the National Weather Service's office, a huge doppler radar tower makes it clear what's done at this office, but Kapela says the radar can only do so much. "(The storm spotters) are the eyes and ears of the National Weather Service at the ground level. Doppler radar can't see the ground when you get 30 to 40 miles from the weather office," Kapela said.

"Nothing replaces the old-fashioned weather spotter out there, seeing what is going on and relaying those live reports to the National Weather Service or emergency management," FOX6's Justin Zollitsch said.

In the FOX6 Weather Center, Vince Condella, Justin Zollitsch and Brittney Sager work closely with the National Weather Service. To get accurate reports on television, the National Weather Service must get accurate reports from trained spotters.

With today's technology, Kapela says it's easier than ever to train weather spotters. He can reach more people now without leaving the office - by holding classes online. With these virtual classes, people in different towns can all watch and learn at once. "Using the PowerPoint, and then I give them a chance to ask questions and they ask some darn good questions, so it's give and take," Kapela said.

Whether the two-hour class was in person or online, Kapela hopes the new spotters take with them knowledge that can keep people safe. "Sometimes, just a few seconds or just a minute or two is the difference between saving your life and a fatality," Kapela said.

CLICK HERE to view the class schedule and additional information if you're interested in becoming a National Weather service storm spotter. Kapela says it's best to take the class a second or even third time, just to get everything down.