Two local spotters decided to join the program because of a previous love of all things weather. Campbell Teague has lived in Cleveland his entire life and has been fascinated by weather since he saw his first lightning strike when he was about 3 years old.
Since that time he has been learning all he can about meteorology, taking various opportunities to advance his knowledge, from being a junior forecaster for Channel 3 News when he was 11 to taking various earth science courses in college. Teague also keeps his own weather station at home and posts daily weather status reports on his Facebook page for friends and family.
Teague was first trained as a spotter in high school, but he did not find time to renew the two-year certification until last year. Now, as a graduate student at Lee University, Teague is still just as fascinated with weather and hopes to someday complete his training to be a certified meteorologist.
“I think I like weather so much because it is always changing,” Teague said. “There is always something new to learn.”
Because Teague is a weather aficionado, friends often ask him about weather myths and for his predictions for the coming season.
“I often get asked how many tornadoes will we see,” Teague said. “My answer is in an average year there will be a few that touch down in Southeast Tennessee.”
Teague saw his first tornado in 1998, but the April 27, 2011, tornado outbreak struck close to home for him, too.
“I came close to dealing with an EF4 tornado,” Teague said. “Just down the road, it was sad and heartbreaking. People had lost their homes, and everything was gone.”
Teague encourages everyone to learn about the weather, especially thunderstorm safety and the difference between watches and warnings.
Bud Kinches had been interested in weather since learning about it as a child with his father, but the 2011 outbreak prompted him to take action and learn more about severe weather.
“When the April 27 storms hit, I’d never seen anything like that,” Kinches said.
After witnessing a large storm on March 2, 2012, Kinches took the spotter class to do his part in helping himself and others stay safe in severe weather.
“The radar can only see a part of the storm, but I can see everything else,” Kinches said. “I know a little bit more of what to look for. More knowledge has been great.”
Kinches is looking forward to his first season as a spotter and has been refreshing his memory by looking over notes from last year’s spotter class.
“I do not want tornadoes. I just like a good thunderstorm,” Kinches said. “But I’ll be there and watch it.”
Spotter training courses are not just for weather enthusiasts, however. The National Weather Service encourages anyone with an active service position to become a spotter. This includes police, firefighters, first responders, and anyone who works in schools, churches, hospitals or who is responsible for the safety of others.
“We rely heavily on spotter reports to help warn others in the path of the storm,” said Anthony Cavallucci, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Morristown.
Spotters report real-time data such as hail size; wind speed estimates and damage; flash flooding due to heavy rainfall that could force road closures; tornadoes; wall clouds; and funnel clouds.
“Reports that we receive are sent to the local media, used to verify warnings, [and] sometimes become part of the certified and published National Storm Data,” Cavallucci said.
After seven separate tornadoes touched down in Bradley County on April 27, 2011, spotter classes offered by the National Weather Service office in Morristown became very well-attended, said Curtis Cline, the administrative officer for Bradley County Emergency Management Agency.
Cline estimates that roughly 600 to 700 people in the Cleveland area have attended a spotter training class in the past three years.
“We probably have the best-attended spotter classes in the Eastern Tennessee region,” Cline said, adding that last year there was not enough room for everyone who wished to participate.
According to the National Weather Service, there are currently 250 trained spotters in Bradley County.
“I think even if you’re not a huge weather person, you should go,” Kinches said. “If you have an opportunity to be informed, get knowledge. It could save your life or someone else’s.”
The next spotter training class in Bradley County is March 21 at 6 p.m. in the Lee University Science and Math Complex Room 255. No registration is necessary, though participants will need to bring a pencil and paper to take notes.
The class will be about two hours long and cover a range of topics from area climatology and thunderstorm structure to severe weather safety and how to report observations to the National Weather Service. Spotter certification expires every two years.