Barrow's Skywarn program a hit

WINDER -- In a given year, the National Weather Service counts 10,000 severe thunderstorms, 5,000 floods and some 1,000 tornadoes across the United States. So hefty is the load of potential catastrophes, the weather pros often need help.

Which is where the Skywarn program comes in.

Introduced in the 1970s, Skywarn trains emergency personnel and regular folks to become spotters for all types of weather hazards -- and to report back to NWS officials. The volunteer program counts nearly 300,000 trained spotters nationwide. They are the first line of defense against severe weather, the NWS says.

And the program is gaining steam in Barrow County.

Fifty-six students attended a recent two-hour Skywarn training class put on by Barrow County Emergency Services in conjunction with Barrow County Skywarn.

"Class participants learned the basics of thunderstorm development," said Barrow County Emergency Services Emergency Management Coordinator Penny Clack. "They also learned the fundamentals of storm structure, how to identify potential severe weather features, what information to report and other topics."

Since the program started four decades ago, the information provided by Skywarn spotters, coupled with Doppler radar technology, improved satellite and other data, has enabled NWS to issue more timely and accurate warnings for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and flash floods, according to the NWS's website.

In Barrow, the class was taught by Barry Gooden of the NWS. Attendees included regular Barrow County citizens, Barrow County employees, members of the Barrow County Community Emergency Response Team, personnel from the Oconee County Fire Department and others.

"We were very pleased with the attendance of this class and the knowledge the participants received," said Barrow County Emergency Services Chief Dennis Merrifield.