Local storm spotters are valuable resource in new NWS program

(Jackie Vega/KXAN)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As potentially severe weather encroaches upon the area this week, Tricia Clarke will head to a hill in Lakeway. Using that hill, a pair of binoculars, and a trained eye, she can see all of Travis County and provide the National Weather Service with immediate and detailed storm reporting quicker and more accurately than the most expensive of radars. Those minutes can be crucial when dealing with early warnings for potentially devastating storms.

She is not a meteorologist. She is not a weather professional. She works as an instructional designer.

“I am just a total weather geek,” said Clarke, “I have always been fascinated by weather.”

But she is now part of an experimental program the NWS hopes turns weather geeks into real and reliable sources for severe weather information. Clarke and two other spotters were identified by the NWS as spotters who were commonly active and sharing pictures, videos, and other information via social media during severe weather events. Last August, they invited the three spotters to receive specialized training on how to best relay information to the weather service using different social media outlets. Travis County is the only county in the NWS Austin/San Antonio being used in the experimental program.

Even prior to the program’s training, Tricia had already taken on 20 hours of training in becoming a certified Skywarn storm spotter.

“Weather is my passion and helping people is my passion, so if I put those two together, this is a perfect opportunity as a spotter.”

The NWS said getting information during weather events through Twitter and other social media can be a daunting task due to the volume of tweets, pictures, and video. Having reliable and vetted social media users help make the process a much easier load to handle. Clarke’s personal Twitter page and the page of the three spotters relay information in a form the NWS can use. She hopes her passion as a “weather geek” pays of when helping professionals.

“Hopefully the information I give out can save someone’s life someday.”

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