Storm spotter training offered to amateur weather buffs

By Andy Jackson

Steve Summers has been a storm spotter for 12 years.
Although he’s never seen one up close or heard the signature freight train sound, he is well aware of the damage they can do.

The director of the Clovis Municipal Airport, Summers is one of 20 storm spotters in Curry County.

“You have to have a lot of respect for them (tornadoes). They have a lot of energy,” he said.

Toting cameras and binoculars, storm spotters watch the skies and alert officials when troublesome clouds are in sight.

The Curry County and Roosevelt County Offices of Emergency Management are sponsoring storm spotting classes Wednesday in Portales and Clovis.

Any interested resident can attend the course and sign up to be a volunteer storm spotter, and lend their eyes to the skies, said Ken De Los Santos, director of the Curry County Emergency Management.

Curry County is at the eastern edge of tornado alley, according to Summers and De Los Santos.

Spring is the prime time for tornadoes, but they can happen any time of the year, officials said.

Keith Hayes of the National Weather Service in Albuquerque said storm spotters are trained to recognize and report. Lightening, funnel clouds, tornadoes, hail and high winds,
Lightening can strike the ground and cause fires. High winds and hail, also known as microbursts, can be as destructive as some tornadoes. And tornadoes have the power destroy homes and takes lives, said De Los Santos.

The last funnel cloud in Clovis was seen July 1, 2005. And the most recent tornado to hit the area was on June 4, 2003, but it was a weak system with little damage reported, said Hayes.

Over the last five years, Curry County has experienced eight to 10 severe hail storms every season, which is down from the numbers in the mid-1990s, said Hayes.

Most tornadoes in the region have built up strength in Curry County, only to release their wrath in nearby Texas, Hayes said.

Storms often break in the night, building up force through the evening hours, De Los Santos said.

Tornadoes are unmistakable. They are a rotating cone-shaped cloud that touches the ground, leaving a path of debris, said National Weather Service Meteorologist Mark Fettig, Albuquerque.

Summers has seen four to five tornadoes in the last 15 years, and he’s felt an adrenaline rush every time, he said.
This year, even experts aren’t guessing what’s in store for tornado alley.

“Who knows what will happen this spring?” Summers said.