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An Eye on Mother Nature


Sister Alice Gilabert is an official Weather Spotter

Crippling snow storms are common in the western New York community where Sister Alice Gilabert lives. Over the years, she’s become accustomed to watching the weather around Springville, New York to stay on top of travel advisories.

Now she’s putting that pastime to more formal use as an official SKYWARN™ all-hazard Weather Spotter. She recently completed the training class conducted by the National Weather Service (NWS).

Each year, thunderstorms, tornadoes and lightning causes hundreds of injuries and deaths and billions of dollars in property damage. The NWS created the SKYWARN™ program in the 1970s so trained weather spotters like Sister Alice can provide timely information that equipment cannot.

“Current-day radar can indicate rotation in a thunderstorm, but storm spotters can confirm if that rotation is extending to the surface, which means it’s a tornado,” Sister Alice says. “Radar can indicate hail in a thunderstorm; spotters can tell how large the hail is.” Among her weather spotting duties is putting together a report that details weather events such as tornadoes, funnel clouds, wind gusts over 45 mph, hail, floods, rain one inch an hour or greater and weather-related injuries or deaths.

The training class shows spotters how to complete their reports and teaches some basic weather information — how thunderstorms develop, the basics of storm structure and identifying features of potential severe weather. There are tips to help weather spotters stay safe, says Sister Alice, things such as avoiding driving or walking across a flooded roadway, as water just two feet deep can wash away a car, and not lying flat on the ground if you are caught outside in a lightning storm. “You should crouch down with your feet close together to make yourself a poor target,” Sister Alice says.

Sister Alice says she found the lesson about the different storm cloud formations particularly interesting. “Each indicates a different type of weather,” she notes. She also was intrigued by the fact that 98 percent of all presidential-declared disasters are weather-related and that storms and bad weather cause 500 deaths in the U.S. every year.

Interested in joining Sister Alice as a weather spotter? Learn more at www.weather.gov/skywarn/