Sara's Column: Storm spotter training can come in handy here

I don’t recall the first time I heard the nickname Dixie Alley, but it’s one that’s stuck with me for years.
Feb 21, 2014

I don’t recall the first time I heard the nickname Dixie Alley, but it’s one that’s stuck with me for years.

For those who haven’t heard it, it’s sometimes used to refer to parts of the South that are particularly prone to tornadoes. The region includes most of Tennessee, except for part of East Tennessee.

I happened to grow up in that part of East Tennessee, so I didn’t experience the joys of living in Dixie Alley until I moved to Murfreesboro for college when I was 18. There were tornadoes in East Tennessee, but they were few and far between.

I learned the differences between my hometown and my new home really quickly. Months after I moved, I spent several tense hours in the basement of my dorm while tornadoes ripped through the area, including downtown Nashville.

Like anyone who lives in Middle Tennessee for any period of time, I soon got used to the drill. But I also wanted to know as much as I could about tornadoes and the storms that spawn them.

Which is why years later, after I’d moved to Ohio – which also gets its share of tornadoes, I was intrigued when learned about the National Weather Service’s Skywarn Spotter classes. 

When I learned of one in the area where I lived, I jumped at the opportunity to attend.

It wasn’t a huge time investment, just a few hours I think, but I’ve put the information I learned to good use. On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself taking extra safety precautions after spotting a particular cloud formation I recognized or wind pattern I recognized.

Since moving back to Tennessee, I’ve repeatedly considered taking another local spotter class as a refresher and to try to help out locally but scheduling issues prevented it. However, I recently learned the NWS now offers online spotter training, so I’m planning to register for that.

I would also encourage anyone who has the slightest interest in getting the spotter training to strongly consider it. Sure, the NWS and local agencies have great technologies that help them predict weather threats. But sometimes technology doesn’t catch everything. Many times, weather service warnings are based largely on information provided by spotters.

And the more people who know what to look for when severe weather threatens, the better. Not only can they more quickly take safety precautions when they see a threat, but they will also constitute more “eyes on the sky.”

For anyone interested in learning more about the NWS Skywarn Spotter training, visit nws.noaa.gov/skywarn/.

Sara McManamy-Johnson is the digital content director for The Lebanon Democrat and Wilson County News. Email her at sjohnson@lebanondemocrat.com or follow her on Twitter @wilsoncoreports.

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