The National Weather Service’s Northern Indiana Office in Syracuse is just one of the many that are trying to broaden its connection network throughout surrounding communities. The station covers 37 counties across Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. Warning Coordinator Meteorologist Michael Lewis explains that there are three main ways that the NWS gathers information.
The first is automation. This includes radio, computers and computer systems. Satellite is a system that provides a snapshot of what is happening on the planet so that the NWS can compare it to previous hours. Satellite is used from above, and as Lewis explained it is, “a historical picture, not a predictor.” Radar on the other hand is ground based, and provides instantaneous snapshots of what is happening around a certain area in regards to precipitation. Lewis explained that radar technology helps give the NWS a better understanding of what is happening at a particular moment in a general area. Surface observation systems are set up across the country to gage what sensory weather traits are occurring at a specific location.
The second way the NWS gathers its information is through trained observers. These observers have been taught how to make sense of weather patterns out in the field and relay the information to the NWS. CoCoRaHS observers collect data in pertinence to rainfall, snowfall and hail before forwarding it along. Ham radio operators also fall into this category. These operators give the NWS a means of communication in the event of severe weather that knocks out all other forms of communication like the Internet or cell phones. Lewis explained that Ham operators are some of the NWS’s core partners, and stated, “They provide a tool we do not have access to.” Lewis noted that of the 2.3 million people served in the 37-county area, only about 4,000 people are trained to report. It is critical to have them, but they are not enough. That core of trained people is important because they are trained and they know exactly what we are looking for.” He explained that he hopes to build greatly upon the number of trained observers in the future.
The third way that Lewis explained the NWS gets its information from is, surprisingly, the general population. As social media continues to command a larger and larger presence in human civilization, the NWS has found itself relying heavily on photos, tweets and text messages to verify and validate their predictions. Lewis gave the example of, “If St. Joe’s lighthouse is foggy, we see that it is foggy, but we don’t see if it caused a several-car pileup because it was foggy. That is where observations and reports come in.” Lewis also explained that, “Now we are heading into 2015, and in that five-year change from 2010 to 2015 I have seen as much change in the ability to gather information as I did in the entirety of the previous 20 years before that. We are heading into the upward turn of exponential change and growth.”
The Northern Indiana NWS encourages anyone to share weather damage to their personal property or any other interesting weather observations with them on Twitter (@NWSIWX) and Facebook (click here). There will also be spotter training conducted in February and March of 2015. There will be 22 training opportunities throughout the area. For more information, click here.