[Alachua County SKYWARN]
Why Do We Need A Local SKYWARN?

Severe weather related events can and do occur right here in Alachua County. Often they occur and dissapate unnoticed, never seen, sometimes because they occur over areas that happen to be less populated or unpopulated; sometimes because we're not looking; and/or because we don't know what to look for. Because of this, to most of us, it seems they never really occur, and so a complacency develops. Since nothing bad ever seems to happen to us from severe weather, we tend develop a false sense of "safety" from it. So, we lose all concern over it. But its going to be the stuff that we never expected which catches us unprepared and, people will get hurt, and/or killed.

But just to prove that severe weather does affect us here in the County, Todd Sherman relates some of his own local experiences...

"On Thursday, July 17, 1997, a high wind event, probably from a wet microburst, hit Whitney Mobile Home Park in northwest Gainesville. (I happen live in the Park.) It was raining lightly when I left my home just before the event to go to the Oaks Mall. I wasn't aware of the severity of the storm, though. On the way, driving south on the 43rd Street Extension (which passes by TV-20) I began driving through an area of very heavy rains, and very close, loud, incessant and obviously very dangerous lightning. Other hams about town were reporting heavy rains, green clouds here and there, some hail, and some pretty fiercely repetative lightning."

"About 45 minutes later, when I returned to the park, I noticed lots of ponded water in various places, lots of the usual (for a high wind event) twig and branch debris was strewned about the park, garbage cans were blown about, and some large trees had been blown over or down. One was laid across the back bedroom end of a mobile home, and the top of one pine tree behind my own mobile home had been snapped and felled to the ground. Another large branch was downed between two mobile homes across the street from me. In the southeast corner of the park, a neighbor's aluminum carport looked like some giant had pounded on it, a bent and mangled mess pressed atop the vehicles parked beneath it. And there was other much lighter damage in other places about the park. I videotaped this aftermath, then reported it to NWS-Jax."

"On Saturday, August 2nd, 1997, I spotted what appeared to be a funnel cloud probably about a mile northwest of Whitney Mobile Home Park. (Again...scary, because this is where I live.) No severe weather-related Watches or Warnings had been issued that day. I looked at the RADAR on The Weather Channel and I saw thunderstorms from a sea breeze front west of Gainesville. I stepped outside to take a better look, with the video camera, and there on my western horizon was an approaching gust front - apparently from an outflow boundary from one of the storms. As the front slowly made its way towards the east, I saw the funnel cloud to the north between some trees in the distance. I wasn't sure if it was a funnel or perhaps some type of fan-shaped formation preceding the outflow - viewed from a highly oblique angle, or what. It lasted but a minute or two, then dissapated. It did not appear to reach ground that I could see - though trees obstructed the ground. It affected noone. Again, I reported this to NWS-JAX. Knowing what I know now, against the possibility of a funnel is the fact that it preceded the outflow boundary; it was not behind it."

Up until lately, the only severe weather `spotting network' here in Gainesville was pretty much just a group of largely untrained (weatherwise) people. And there had not been any spotter training classes held here for some years. People didn't know what was proper to report, what signs in the sky meant what. What would get reported largely amounted to aftermath. If people did have something to report, they didn't know who to report it to. And when events WERE reported, they were not officially recognized or recorded. See, the general populace isn't adequately trained to recognize severe weather related signs, and it tends to exaggerate what it sees, as well. The official agencies know this, and take this into consideration when deciding whether to take it seriously.

To try to better the relationship between civilians and Emergency Management, Alachua County SKYWARN was created. On Wednesday, September 10th, 1997, a BASIC Spotter Training Class was held at the ACFR HQ Bldg. The Instructor was Fred Johnson, Warning Coordination Meteorologist at NWS-Jax. Then, on Saturday, October 25th, 1997, an ADVANCED Spotter Training Class was held. Many people from various walks of life attended - civilian, CBer, amateur radio operator, Fire/Rescue worker, police, CERTS, SAR, CAP, and more.

It is our intent that what comes from this will be a serious and dedicated group of trained storm spotters with the highest possible credibility -- through both our constant service and the most accurate possible reporting (according to strict guidlines). We will be there to search for and report dangerous severe weather related phenomena to the both local Office of Emergency Management and to the Jacksonville Office of the National Weather Service, so that both may be able to offer the fastest possible issuance of warnings to the local populace, and thus to hopefully save lives and property.

(For more information about the above severe weather events here in Gainesville, see here.)

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Last updated: February 14, 1998.

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