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Meteorologist Ron Roberts Derrick Ginter with the KAMC Strike Unit.
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Derrick Ginter tracks a tornado across the South Plains.
For storm spotters like Derrick Ginter, spring is a busy time. West Texas springs means heat during the day followed by cooling in the evening. With just the right mixture of moisture, the skies can come alive with the winds, rain, hail and tornadoes of severe weather. Instead of staying indoors through these events, Ginter heads out following the storm as it moves across the South Plains.
Ginter and a couple of dozen of other storm spotters provide a public service as they follow these storms.
“We volunteer for local law enforcement agencies and local television stations to spot these storms,” Ginter said. “Radar can’t pick up everything going on inside a cloud. We follow the storm and see if a tornado is forming, if clouds are beginning to rotate or if a tornado has touched the ground.”
Storm spotters help verify National Weather Service warnings and many times help prevent false warnings, Ginter said. The Storm Prediction Center will forecast a few days in advance of possible storms, so local weather personnel and the team of spotters know to begin watching radar.
“Many people think we ‘chase’ these storms, and we do not,” Ginter said. “We spot activity and report it. Our terrain on the South Plains is flat with good roads and no obstructions in our view, such as mountains. We have miles of view. When we see rotation begin, see a tornado form or see changes in the clouds, we call it in.”
Ginter admits having a rush of adrenalin as he sets out, but he also knows he may set out along the roads and see nothing. “Many times, this is just a long, boring drive. Other times, I see plenty of activity. I pay particular attention to lightning as I have an antenna attached to the vehicle I’m using. And spotting storms at night creates a different set of problems as lightning is the only light we have to see the clouds.”
Ron Roberts, meteorologist with KAMC TV, says Ginter’s service and that of other storm spotters is invaluable. “As a licensed meteorologist, I have a responsibility to let the public know what is happening during severe weather,” Roberts said. “Derrick is the eyes in the storm and that is critical for us. Radar just can’t see everything and our storm spotters allow us to get close to the storm and report that to our audiences. We can’t see what is happening on the ground before the storm hits, but Derrick can. He lets us know and we let the public know.”
Storm spotters receive training via the National Weather Service website, www.noaa.gov. Advanced training is also available.
“I have always been fascinated with weather,” Ginter said. “As a boy, I remember my father, who was with the Amarillo Police Department, going out on his motorcycle during severe weather. So I watched the skies from a very young age.”
The severe weather season is due to begin soon. Ginter and the others members of the storm-spotting posse will be out there working to keep South Plains residents safe from those storms!
By Jo Ann Langston