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Weather Spotter Training April 30

A weather spotter videotaped this EF-0 tornado touching down near Woodland on Feb. 28.
A weather spotter videotaped this EF-0 tornado touching down near Woodland on Feb. 28.

By Carol Bogart, Sacramento Nature Examiner

On Feb. 28 near Yolo County’s Conaway Ranch in Northern California, an EF-0 tornado touched down four miles southeast of Woodland, says National Weather Service-Sacramento meteorologist Eric Kurth. “What's interesting is that it in this case it was hard to see the tornado extending to the ground, but it actually was (see photo).”

Free training in how to recognize severe weather forming will take place from 6:30-8:30 p.m. April 30 in Esparto (95627). The Yolo County Office of Emergency Services and the National Weather Service will discuss, among other things, how to tell a tornado from a funnel cloud.

“This is an example of what we will be teaching people,” Kurth says: To distinguish a funnel cloud from a tornado, look at the ground for swirling debris. (Funnel clouds don’t touch down.)

In other areas of the country such as Kansas – dubbed Tornado Alley (think Dorothy and Toto in the Wizard of Oz) – EF-4 tornados are not uncommon. In Northern California, Kurth said, “The vast majority of … tornadoes are EF-0s and EF-1s.” The higher the number, the worse the damage. Kurth notes, “EF-5 is the strongest tornado type in the world, and even in the ‘Tornado Alley’ of the Great Plains, they are quite rare.”

In the Sacramento region, he said, “EF2’s are rare, and in fact have only occurred a couple of times in Norcal.” Even in Southern California, he thinks only one or two E-F3’s have been observed. Anywhere tornados form worldwide, Kurth says, “EF-5 is the highest seen, and EF-4 is the next strongest.”

Tornado wind speeds range from the EF-0’s 65-85 mph to:

  • EF-1 86-110 mph
  • EF-2 111-135 mph
  • EF-3 136-165 mph
  • EF-4 166-199
  • EF-5 200 mph

Damage from tornados ranges from minor (such as shingles blowing off a roof, EF-0) to massive (homes blown apart, trees snapped, EF-5). (Source: National Weather Service/NOAA)

A tornado warning means a tornado has been sighted. A watch means weather conditions are right for a tornado forming. Even an EF-0 warning will include a caution to take shelter in a basement if you can.

Kurth says reports from weather spotters can help Yolo and other counties prepare when a tornado or other types of severe weather happen. In Yolo, for example, a severe storm may result in flooding.

Future weather spotters at the Esparto training will learn how they can notify the Sacramento office of the National Weather Service with the sort of information the NWS will then use to alert area residents and help keep them safe.

“Storm spotters play a valuable role in the severe weather warning process,” Kurth says, adding that the National Weather Service relies on visual observations from spotters to provide critical information that would otherwise not be available to forecasters.

Spotter reports are combined with data from doppler radar and satellite images “to provide a complete understanding of severe storms and their impact on the public.”

The training, sponsored by the Yolo County Office of Emergency Services, will teach future weather spotters:
• How to observe, recognize and report severe weather
• What severe weather types are experienced in the Yolo County area
• How to volunteer for Project SKYARM™ to help keep local communities safe
• Severe weather safety tips
• Operations of the National Weather Service
Participants will receive spotter guides, cloud charts and severe weather pamphlets. They’ll also be able to fill out an application to become a volunteer weather spotter.

Kurth says once an application is received, the applicant is assigned a spotter number and an information packet will be sent.
During the training, those interested can discuss and join the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network. Kurth describes the network as “a unique, non-profit, community-based network of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow) across the United States.”

The free April 30 training for would-be weather spotters takes place at Esparto High School’s Marsh Hall (17121 Yolo Ave.). To register for the training or have more questions, e-mail Meteorologist Eric Kurth at the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Sacramento at,

Sacramento Nature Examiner Carol Bogart is an independent journalist. To read her columns, go to

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