With the snowfall and chilly temperatures throughout much of central Indiana today, it may not seem like it, but spring is just around the corner. And with spring comes tornado season.
However, the Indianapolis office of the National Weather Service has had to cancel roughly a third of its 39 Skywarn storm spotters training courses offered to residents of central Indiana.
Budget constraints have forced the office to allocate only one regional training course per two or more counties, says Dave Tucek, morning coordination meteorologist with the service’s Indianapolis office.
“The changes have been made just because we have some limitations on our travel budget,” Tucek says. “And as a result of that, what we’ve decided to do to accomplish something along those lines is to combine several counties together into a single talk as opposed to making the trip to each and every county each and every year,” he says.
“It’s a way in which we can save a little bit of government dollars while still getting the training information out there,” Tucek adds.
The National Weather Service’s annual Skywarn storm spotters training program has for years been a valuable training and educational resource for Hoosiers. They attend the courses for preparedness training and education on how to differentiate tornadoes from other storm clouds that frequent Indiana skies during the spring and summer months.
Roger Axe, the director of emergency management in Greene County, says the courses not only help participants prepare for threatening storms, but they also keep them from confusing distinct and less threatening storm clouds like scud clouds with actual tornadoes and calling the authorities.
“One of the main things that the spotters courses have done is they have taught people what the difference is between what a tornado is and what it is not, so that they don’t have to fly off the handle and be scared that they can precisely identify what a tornado is or a funnel cloud,” he says.
Axe hosted the Skywarn course for residents at the county fairgrounds before it was cancelled. He says he understands budget cuts may be inescapable, but he says it is also going to come at a serious cost.
“The impact is very simple. Not everybody has the ability to travel to the regional spotters courses, and not everybody is going to be able to get the free education that the spotters courses have provided,” says Axe.
The cancellation of half of the Skywarn training programs comes at a time when interest in storm preparedness is especially high. It was only a year ago that Henryville and Marysville were devastated by tornadoes on a day in which at least 80 twisters swept across the United States from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico.
Despite the cancellation of the course this year in Green County, Axe is hopeful that the National Weather Service’s budget is back on track next year.
“We just hope that things can work out that we can get the spotters courses back on a more local level, because it’s been beneficial for all of us,” Axe says. “I go every year, because I learn something new every year.”