Volunteer weather spotters needed to help keep Burnet County residents safe

With severe weather frequently in Burnet County’s forecast, vigilance and volunteers are needed, said Jim Barho, the Burnet County Emergency Management coordinator.

Through the SkyWarn program, volunteer weather spotters help keep their neighbors and the National Weather Service abreast of coming dangers, including tornados, floods, hail, and damaging winds.

But more spotters are needed, particularly in northern Burnet County.

“Twenty years ago, a lot of tornados and storms were generated and never reported on ranches because nobody saw them,” Barho said. “(Currently, the NWS doesn’t) have enough (spotters), and you can never have too many. The National Weather Service can see the weather developing, but they can’t see the tornado. They can’t see that until they get live reports. You have to get advance warning as much as possible.”

Paul Yura, the National Weather Service warning coordination meteorologist, agreed.

Even though the likelihood of seeing a tornado is very small every year, the chances of getting severe hail and winds with severe thunderstorms is quite high,” he said. “Local residents are most likely to come across flooded roads during our significant rain events.” 

Yura offers free SkyWarn spotter training to Central Texas residents to encourage them to volunteer. 

During a recent SkyWarn training in Burnet County, Yura pointed out that while one part of Burnet County might only get an inch of rain during a storm, another area can receive up to 10 inches.

The issue is radar doesn’t reveal how much rain is falling in different parts of the county, so people are needed to report what they see, particularly flooded low-water crossings, Barho said.

After all, this area isn’t called Flash Flood Alley for nothing, he pointed out, noting the natural terrain is more limestone and hills than dirt and soil.

“(Soil and dirt) absorb runoff,” Barho said. “(Here, the rain) has to go somewhere. Storm spotters provide us boots on the ground with real-time information. In Burnet County, we need more. Flood awareness is more important to us locally because of flash flood rain and low-water crossings. My goal is to get people trained.”

Robyn Richter, the Burnet County coordinator for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network and a weather spotter by virtue of SkyWarn training, said the National Weather Service will contact spotters if it sees “what seems like a significant weather event.”

“They need eyes on the ground. They need people to see and report what happened,” said the lifelong Burnet County resident. “The hills make it difficult.”

Barho commended the cities of Burnet and Marble Falls for being proactive in closing flooded low-water crossings and keeping them closed until the water travels south.

But Burnet County is a different story due to size.

“In Burnet County, you have 1,021 square miles,” he said. “You can’t possibly get (all of the low-water crossings) barricaded up. There’s not enough equipment, personnel, and time. To go from one end of the county to the other is forty minutes to get there. You’re not talking five to ten minutes. You get a lot of low-water crossings that will be impacted that the government can’t protect you from.”

Burnet County is also prone to wildfires and microburst winds, Barho said, which are downdrafts that collide with the ground and fan out horizontally in a burst of wind. They are usually the result of thunderstorms.

The Burnet Municipal Airport once reported a microburst wind that came from west to east and “tore up planes and tore up campers at Galloway-Hammond RV Park,” Barho said.

“It tore up oaks between Burnet and Bertram,” he added. “It did a lot of damage.”

The free SkyWarn training courses can be taken in person anywhere Yura is teaching. That schedule can be found online. Interested people can also take the course online.

Even if people don’t to be weather spotters, Yura said they should take the class anyway.

Many lives have been lost to drivers in low-water crossings, fatalities that could have been avoided by following the simple ‘Turn Around Don’t Drown’ rule that the National Weather Service teaches,” he said. “SkyWarn spotter training classes teach local citizens basic weather knowledge and thunderstorm safety rules, so, when severe weather and flooding strikes, you know how to keep yourself and family safe.”

jfierro@thepicayune.com

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