Not so long ago, the National Weather Service relied mostly on amateur radio operators to assist them with what was raining, swirling and blowing across the Tampa Bay region. Most of those operators were older men.
With the advent of smartphones and social media, now mothers and young people can be made storm spotters and hurricane helpers. They are all aiding the meteorological experts in speeding up warnings and helping with evacuations.
As part of its SKYWARN program, the National Weather Service (NWS) is for asking volunteers and everyday people to identify and report extreme weather patterns.
The agency offers free in-person and online courses to teach terminology, cloud formation and wind-speed estimates. A certified storm spotter can quickly relay pertinent information and pictures to officials, helping them keep everyone else safer.
A surprising 150 people attended a recent NWS course at the North Port City Hall. They came from all walks of life and listened intently to Daniel Noah, NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the Tampa Bay area.
"Communication and technology have made spotting storms easier," Noah said. "Technology is great, but it can't replace human eyes."
Karen DePue, who is originally from the Midwest where storms display very different behaviors, is mystified and slightly unnerved by Florida's weather patterns. She has to stay vigilant.
"The more informed you can be, the more informed you can make other people," said DePue.
Katelynn Reckmo just moved the area. For this young women, storm spotting a matter of life and death for her family and neighbors.
"I just moved here from Illinois, so I didn't know much about hurricanes," Reckmo said.
After the relatively quick and fascinating course, Reckmo now understands the tropical storms long-time Floridians are used to. And the next time a storm blows in, she will be ready to report to the National Weather Service.
If you'd like to become an official storm spotter, go to www.weather.gov/chs/skywarn.