March 11, 2015 Edition

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WBC student shares insights on Ark. weather



Nathaniel Hays (left) and Michelle Hays help to clear snow off of the family car Thursday morning. Sleet began falling Wednesday, March 4, during the afternoon and changed to snow that evening. Lawrence County received between 6-8 inches of snow and ice according to the National Weather Service. All Lawrence County schools were closed Wednesday in preparation for the winter storm and remain closed through the end of the week.
TD Photo ~ Megan Heyl

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

With tornado season right around the corner and snow still lingering on the ground, Lawrence County residents shouldn't expect a calming of the storms anytime soon.

While last week's snowfall is expected by many to be the last storm of its type this season, many other weather events could come in the following months, including severe thunderstorms, flooding and tornadoes.

Jeff Morris, Walnut Ridge intern and SKYWARN member, offered some insight into why Arkansas gets such a variety of weather.

Arkansas is centered between two very different climates and receives warmer currents from the south and cooler currents from the north. Morris said these different currents battle out in Arkansas and, depending on the direction of the winds, Arkansas can be balmy one day and wet and snowy the next.

Snow, ice, droughts, flooding, tornadoes and earthquakes, Arkansas gets a little bit of everything. Many think of Arkansas weather as a hassle, but for Morris, who has been interested in weather since he was a child, it only fuels his passion for storm chasing.

Morris has been chasing storms for four years and fascinated by them a lot longer than that. In fact, he said through most of his formative years, he planned on becoming a meteorologist.

However, now he is happy to simply help as a member of SKYWARN, a National Weather Service program that trains storm spotters how to identify, access and report weather, damage and risks surrounding natural disasters.

As a storm spotter, Morris has aided in reporting tornado formations, snowfall amounts and damage assessments on several different storms. In fact, a report he made showing 11 inches of snow near Bono after last week's storm made it to Fox News via the National Weather Service.

Storm spotters are crucial for accurate weather reports because they can provide information about what's happening on the ground outside of the radar's range.

Morris encourages people to learn how to report to the NWS through social media and other resources. However, he said for storm chasing, the training is necessary to ensure everyone's safety.

"Anybody can do it but not everybody should do it," he said. "You want to have training before you chase a storm."

Training is offered frequently at different locations in the region for those interested in becoming a storm spotter. A schedule can be found at http://www.srh.noaa.gov/meg/.

"The more people we have trained and out there reporting, the more lives we can save," Morris said. He explained the importance of being a storm spotter while recalling a past chase. In 2012, Morris was one of the first to report a funnel cloud in Caldwell, Mo., and he said less than 30 seconds later, a warning was issued by the NWS.

However, for those not crazy about the idea of running after tornadoes, he also said it's important to just remain educated on how weather works. Using last week's winter storm as an example, Morris explained how precipitation works and why forecasts varied as much as they did.

When measuring precipitation, Morris said it's important to remember that the same amount of water can produce vastly different amounts of ground coverage depending on what it falls as. A single inch of rain contains the same amount of water as 10 inches of snow, and an inch of sleet converts into three inches of snow.

Temperatures in the atmosphere and on the ground determine the type of precipitation that falls. Sleet is actually snow that melts and refreezes on its way down, freezing rain remains a liquid longer and freezes when it makes contact with the freezing temperatures at ground level, rain never freezes on its way down and snow never melts.

The differences in precipitation amounts and temperatures determines what and how much each area can get and it can vary greatly in a relatively small area. This is why it poses a challenge to predict just how many inches an area will get because just a few degrees can dramatically change the results of the storm.

Only by comparing multiple models used to predict the weather and finding trends can an accurate prediction hope to be obtained. However, even then, a storm system can generate many isolated pockets that behave vastly different from the prediction.

"No forecast is ever going to be perfect," Morris said, adding that it is important to take the time to learn how the forecasting process works and what different types of predictions really mean.

With a little smile, Morris also added that no matter how many predictions are made and no matter how much data is collected, there is only one who knows what that storm is going to do.

Morris is a senior business administration major at Williams Baptist College. He recently was selected to fill the position of industrial development intern for Walnut Ridge. He currently resides in Bono.

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