Rural areas present weather reporting hurdle

While it’s probably never easy being a meteorologist, it might be doubly difficult in western Colorado.

With a wide-ranging audience fully expecting every forecast to be spot-on, forgetting that Mother Nature and not satellite imagery controls what happens outside, one big hurdle in predicting the weather in the fly-over country is no one lives there.

Or at least not enough to see and report every storm.

“If we are notified on a real-time basis when those significant weather events occur, it gives us the opportunity to track that storm and predict what it’s capable of doing downstream,” said meteorologist Jim Pringle of the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. “But most of the area we’re responsible for is uninhabited.”

That area, from southeastern Utah to western Colorado, can see some fascinating weather, as exemplified by the Aug. 19 cold front that pushed over trees, flooded rivers and tossing boulders from mountainsides.

In areas where people are few and far between, the National Weather Service often relies on trained weather spotters to report unusual or unexpected weather events.

And with everyone now carrying cell phones with camera and video capabilities, it’s a natural for anglers and hunters to be roving weather spotters.

Who else goes out in nasty weather just because they want to catch a fish or chase an elk?

While there are places, such as the Lake Fork of the Gunnison’s narrow canyon, where cell phones won’t do you much good, there are as many or more places where a timely call might warn someone of the coming storm.

“We certainly could use more weather spotters,” Pringle said. “I’d rather hear about a storm even later rather than never.”

Pringle said weather spotter training is done about twice a year at various sites across the region, including Grand Junction.

One training session usually is held in March, he said.

“We post notice on our website (http://www.crh.noaa.gov/gjt/) three to six weeks prior to the training,” Pringle said. “Just look at the ‘Top News of the Day’ section.”

Would more timely information have helped people in Hotchkiss avoid the damage that town received?

Probably not, Pringle said, since the cold front that blew through the region held a bunch of individual storm cells, each capable of damage.

The ones that hit Hotchkiss, the Lake Fork and elsewhere might have been some of the more-intense cells, he said.

“Those weren’t the only areas affected,” Pringle said. “They just happened to be the ones that got reported.”

At least something positive may come from the Aug. 19 storm.

“We’ll probably use this as a training example next spring because it was such an intense day,” Pringle said.


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