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June 6, 2009

Network of spotters are gold to Honigsberg

Garfield County residents know it is time to seek shelter when the storm sirens sound during severe weather.

But, many don’t know there is a team of volunteers out watching the weather to help make the decisions about sounding the sirens.

Although Mike Honigsberg, Garfield County and Enid Emergency Management director, uses radar in the storm center to follow storms, he said the storm-spotting network’s information is invaluable.

“Radar can tell us a lot, but we use the storm spotters,” he said. “Radar can’t tell us what is happening from the cloud base to the ground. What they tell me is gold compared to what I can read.”

When a severe storm is heading toward Garfield County, Honigsberg will alert the county spotting network.

“Any storm I feel may be severe, I will have people in the field,” he said. “If we have storms coming in from the southwest that have been severe, whether tornadic or not, I have spotters out. When we had the tornadoes in North Enid, it went tornadic in five minutes.”

A lot of the all-volunteer storm spotting network in Garfield County is made up of rural firefighters.

“As far as storm spotters go, we’ve got roughly 200 volunteer firefighters in the county,” said Clarence Maly, Waukomis fire chief. “All 12 fire departments in the county do spotting. When a storm comes in we have about 50 pairs of eyes on it immediately.”

Firefighters who work as storm spotters in the county are not storm chasers. They give information to the storm center but do not usually follow storms out of their area.

“We won’t chase them. We will chase them in our area. We will follow them in our district,” said Rusty Gray, of Hillsdale-Carrier Fire Department. “We will set up in an area. We try to position ourselves so we can see a wall cloud or tornado if it is going to develop in a storm. We try to not be too mobile. We need to be close enough to come back and warn our communities.”

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