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Storm spotters meet under cloudy skies

July 12, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Dark clouds formed Monday evening as 30 people filed into the Franklin County (Pa.) Department of Emergency Services offices for a storm-spotter class.

Led by Mike Dangelo of the National Weather Service, the class taught attendees things like the difference between funnel clouds and tornadoes, the relationship between downbursts and updrafts, and definitions of rankings on the Enhanced Fujita scale.

The class didn't get real-life experience, as those clouds preceded only a drizzle.

Dangelo asked the storm spotters to provide him with information during weather events. He asked for notification of rotating wall clouds, hail and its size, wind gusts, snowfall, ice, rainfall and flooding.

"At the end of the storm, when it looks like things are over, give us a final total," Dangelo said of precipitation.

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Attendees said they wanted to participate in the class because they are fascinated by weather.

Gene Dillon became a storm spotter for the National Weather Service about 12 years ago. He and fellow spotter Patty Funt traveled from Buchanan Valley in Adams County, Pa., to hear the presentation.

"We just do it every couple of years to stay up on things," Dillon said.

Dillon said he's always been interested in weather, especially the reasons why certain events happen.

Gerald Bittinger of Chambersburg remembers riding his bicycle to the post office in Scotland, Pa., during Hurricane Agnes in 1972. That hurricane started his love affair with weather phenomena.

"Sunshine is kind of boring," Bittinger said.

A self-described "big fan of weather," Bittinger watches The Weather Channel and DVDs of storm chasing. He enjoys talking to people after storms and recording their comments to share with the National Weather Service in State College, Pa.

Dangelo advised the storm spotters to never put themselves in dangerous situations. He reminded them that flooding kills more people than any other weather-related event, followed by lightning in the No. 2 spot for deaths.

Pennsylvania ranks third in the nation for lightning-related injuries, Dangelo said.

The state, however, has a relatively low number of tornadoes, recording 15 to 20 a year. Franklin County has had 11 since 1881, Dangelo said.

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