PITTSBURG — Community and emergency personnel gathered Monday night to learn how to spot a tornado and stay safe.

Crawford County Emergency Management hosted the spotter training along with the National Weather Service. NWS Meteorologist Steven Runnels explained how to prepare for and report a tornado at Memorial Auditorium.

Approximately 80 emergency responders, sheriff, police department, fire department, dispatch and community members joined the spotter training class.

Both emergency personnel and the general public can be useful during stormy weather.

“Doppler radars are good, but spotters are better,” Runnels said. “National Weather Service relies upon storm spotters to confirm the presence of tornados, hail and wind. We are thankful for those reports as they save lives.”

When someone reports sighting a tornado, it begins a systematic process — the spotter speaks to a dispatcher, who relays the information to the meteorologist, who then relays it to the media where residents will receive and take action accordingly.

Runnels explained that knowing what is going on during stormy weather is key to safely spotting tornadoes. This is what he calls situational awareness.

“When it comes to storm spotting, it is not an easy task. It is not particularly easy to do safe,” Runnels said. “But, I do completely feel it can be done safely.”

According to Runnels storm spotters should set expectations, be ready to adjust and be willing to escape to shelter. To do so, spotters could use weather forecasting and weather watch alerts viewed on television, through the radio or online.

The first is outlook, this tool tells viewers to be alert for possible storms and are forecasted days in advance. The second tool, a watch, signifies that it is time to be prepared to take cover. The last tool is an advisory or warning, this means to take immediate action for safety.

Runnels shared how to determine different characteristics seen in storms and when to report based on these identifiers.

Although there may be characteristics that help determine whether or not it is worth reporting, the speed and direction may not be as easily identified without simple observation and radar equipment.

“There is nothing you can do to estimate wind speeds, instead report what you are witnessing,” said Runnels. “Use a radar when spotting to find out where the cells are located to keep safe and bring someone along who is experienced.”

According to Runnels, two of the main signifiers of a tornado are debris flying around and the cloud is touching the ground. Runnels explained reporting wall clouds, supercells and squall lines could be helpful for counties and cities along the path of the storm.

Both Runnels and Crawford County Emergency Management Director Jason Vanbecelaere agree that dispatcher’s lines are full during storms said it is important to know for sure that it is a tornado before calling in as one.

— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on twitter @pittstephpotter.