Sometimes when I'm outside I take time to look up at the clouds. There's been times when I think, "oh, those look pretty." At other times I'm like, "yep, looks like a storm comin' in."
Just a few days ago I took an opportunity to go to a storm spotters training class held at the expo center just a few blocks from home. I went to my first one a couple years ago, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to go a refresher course. It was a great program presented by a gentleman from the National Weather Service Kansas City office. The presentation was only an hour and fifteen minutes long and very informative. The question and answer session afterward was helpful as well.
I won't go into great detail about everything I learned there. I'm not an expert, so I leave that to those who put on the presentation. The class is interesting with valuable information, so it's well worth going to. I figure if I told you all about it, you wouldn't have the incentive to go. I highly advise going to one if you've ever wondered what these different clouds are and what makes for a tornado.
At the class, everyone gets a reference card that has the spotter hotline on it. Plus it tells you what to report: tornadoes or funnel clouds, 3/4-inch or larger hail, thunderstorm-related damage, flash flooding, plus a few more.
One thing I enjoyed learning at the class is being able to tell the difference in the harmless everyday clouds and the ones that have the potential to bring bad weather. Also,the gentleman giving the presentation couldn't stress enough that this class is a "storm spotters" class not a "storm chasers" class. Safety first!
One last thing that I took away from this was that even though we were taking this storm spotters training (which was free to all of the 60-plus people who showed up) is that the information that we report is valuable to the National Weather Service. Their radar tells them what's in the air, but without people calling their hotline, they won't know what's making it to the ground.
If you have a chance to go to a storm spotter class, don't pass up the chance. I'm sure you can find one by going to weather.gov. Or if nothing else, contact your local TV station and inquire about one with the meteoroligist. I know the ones in my area are really good about passing on that type of information to people.