Severe weather, though it will interest most people at one point or another when face to face with a massive storm, is an enjoyable fascination for some.

Gainesville Fire Chief Steve Boone said each year when the city and county emergency management offices host a severe storm program, more and more residents show up for the program which includes multi-media presentations and 25 minutes of storm video clips.

The next class is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. Feb. 6 at the Gainesville Civic Center, 311 S. Weaver St.

“It’s a good thing, absolutely,” Boone said of the storm spotter class. “This is a program I started some time ago for our local storm spotters for training purposes. Then our county firefighters got involved and they started coming. It was very successful, very beneficial.”

Boone said the program is not just for weather spotter training.

“Anyone and everyone is encouraged to come. Gary Woodall (of the National weather service) is a very good speaker and the program is great for those who are interested in learning some of the science behind our weather,” he said.

Boone said Tom Watson started a local storm spotter program.

“I took over eight years ago and somewhere along that timeline, we started doing the weather service classes,” he said.

He said each year the program is a little different.

“The science of meteorology does not change, of course, but the presentations — Powerpoint programs, video of tornados forming, that sort of thing, is different from year to year,” he said.

The program is good training for the volunteer storm spotters most of whom are members of county volunteer fire departments.

“This provides critical training for our storm spotters,” he said. “A visual report from a trained spotter is so valuable.”

Lindsay volunteer firefighter Scott Neu is a paramedic and is also part of the county’s network of volunteer firefighters who act as storm spotters in various fire districts within Cooke County.

He said he’s been with the storm spotter program for about three years and has taken storm spotter classes.

Most of the time when he and his colleagues are toned (called out by the sheriff’s office via radio) to keep an eye on a storm, they set up in a designated place or staging area and observe the weather.

Neu and the other storm spotters usually stage near Southridge, a housing development south of Lindsay, he said.

“Southridge is on top of a hill. It’s a good place to storm spot because most storms move from the southwest to the northeast and we can see it from the top of that hill,” Neu said.

The spotters are trained to look for dangerous conditions and to stay out of harm’s way as they do it.

Neu said staying safe was difficult the evening of April 28, 2006.

During a storm, spotters keep in radio contact with emergency management officials in the city and county.

“We set up a staging area at Southridge were talking to (Cooke County Emergency Management Coordinator) Ray Fletcher who called and said ‘There’s a pretty good sized storm coming into your area,’” Neu said.

He said Fletcher told the storm spotters to find shelter if they believed they were in danger.

“About that time, the hail and the wind started,” Neu said. “I remember seeing an open garage door and people inside watching. I couldn’t see (to drive his vehicle) because of the rain and hail so I had to follow the bar ditch back to that house,” he said.

The storm watchers identified themselves as volunteer firefighters— Neu said he was already wearing his bunker gear — and were invited to wait out the storm in the family’s shelter.

“They were more than happy to let us come in with them,” he said.

Fletcher said he does everything he can to avoid scenarioes such as the one Neu described in which storm spotters find themselves in danger.

“I try hard to keep them south or southeast of the storms,” Fletcher said.

Neu’s experience did have one advantage, Fletcher said.

“Being able to catch the storm early and sound the warning in Gainesville bought city residents a little time,” he said. “It gave the residents of Gainesville about five minutes. I called (Gainesville Fire Department Battalion Chief) Dave Patterson and he hit the sirens,” he said.

The warning sirens gave many people in Gainesville time to get to a place of safety.

Gary Woodall, Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the Fort Worth NWS Office, said he expects to present some new material at this year’s class.

“Nearly all of the photos and video clips are different this year. We’ll have many more identification cases, and we’ll discuss the operational aspects of storm spotters in more detail,” Woodall said a news release.

Despite the revisions to the program, the fundamental purpose of the spotter training - and of the storm spotter network as a whole — remains unchanged.

Nothing beats a good eye for identifying the potential for danger in a specific area.

“We could not do our job as well as we do without storm spotters. Radar is a great tool, but it only tells us part of a storm’s story. Spotter observations complement the electronic data we use to analyze storms. The combination of spotter reports and radar data gives us the best possible picture of the storms and what’s going on inside them.”

The program is free and open to the public.

“By coming to this program, you will learn a lot about thunderstorms”, Woodall said. “Even if you don’t become an active storm spotter, you will learn about how storms work and the visual clues you can identify when storms are in your area.

We will discuss severe weather safety tips. This will better prepare yourself and your family for the threats that storms pose”.

The Cooke County severe weather program is one of about 40 that the Fort Worth NWS Office plans to conduct between January and early April 2008.

The National Weather Service in Fort Worth provides forecasts, warnings, and weather services for 46 counties in north and north central Texas.

On the Net:

For more information on severe weather and the National Weather Service, visit the Fort Worth Forecast Office’s Web site at www.weather.gov/fortworth

Reporter Delania Trigg may be contacted at dtrigg@ntin.net