MEDIA CONTACT:  Julie Willmot
(609) 278-7137

TRENTON, N.J. - Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes announces the Mercer County Office of Emergency Management will host a Skywarn Storm Spotter training course on Saturday, May 21, 2011 at the Dempster Fire Academy in Lawrence, 350 Lawrence Station Road.

This unique course, co-sponsored by the Mount Holly, N.J. Forecast Office of the National Weather Service, will teach interested residents how they can be a significant help to first responders and other authorities during severe storms. Mercer will host the “Basic” class at 9 a.m. to noon, followed by the “Advanced” class, 1 to 3 p.m. Attendees are encouraged to take both courses, which are free.

Skywarn is a nationwide program run by the National Weather Service for the past 35 years in which trained residents gather real-time, “ground truth” information about severe weather, which can be anything from a tornado to a flood or winter snowstorm.

Skywarn spotters stay close to home and are not “storm chasers,” an activity which is dangerous and not condoned by the National Weather Service. Spotters typically relay reports to the weather service about the severity and type of storm or weather event, indications of more dangerous conditions ahead, and verification of forecasted weather, among other responsibilities.

According to Mercer County’s emergency management and the National Weather Service, these types of localized, up-to-date reports by residents can save lives and mitigate property damage because they can lead to new weather warnings, cancellation of unnecessary warnings, or detection of an impending event.

“With Skywarn, our residents can really become our eyes and ears on the ground and can help us determine the safest course of action during severe weather,” said Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes. “I encourage anyone who is interested to take the course and decide if they want to be part of the team.”

National Weather Service experts will instruct Skywarn volunteers on local weather patterns and threats, how to spot oncoming severe weather, and how to notify the National Weather Service and area emergency management.

Those who take the course are not required to become a Skywarn member after the class, but are encouraged to do so.

In an average year across the United States, Skywarn Storm Spotters assist in the identification, location, and response to 10,000 thunderstorms, 5,000 floods, and more than 1,000 tornadoes, according to the National Weather Service.

The Skywarn program is free but registration is required.  Register with the Mercer County Office of Emergency Management by e-mailing your full name, street address, phone number, e-mail address and which class or classes you will attend, to draymond@mercercounty.org; or by faxing that information to 609-799-7067; or by calling the office at 609-799-8868. Attendees must be 17 years of age or older and must bring at least one form of government-issued photo identification. A lunch break will be at noon. Lunch will not provided but a break room and snack machines are available.

An Amateur Radio license is not required to attend the classes or to participate in the Skywarn program.  Spotters who are in need of re-qualifying (if qualified in 2008 or earlier), can satisfy requirements through this course. The previous class held in Mercer County was in June of 2008.

WHAT: Basic and Advanced Skywarn Classes
WHEN: Saturday, May 21, 2011, 9 a.m.-noon Basic; noon-1 p.m. lunch break; 1-3 p.m. Advanced.
WHERE: Dempster Fire Training Center, 350 Lawrence Station Road, Lawrence.