ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Spring is here and as the months continue to warm, the threat for severe weather continues to increase. Meteorologist Savanna Britto discusses how to become a certified storm spotter with the National Weather Service, and how that is different from a storm chaser.

April, May, and June tend to be the months that favor more active weather across the U.S. Becoming a certified storm spotter with the National Weather Service is one way to not only help the National Weather Service, but also the community.

Storm spotter classes are free and open to the public. Quad Cities National Weather Service Meteorologist Peter Speck says you can learn a lot of valuable information at these training classes “It’s a class where I’m gonna generally be teaching you ways to report to us if you have anything such as damage, hail size. Most importantly though, I wanna teach you about thunderstorm signatures, what to look for in thunderstorms, how they are built, things like the updraft, the downdraft, because these are the key parts in thunderstorms where the most hazards happen.”

Peter says sometimes off radar scans they are unable to see certain storm signatures, so they rely on spotters, “We rely on spotters especially in these areas, to be that vital important connection to eyes on the ground to add into what we are seeing on radar, just to be that ground truth in essence for us.” Community members can then relay those messages to local law enforcement agencies and the local National Weather Service office.

Whether you report storm details as they happen, or storm damage after the warning is over information helps, “If you’re uncomfortable if you’re unsure, if you’re asking yourself ‘well what if’ then that’s a clear indication to just stay sheltered and report after the fact.” 

Meteorologist Joey Marino is very passionate about severe weather.  Not only does he relay valuable information to the National Weather Service, but he is also out in the field, “The closer and closer you get to that day, you start to pick out what area has the best moisture, where the boundaries are going to set up. What’s going to be the limiting factors into thunderstorm potential. Then you start to pick out your target area maybe about a day or two prior. And then you see how things are in the morning because things could change from the day prior to the morning of the severe threat so you wanna get one last look at things before you make your way out to your target area.”

Both Joey and Peter agree that without the proper knowledge you should not chase, “If a storm spotter wants to chase, I don’t encourage it unless they know their local road network, unless they’re very very familiar with the surrounding area, they have multiple ways to receive the latest information, just in case some form of communication goes down. Most importantly, it’s important because you need to know your escape routes especially in an area that could be pretty sparse. I know coming up here I didn’t have cell service for the majority of the time, so you can lose your way pretty quickly.”

Joey says that storm chasing can become dangerous, “We saw the black mass just crossing right in front of our car. The only thing that we got to see the tornado was, was our headlights. So then we turned the car around, and then when we did, the outer circulation of the tornado actually picked up the back of the car for about a couple of seconds. And then once the tornado started to move away, we slammed back down on the road and then we drove away from the tornado.” Joey says that was a learning lesson and he never chases after dusk.

Joey says that while some will chase for fun, it does provide valuable and lifesaving information, “It’s definitely good to have them out there because anything can happen in a moment’s notice with that storm and then having that eye out there to passing the information to you is key. Always love when we get a storm chase opportunity here to help out the community.”

The last spotter training class in our area is on April 6th in Beloit at 6pm. You can register on