Amateurs help experts watch weather systems

Martinez resident Wendall Freeman is always on the lookout for bad weather in the area.


With the use of such devices as a ham radio and a rain gauge, he's a storm spotter -- keeping the National Weather Service and local emergency officials informed about things that aren't always fully detected by radar and are best seen at ground level.

"I'm just a small part, but through this area there's a good network of spotters," he said.

Locally, there are about 50 active spotters who use ham radios, he said.

Spotters are volunteers who have been trained on what to look for when bad weather approaches.

"There is this whole hidden world that's starting to operate," said Pam Tucker, Columbia County's emergency services director.

A storm spotter event will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Feb. 21 at Fort Discovery, Mrs. Tucker said.

She said storm spotters are invaluable in helping weather officials determine when watches or warnings should be issued.

She said they can provide rainfall amounts and information on road conditions in the midst of an ice storm.

"They're really critical in any weather-related situation," she said.

Mrs. Tucker said the idea of using spotters locally is years old and that thousands have been trained to know such things as how tornadoes form and how hail almost always precedes them.

Mrs. Tucker said residents can report weather conditions to authorities by calling (800) 775-7199 or her office at (706) 868-3303.

"You're helping spread the word that something bad is happening," she said. "And that sets off the NOAA weather system and all the other channels."

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 823-3338 or


A cold front moved into the Augusta area Wednesday morning, packing high winds and some rain. Officials with the National Weather Service said gusts as high as 46 mph were recorded at Augusta Regional Airport at 5:45 a.m., and winds stayed high throughout the day, knocking out power in some areas and downing some trees in Columbia County.

Jeff Wilson, a spokesman for Georgia Power, said about 1,700 customers in Richmond and Columbia counties were without power around 4 p.m. Wednesday.

About a quarter inch of rain was measured Wednesday morning at Augusta Regional, according to a weather service Web site.

Winds won't be quite as high today, but they are expected to be 15 to 20 mph with gusts up to 25 mph.