Former long-hauler and current Traffic Control Supervisor/Driver for Stripe Rite, based near Seattle, Sean Kiaer in April 2006 was a front-line witness to the formation of a tornado in Tennessee. He called 911 from the cab at the time to report the storm, which was headed directly for the town of Newbern, Tenn., but realized his own and the 911 operator’s limitations in getting information about the tornado out to the people who needed it most, namely Newbern residents and the National Weather Service.
After learning the storm ended up killing 16 people, including children, in the town, he began charting a course that led to the beginning, later in 2006, of the Trucker Weather Watch group. Close to 20 members strong, the group is made up of drivers who’ve gone through official National Weather Service SkyWarn (or Severe Weather Reporting Network) training as severe weather spotters.
Kiaer had identified a real need in his initial assessment of the SkyWarn network, one that truckers could fill: “The biggest issue that the NWS has,” he says, is that, though the network is huge, “when do most people go to sleep? After 7-to-9 at night, there’s a huge gap, no spotters to be found. They’re all asleep. And during the day, the majority of us are working – in the factories, warehouses, lawyer’s offices — so most spotters’ eyes aren’t really attuned to the weather.”
For the nation’s truck drivers, it’s a different story altogether. “The trucking industry is there,” Kaier says. “We’re out there in the weather 24/7. What better industry to put in to the Severe Weather Reporting Network than trucking?”
Initially, getting drivers trained proved to be difficult, as classes were only offered at particular times at National Weather Service satellite offices around the country. “That is why, after many months of discussion,” says Kaier, online training is now available. He describes a considerable personal effort put in — “visiting National Weather Service offices around the country – I even spoke to the director of NOAA myself at one point,” he says – to get the new training out and available. “From NOAA on down to the National Weather Service,” he adds, “the upper echelons are very excited about this.” Kiaer says they’ve unofficially endorsed Trucker Weather Watch as a SkyWarn partner organization, and official recognition he expects soon. “All of our members go through the training.” To be an official SkyWarn spotter, he notes, members must still go through on-location training at a local NWS office.
Now, the group is looking for new members. To request an application to receive the training — “18 classes that take about an hour each,” Kaier says — send an email to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.