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AP Florida

Fla. volunteers save lives by watching the skies

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published:   |   Updated: August 3, 2014 at 05:25 PM

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SEBRING – One group of central Florida weather volunteers is saving lives by monitoring storms that are often not seen by radar.

The Sebring Highlands Today reported that local volunteers who are part of the National Weather Service’s SKYWARN program provide weather detail from a low-lying area that isn’t seen on radar.

Tampa-area radar picks up activity from the Highlands County region that is above 8,000, but it is up to the volunteers to monitor and report storms that are closer to the ground. Officials say this is especially important during tornadoes.

The Florida group is part of the nearly 300,000 SKYWARN volunteers trained by the National Weather Service since the 1970s.

Sebring volunteer Jeff Bronsing explained that that his region is essentially in the shadow of the Tampa radar.

Most tornadoes occur below 8,000 feet.

“(The National Weather Service) cannot verify a tornado is on the ground because they cannot see that low,” said Ben Henley, emergency management coordinator for Highlands County.

Tornadoes are not uncommon in central Florida, eight struck Highlands county in 2010.

Henley said it isn’t likely the county will get a new radar system anytime soon because of the expense.

Years ago, the military had a ground radar system at the Avon Park Bombing Range, but when the military reduced its presence there, that “radar went away,” he said.

Because of the gap in radar coverage, the volunteers are essential, he said.

Although the Florida volunteers keep an eye on the weather, they do not chase storms.

The National Weather Service credits weather volunteers for ensuring the safety of communities throughout the country.

In Highlands County, 26 people attended the most-recent National Weather Service training session for volunteers.

Bronsing said he and other volunteers enjoy contributing to the wellbeing of their community.

“When you can help people out, you get a good feeling,” he said. “It’s about helping your neighbors.”

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