Across the United States and its territories, 122 Warning Coordination Meteorologists (WCM) teach schoolchildren about the wonders of weather science. The National Weather Service (NWS) has an ongoing partnership with the American Meteorological Society to train science teachers in weather forecasting, hydrology, climate and NWS operations, and provides free NOAA Weather Radios to every public school in the country.

Donna Franklin, Program Analyst with the National Weather Service Office of Climate, Water and Weather Services, spoke about NWS’s role in youth education.

What is the National Weather Service’s (NWS) goal in regard education in schools?
The goal of the NWS’s education through in-school visits is twofold – first, and most importantly, to teach students about weather safety and preparedness so they will know what do it when severe weather strikes. Second, NWS wants to encourage interest in math and science through weather education. We hope to inspire students to go into fields related to weather (meteorology, hydrology, engineering, physical sciences) and become future NWS employees!

Can you tell us more about Warning Coordination Meteorologists and their roles in schools?
The NWS has 122 offices throughout the United States and its territories. Each office has a Warning Coordination Meteorologist (WCM). The WCM is one of the most visible positions in the NWS. . In addition to working with emergency management groups and the media to ensure weather warnings are passed to the public, they also coordinate hazardous weather preparedness campaigns (such as Lightning Safety Awareness Week), train hazardous weather spotter groups, help manage the their weather forecast office, forecast weather and lead the hazardous weather education program in their area.

How many school visits do WCMs make each year?
The number of school visits varies by each office. Many offices have a team of people who go out and visit schools and other public outreach events (such as fairs, boat shows and other community events). All in all, the NWS visits about 3,000 schools each year.

In addition to teaching about severe storms, does the National Weather Service speak about safety measures for students to prepare for severe weather?
Yes! The mission of the National Weather Service is to protect lives and property, and you can be certain that every time a WCM visits a school, they talk about specific weather safety and preparedness steps that students can take to protect themselves and their families.

Are presentations and lessons in schools tailored to a class or school’s current curriculum, or do WCMs have established lessons they bring in?
WCMs can tailor presentations to meet the needs of school’s current curriculum and the specific students – from kindergarten to advanced high school students. The basic information is consistent but can be personalized for specific ages or geography. The key is that we provide clear directions on how to prepare for hazardous weather.

What other resources are available for teachers and students outside of in-person visits, through Jet Stream and other sources?
The NWS has numerous websites with information for teachers and students. These are often categorized by types of weather – lightning, floods, heat, hurricanes, rip currents. One site that is particularly helpful and links to other informational sites is www.noaawatch.gov. Another link that provides resources for teachers and students is www.weather.gov/education.php.

(Photograph by Marsha Black, WFO Lubbock Administrative Support Assistant.)


Massive flood events, from Pakistan to Australia to Japan, demonstrate the versatility of rising waters’ sources, as well as the unparalleled strength of these disasters. In the United States, the toll of recent notable floods bring the impact home – last spring’s rapidly rising rivers in Tennessee’s flood and California’s winter storm runoff that led to entire towns struggling under the weight of mudslides.
Flooding can occur in every U.S. state, but floods are not covered under standard homeowners insurance, according to floodsmart.gov. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which runs the website, is a federal program that provides a means for property owners to financially protect themselves. The NFIP offers flood insurance to homeowners, renters and business owners if their community participates in the program. Participating communities agree to adopt and enforce ordinances that meet or exceed FEMA requirements to reduce the risk of flooding.
Flood insurance policies cover physical damage to your property and possessions. The following are covered under many flood insurance policies:

Building Property

  • The insured building and its foundation
  • Electrical and plumbing systems
  • Central air conditioning equipment, furnaces and water heaters
  • Refrigerators, cooking stoves and built-in appliances such as dishwashers
  • Permanently installed carpeting over unfinished flooring
  • Permanently installed paneling, wallboard, bookcases and cabinets
  • Window blinds
  • Detached garages (up to a certain percentage of Building Property coverage); detached buildings (other than garages) require a separate Building Property policy
  • Debris removal

Personal Contents Property

  • Personal belongings, such as clothing, furniture and electronic equipment
  • Curtains
  • Portable and window air conditioners
  • Portable microwave ovens and portable dishwashers
  • Carpets that are not included in building coverage
  • Clothing washers and dryers
  • Food freezers and the food in them
  • Certain valuable items such as original artwork and furs (up to $2,500)

What’s Not Covered:

  • Damage caused by moisture, mildew or mold that could have been avoided by the property owner
  • Currency, precious metals and valuable papers such as stock certificates
  • Property and belongings outside of an insured building such as trees, plants, wells, septic systems, walks, decks, patios, fences, seawalls, hot tubs and swimming pools
  • Living expenses such as temporary housing
  • Financial losses caused by business interruption or loss of use of insured property
  • Most self-propelled vehicles such as cars, including their parts

In contrast, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the most common form of federal disaster assistance is a loan, which must be paid back with interest. The average federal Individuals and Households Program (IHP) award is around $4,000. To qualify for federal Home Repair Assistance, your home must have relatively minor damage that can be repaired quickly.


According to the NFIP, an average home in a low-to-moderate risk area without a basement can take out a Buildings/Contents policy of up to $100,000/$40,000 for a $274 monthly premium. To find out more about flood insurance, visit www.floodsmart.gov.

On the coast, advocates say mitigation is key
According to Americans for Smart Natural Catastrophe Policy, whose website www.smartersafer.org details their advocation of smarter building policies, oppose the expansion of the NFIP that would encourage building practices in what are deemed hurricane-prone, environmentally sensitive areas. The coalition “believes that the Federal government has a role in encouraging and helping homeowners to undertake mitigation efforts to safeguard their homes against hurricanes … [and] opposes proposals being considered in Congress that would create moral hazards by providing direct or indirect subsidies for coastal homeowners’ insurance policies, thereby giving people incentives to build homes in hurricane-prone, environmentally sensitive areas,” according to its website.

The group supports measures that would encourage and assist homeowners in taking mitigation steps to protect coastal homes against hurricanes. This includes bills to create a new hurricane mitigation tax credit, as well as a new loan program that would provide low-interest loans to homeowners undertaking risk mitigation.
Members of the group organized a letter to Senate members in 2008 opposing any measures that would add to the tax burden created by the NFIP. The list of supporters of this successful opposition includes the Consumer Federation of America, Defenders of Wildlife, Environmental Defense, Friends of the Earth, National Wildlife Federation, Republicans for Environmental Protection, Association of State Floodplain Managers, Americans for Prosperity, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, Competitive Enterprise Institute, FreedomWorks, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers, Reinsurance Association of America and the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents.

(Photo courtesy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.)


Dr. Christopher Charles Weiss, associate professor of Atmospheric Science Department of Geosciences at Texas Tech University, studies the science behind tornadoes, a common but not completely understood weather phenomena. Dr. Weiss’ research interests include severe storm dynamics and “tornadogenesis,” the initiation and sustenance of deep moist convection, particularly as related to High Plains dry lines and radar meteorology.

Where is the safest place to go when a tornado hits?

If a tornado is coming towards you, the safest place to go is your basement. Often, not many people have a basement so their best option is an interior room. Put as many walls as possible between you and the tornado and make sure to stay away from windows. Debris can travel between 100-200 mph and often causes fatalities.

What environmental impacts can tornadoes have? Can they damage the environment?

The environment is carrying out its own agenda through severe weather like tornadoes. Tornadoes are a release of energy from the atmosphere.

How do tornadoes gain their strength?

This is something scientists are still trying to understand. Just because a tornado is bigger does not necessarily mean it is more powerful. The updraft in a thunderstorm plays a role in the intensity of the tornado. The column of air constricts and spins faster, creating a stronger tornado. The strength of a tornado depends on the storm it grows from. A tornado can pick up lofty pieces of debris. Vehicles can be tossed and some smaller vehicles can even be picked up. The power of a tornado needs to be respected.

What can someone do to prepare in the case that a tornado does occur?

During tornado season the strongest advice is to prepare a plan of action. You want to be able to make critical decisions in what could take 5 minutes, which is valuable time. You can have items ready in your basement in the case that you must stay there for an extended period of time before people are able to come and help you. A battery-powered radio is your manner of knowing what is going on outside of the basement. There are many things you can do now to be prepared for a tornado.

What are scientists doing to advance the warning people are given before a tornado hits?

The current project in place is VORTEX2, the original project was in the mid-90s. VORTEX2 focuses on following storms for 12 weeks and trying to find cues for when a tornado will form. This will allow a 20-30 minute timeframe for a warning; right now we have about half that time. Many warnings are false alarms and some warnings are missed. The goal is to find efficient warnings.

How can someone recognize signs of a tornado?

To an untrained eye, one thing to look for is a wall cloud, the updraft of the thunderstorm and is where the tornado is likely to start. Sometimes wall clouds are seen but are not always associated with updraft and will not always result in a tornado. Another sign to look for is visible rotation. A loud sound is at times associated with tornadoes and can be described as a very loud windy sound or a river flowing quickly, some accounts even state it being as loud as a freight train.

(Image: Courtesy of wunderground.com)

"Surviving Disaster deconstructs how the brain responds to life-or-death events—so that we can all learn to do better. The documentary includes many characters from my book, in addition to other survivors of all kinds of trauma, from tsunami to car crashes. One young survivor describes in unflinching detail exactly what it felt like to get out of a house fire as a little girl in Texas. It is the kind of story you will never forget once you see it, and it is told with a purpose—to help the rest of us become smarter and stronger in our own homes and communities." - Amanda Ripley, author of THE UNTHINKABLE, Who Survives When Disaster Strikes.

It's been just over five years since this revolutionary book was first published and we urge you to celebrate by buying a copy of THE UNTHINKABLE. It's essential mantra is ours : practice makes perfect where preparedness is concerned. Go to PBS.com to purchase the companion documentary that will change your life and perspective about emergency preparedness, based on the book by the insightfully, plain-spoken Amanda Ripley. Click here and buy it on AMAZON!


You may already know that our Owlie Skywarn is a severe weather prep hero! Now, THE YMP WEATHERFEST RALLIES are being held in cities all over the country, in cooperation with The National Weather Service, to help prepare the nation's kids as well as their parents and teachers for flash floods, climate change, storms and tornadoes, and more.

These events include appearances by OWLIE SKYWARN, the mascot and lots of participation by community first responders and other stakeholders! Go to www.youngmeteorologist.org/wrn for more information. And GO TO www.youngmeteorologist.org to PLAY THE GAME!


You can help protect low-income and disadvantaged families in Mexico and the U.S.!

PLAN!T NOW, in collaboration with Estes Mexico and other corporate partners, is working to provide life-saving weather survival kits--including water, storage-ready food, flashlights, batteries, first-aid kits and other critical supplies--and emergency family plans for residents in two severe-weather vulnerable towns in Mexico and the U.S.

Your tax-deductible donation today helps save lives tomorrow--give now.

For more information and the metric for this project, click here.