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      The importance of storm spotters in the Heartland

      After the horrifying events of the Kirksville tornado back in 2009 and the devastating EF-5 tornado that struck Joplin in May of 2011, National Weather Service offices across Missouri and Iowa have seen a growing number of people wanting to become storm spotters. In areas across the Heartland, storm spotters play a critical role to spotting severe weather since we are so far from both radars in Kansas City and Des Moines.

      "We can only see 15,000 feet above the ground, we can't see anything beneath that with the radar. So the spotters really help us fill in those gaps. Between what we see with the radar and what's going on in the ground," said Andy Bailey of the National Weather Service Kansas City Office.

      Storms spotters either stay at home or drive around to get the best view of the storm to observe and report the various types of severe weather.

      "Hail that's a size of a penny or bigger, about 3/4 inch hail. We obviously like to know about funnel clouds and tornadoes. Any type of straight line wind damage and water over the roads," Bailey said.

      So once a spotter identifies any type of severe weather, there are three ways they can report it to the National Weather Service so your Storm Team 3 Weather Team can let you know if there is a watch or warning in your area.

      You can either call the 1-800 spotter hotline, tweet it, or send a message through Facebook.

      "it usually takes about 30-45 seconds for us to get the warning out to the public. So it's really actually pretty rapid," Bailey said.

      Even though the last two years have been quiet severe weather wise, Bailey said it has given him more time to train spotters for that real big event.

      "If we didn't have storm spotters, the warning quality would be far less and wouldn't be where it is today. When those storms do strike and we know they will strike eventually. We'll have the folks in place to help us identify them," Bailey said.

      If you are interested in becoming a storm spotter, there will be a class offered at the Rehoboth Church in Kirksville next Wednesday March 26th at 7 p.m.