Close Window

Iowa State Univ.: "Web-based tornado spotter training support—A pilot project"

Final Report

Section 1 Project Objectives and Accomplishments


An important arm of the National Weather Service's (NWS) severe storm warning system is the network of skilled volunteer tornado spotters. These public citizens are trained by NWS personnel through training sessions held for cities within the region of the NWS' responsibility. In the case of the Des Moines office this includes cities in 51 counties in the central region of the state of Iowa. A combination of training is conducted each spring for each county. Many of these sites now access to the Iowa Communication Network and training is done using these facilities. A much smaller number still receive training in person. Each training session lasts between on and two hours.

The materials that are used for the training sessions include movies and slides which are not available for the spotters for follow-up or review. We have developed web-based materials that spotters could access to review and to test their observing skills whenever they wish. The-based materials have been designed to implement pedagogically effective instructional strategies.

The pilot project mainly focused on (1) designing and constructing a model for the use of web-based materials, (2) adapting animations for use in a spotter training course, (3) adding appropriate annotations and (4) designing self assessment methods.

The results of these web-based support initiatives will be better prepared severe weather spotters. This is expected to occur as a result of being able to access spotter training materials prior to NWS instruction (a type of pre-lecture activity) and to review concepts at any time after the expert leaves (a post-lecture activity). Further, this type of widely accessible materials will also be an educational base for the general public. Subsequent versions could also be modified for use by K-12 classes when they are studying their weather units.

These materials have been prepared at Iowa State University but the National Weather Service Office in Johnson, IA will do the field-testing.

1.2 Description of research/development accomplishments.

The emphasis of this pilot project was to develop a basic instructional design that will permit incorporation of spotter training materials currently used by NWS trainers into a web-based format and to also build upon appropriate pedagogical principles to facilitate learning. Experience with similar web-based format and to also build upon appropriate pedagogical principles to facilitate learning. Experience with similar web-based instructional design eff0orts has demonstrated the importance of field testing developed materials as soon as possible to facilitate the development of more effective versions. Because most of the spotter training takes place in the spring the field testing with actual spotter training will take place after this project has expired. On the other hand, the materials have been used with the general public in university presentations so some field experience has been obtained.

This pilot project will provide a framework for further enhancements and will serve as a benchmark to compare more advanced versions in terms of the effectiveness of the pedagogical design. The pilot version of a spotter training module includes animations and images to provide spotters with a physical understanding of cloud processes which may be accessed at A HREF="">>.



Early versions of this spotter-training project have been a basis for discussing applications of physics to atmospheric processes. The web-based training module was used on the following occasions:

  1. Applications of physics to atmospheric processes: presentation by Professor Bill Gallus to 12th grade physics class, Sioux City Iowa High School, April 22, 1997.

  2. Internet course materials: presentation by Paul Castelberry to Agriculture Educators, Ames, IA, June 24, 1997.

  3. The science of meteorology: presentation by Professor Doug Yarger to 60 middle school students, Marshalltown, IA, September 23, 1997.

  4. Clouds and storms: presentation by Professor Doug Yarger to College for Seniors, Iowa State University, October 7, 1997.

  5. Clouds and storms: presented on several occasions by Ben Domenico in conjunction with the Program for Advancement of Geoscience Education (PAGE), a University Corporation for Atmospheric Research program. PAGE is a resource and clearinghouse for undergraduate geoscience education.



The evaluation stage is more difficult in the NWS spotter training environment than in the university environment because spotter training is more infrequent. It is important to receive feedback from actual trainees for changing the materials to be effective for the target audience. One suggestion would be to have the project extend beyond one year. This would allow feedback to help guide the development.

Use of the Internet for training and instruction has advanced rapidly in the university environment during the past two years. The general public is also migrating to the Internet as a common household system but there is a significant lag. The catch is that until products needed by the public are made available, widespread use of the computer by the general public will continue to be delayed. It is likely the development of these types of materials that will aid in the use of the Internet in life long education pursuits.


This project was unique in the COMET environment since it dealt with the education of National Weather Service spotters, and not National Weather Service personnel. Therefore, there was no impact to the forecasting capability of the staff. The goal was to increase the spotter's education level to be able to report more accurate severe weather reports.

In 1997, ISU developed a web-based spotter training guide. The guide was designed for non-meteorologists who are interested in spotter training.

Each spring, the National Weather Service devotes a tremendous amount of time and energy training spotters on severe weather detection. The purpose of the training is to ensure the spotter has a degree of education needed to identify severe weather phenomena. As a supplement to the important program, ISU developed the web-based spotter training page to enhance this learning process.

The National Weather Service provided general technical advice on the project. Course development was competed by ISU. Our goal at the NWS is link the ISU page to the WSFO Des Moines Homepage to provide NWS spotters a chance to increase their knowledge. This will be done in the spring of 1998. After the 1998 severe weather season, the NWS will solicit feedback from the spotters on the impact and benefits of the web-based spotter training page. In the future, we hope to enhance the page by adding specific instructions for the spotters like procedures on how to report storm reports.

The National Weather Service was happy to play a small role in this project and commends ISU for its work.