WHEATFIELD | Storm spotter Eric Gibson remembers being at Hannon’s Root Beer Stand in Valparaiso as a child when he and his mother were caught in a tornado which tore the roof off Von Tobel Lumber.
“It was probably one of the scariest moments of my life, yet the biggest rush I have ever had,” Gibson said. “Ever since then I have always loved the weather, how beautiful yet powerful it can be.”
An unpaid volunteer, Gibson, 33, of Wheatfield, said his main motivation is helping people.
Working in Northwest Indiana as a storm spotter for the National Weather Service Romeoville, Ill., office, Gibson watches for hazardous weather including flash floods, funnel clouds, tornadoes, hail and water spouts. He also provides damage reports at ground level.
“Trained spotters are (the National Weather Service's) eyes on the ground,” Gibson said.
When Gibson, who has continuously updated his training for the past four years, spots hazardous weather, he reports it to the weather service, who analyzes the data and issues warnings to the public to seek shelter.
In addition to his eyes and ears, Gibson’s tools are his GRLevel2 and GRLevel3 radar, Verizon phone with hotspot, radar scope (cellphone), his 2009 Dodge Ram truck, NOAA weather mobile scanner and laptop.
“My first time ever spotting was when I dropped my son off and there was a tornado warning for Lake, Porter, Jasper and Newton counties,” Gibson said.
Gibson stayed off of the road by U.S. 231 and Interstate 65.
“As I looked all around, I saw a wall cloud rotating,” Gibson said. “My mouth dropped; then I called the National Weather Service, told them who I was, where I was at, direction I was facing and then proceeded to tell them what was going on.”
Gibson said it started getting very windy and he took off.
“I was informed that a tornado touched down in Rensselaer and damaged the State Farm building,” Gibson said.
Another close encounter involved lightning.
“I was spotting just south of Morocco on U.S. 41, got out of my truck to check for rotation once again as a bright light and a crack of thunder appeared at the same time. I dropped to the ground, looked up and then dove into my truck.”
As Gibson drove home, lightning struck his CB radio antenna, setting off his phone and making his arm hair stand on end.
“It was very scary,” Gibson said.
Gibson can be followed on his Facebook page NW Indiana Skywarn where he has almost 1,000 followers.