Sunday, January 24, 2021

Amateur Storm Spotters Use Facebook Page to Keep Community Informed

By Alyssa Schnugg
News editor

The Lafayette County MS Weather Watcher Facebook page has been warning citizens about approaching severe weather for nine years. Photo by Rush Mayo.

Facing her fear of severe weather, Lacey Bishop knew the best way to combat her anxiety was to be one step ahead of the storms that were approaching and knowing where they were headed.

“To overcome that fear, I try to focus my attention on being informed and posting informative information to the community,” Bishop said recently.

As a volunteer firefighter with the Lafayette County Fire Department, Bishop and her husband, Scott, would head to the local fire stations after receiving a warning and man the tornado shelters.

“Our only source of weather communication was from other firefighters or limited cell phone weather radar,” Bishop said.

Living in a rural community in Lafayette County with limited internet and spotty cellphone service, Bishop turned to Facebook to create a group of like-minded weather enthusiasts to help report local weather conditions.

“The group concept is to report what you see, whether it be a live video news feed, first-person accounts, weather photos or links to credible sites,” she said.

The Lafayette County, Oxford MS Weather Watcher Facebook page was started nine years ago and now has 647 members.

“It is not a site that is manned by any weather official,” Bishop said. “We are all just weather enthusiasts – storm spotters.”

The Bishops left Lafayette County a couple of years ago and moved to Arkansas. However, Bishop knew the Weather Watcher page had become important to many Lafayette County residents and wanted to keep it going.

She asked Rush Mayo to lead the site and invited fellow firefighter Larry Brown to be an administrator.

Mayo has always been interested in the weather, even as a child, he said. When his dog started showing signs of anxiety during loud thunderstorms, he started talking to people on Facebook who dealt with similar issues with their dogs.


Brown often posts alerts from the NWS.
Screenshot via FB/WeatherWatcher

“I started posting about an hour before the storms started,” he said. “Then in 2014, my wife and her family were involved in a tornado that went through Louisville. After seeing the damage it became important to let people know when bad weather is coming.”

Mayo himself has seen Mother Nature in action, being close to a water spout, surviving through two hurricanes, a blizzard, severe lightning storms and having a tornado pass over him.

The main goal of the Weather Watcher page, Mayo said, is to simply let people know when bad weather is coming.

“We have recently decided to try to get more people involved and posting pictures and alerts of their own,” he said. “It’s a community thing.”

Mayo said he prefers to rely on WTVA Weather for updates and information since they are a local weather service.

Sometimes the weather news is good news for Lafayette County.
Screenshot via FB/WeatherWatchers

“They know the local weather tendencies like when a rain shower crosses the Delta it usually storms in the hills area because of the pressure difference,” he said. “I personally check the wind directions and strengths at the lower levels. Then the pressure system locations. The trick to those is to remember the Earth is egg-shaped. Those two things will give you all the background info you need before checking the actual weather problem.”

Admin Larry Brown is the site’s most active poster. His interest in the weather, like Bishop and Mayo, began years ago, being in awe of its power and the destruction it can bring.

Along with being a volunteer firefighter with Lafayette County, he is an amateur radio operator and participates in the local Amateur Radio Club. Part of that function is SKYWARN for storm spotting and reporting to the National Weather Service in Memphis.

Brown posts all weather advisories, watches, warnings and SKYWARN notifications on the page.

“I also use the WMC5 First Alert weather app as the radar is user friendly for showing weather on a local level and able to zoom out to national level easily,” Brown said.

Brown said the page’s popularity has grown as other community members interact and share information and photos.

“I didn’t know I wanted to work on a Facebook group page, but Lacey invited me to join in, and I very much enjoy keeping up with the weather and sharing it with the LOU community.”