NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - With two eyes trained on the tree tops in his backyard, Vince Lombardo moves through his storm spotting technique. Lombardo is feeling for the shift in wind direction, watching for gusts and making out the type of cloud cover overhead of his North Charleston home.
The retired law enforcement officer is looking to the sky to protect his neighbors against the first signs of severe weather in the Lowcountry.
"My first response is I'm going to get on the radio in my radio room," said Lombardo, playing out a scenario out loud. "I'm going to contact the National Weather Service as soon as possible. You can never act fast enough in these situations."
The situations Lombardo is talking about are the onset of severe weather storms.
After watching tornados rip through parts of the Midwest over the weekend, Lombardo is more ready than ever to relay information from his hyper-local weather forecast as a certified storm spotter.
Since 2004 he's been a part of a network of people throughout the Lowcountry and beyond certified to spot severe weather.
The group of volunteers is taught by the Charleston National Weather Service. The program is called Skywarn Storm Spotting.
All it takes to join the front lines of weather info gathering like Lombardo is a free two hour course that teaches you what to watch for and report when the weather gets rough.
"I generally check weather forecasts 3-4 times a day," said Lombardo. "The goal is to keep people safe."
And Lombardo isn't alone. There are thousands of Skywarn spotters scattered throughout the Lowcountry.
"We have several thousand spotters throughout Southeast South Carolina and Southeast Georgia," said senior forecaster at Charleston's National Weather Service, John Quagliariello.
Quagliariello says people like Lombardo are vital for him to make the right call in case of emergencies.
"The spotters are pretty much our eyes on the ground," said Quagliariello. "They tell us what's happening out there. We have all this great technology now but it can't tell us if the tornado is on the ground or how large the hail is."
Spotters report hail size, wind damage, flash flooding, heavy rain, and tornados to the NWS in order to effectively warn the public.
Quagliariello argues while he's stuck in the office running through data models he isn't able to see what's happening just outside. And there's no way he can be in Goose Creek or Walterboro at the same time.
That's where the spotters come in.
"Is the storm producing a tornado? Is there hail with it? Are their really strong damaging winds? That's things we actually need the public to let us know about so we can do our job better and warn people further downstream," said Quagliariello.
Which is why Lombardo keeps his eyes in the skies. Watching.
To become a certified storm spotter all you need is to do is take a two hour class available through the National Weather Service in Charleston. Normally four classes are offered per year. To check when the next class in available visit their website here.