Abilene storm spotter shares stories of ‘exploded school’
and more at SKYWARN class

When Bill Shaw was a child in the 1950s, he saw the wreckage left behind after a tornado leveled his elementary school in Haskell.

“My school literally exploded,” said Shaw, who is now the ham radio emergency coordinator for SKYWARN in Abilene.

Later that night, he and the rest of his family crowded into a cellar for safety because storms continued to barrage the area. But Shaw said he wasn’t scared. Rather, he wanted to know more about extreme weather phenomena.

“It fascinated me,” Shaw said.

On Saturday, Shaw facilitated a storm spotter class in Hart Auditorium at Abilene Christian University. About 100 people attended to learn  about storm spotting, which includes knowing how to use a ham radio and the proper protocol for tracking storms and reporting data to the  National Weather Service.

Shaw earned his ham radio license in 1989, and shortly thereafter embarked on his first spotting trip with a veteran spotter and an Abilene  police officer. They were tracking a grass fire in Shackelford County.

After that, Shaw said, he was in love. He would continue spotting severe weather events for the next 24 years, and still does today.

“I wanted to know more about tornadoes and severe weather,” he said. “I didn’t have an inkling that I would grow up and be the  SKYWARN leader.”

Shaw said he saw his first tornado on Highway 351, in Callahan County, in 1994.

It was a 100-degree day when he saw what he described as “tower clouds” from his backyard.

“The weather service called and said they needed spotter,” he said.

So Shaw hit the road, driving up Highway 351 northeast of Abilene. He drove to the area where the big tower clouds were, and finally saw  it.

“It was a pretty good-sized tornado,” he said.

He took a few pictures and radioed back to the NWS what he saw.

“It wound up being a full-blown tornado.”

For prospective storm spotters, Shaw recommended getting a ham license, attend a storm spotting class and to track a storm with somebody who has experience.