River Valley’s Eyes to the Sky

April 1, 2012 | By More

My mom and Dad just tell me to let them know when I get back to the office. They don’t want to know where I was or how bad the storm was until I get back home.”

~Pope County Storm Spotter Parker Holley~

For most teenagers, high school is about football games, proms, first cars, crushes, trying to pass algebra and acne. Most students spend after school hours, doing homework, playing video games, or hanging out with friends. Not many chase storms in their spare time.

High School student Kevin Wolfe is the founder of the Pope County Storm Spotters (PCSS.) Kevin, along with co-founder and communications officer, Caleb Peronnet, noticed something that was missing from weather reports coming from Little Rock.

“Little Rock stations always talk about Little Rock Weather. There was no one watching the weather in this area. We saw the problem and thought we could help.”

Of the five PCSS members, three of them are still in high school. Kevin, 17, attends Russellville High School along with Driver of Truck One, Parker Holley, also 17. Caleb, 18, is a senior at New Life Academy, which is located in Russellville. The “old” men of PCCS are Medical Officer Ryan Clark, 22, and Truck Two driver James Weatherall, at 28 years of age.

The PCSS was born on May 31, 2010, with an interest in weather, a desire to help the community, and solid social marketing savvy.

”When we started our FaceBook page we had 25 likes for a while and we were thinking that it wasn’t going to work. I think when we checked it today, we had over 5,000 followers.”

The Pope County Storm Spotters are by their own admission a product of the social media phenomenon, specifically FaceBook. Caleb explained the popularity of PCSS as a product of today’s culture.

“People are connected to technology like never before. Everyone has a computer and a Smartphone. Everyone is connected to some form of social media like Facebook or Twitter, this allows instant notification of news. People like this and weather ranks high on the list of newsworthy items. Social media is the quickest way that people get information today.”

Living in the internet age has advantages for citizens that call tornado alley home as Kevin explained.

“A lot of our followers are here, in the River Valley. People want to know what’s going on with the weather, especially in the spring and fall. But, what’s neat is that we have followers from all over the country. I talked to one lady from Texas, asked her why she followed us and she said it was because she had family here.”

“I don’t know how accurate the FaceBook stats are, but we see that people from other countries look at our page. We have Arkansas Tech here in town with 10,000 students from all over the country and even other countries. I think that a lot of our follows come from people with family in the River Valley area.”

Parker gave his own take on the international followers. “I’m thinking that some of these people might be soldiers stationed in other countries checking on what’s going on at home or with some family here.”

Kevin mentioned the irony that PCSS, so well known throughout cyberspace, has almost no face recognition in the community. They fly under the radar, so to speak.

“It’s funny we have so many followers on the internet, but nobody recognizes us around town. Truck One is basically a billboard now, so people recognize it, but unless we wear a t-shirt, most people don’t know who we are.”

Kevin has had an interest in meteorology for several years and discussed this fascination.

“None of us has any formal training in meteorology, but it’s something that has always interested me. We’re involved in a partnership with KARK Channel 4 in Little Rock now, which has helped, and I’ve had some training with the National Weather Service.”

Kevin has plans to go into emergency management after high school.

“I want to work for Pope County; I want to stay in the River Valley.”

Caleb wants to go into graphic art and game design.

“These young men are in harm’s way all the time and they do it to help our community.”

“I love doing the weather stuff and I’d like to find a way to blend them together. I may move off to start my career and get experience somewhere else, but I’d like to come back. I want to help this area grow and develop.”

TheU.SMarineCorpfiguresheavilyinto Parker’s future plans.

“If I go into the Marines, my school will be paid for and I want to be a  meteorologist. I want to study weather and storms in particular, probably work for a television station.”

The PCSS team tries to balance community service with school and storm watching. Caleb talked about the community events that PCSS are involved in.

“We had the storm spotter school in conjunction with channel 4 and then I’ve got probably ten or more requests to speak. It’s just hard to find time with school and all.”

Local business owner Barbara Nunley is glad to have the PCSS in the community.

“These young men are in harm’s way all the time and they do it to help our community. It would scare me to death to be in some of these storms, and they drive right into them. TheytriedtogetmetoridewiththembutI said, ‘No way.’ I think they’re a brave bunch.”

Barbara has owned Home Services Storm Shelters and Safe Rooms for 18 years. Her business offered a raffle for a storm shelter with all proceeds going to the Pope County Storm Spotters.

“I think people really need to get on board and support these boys. They’re watching out for all of us.”

For the Storm Spotters it all comes down to passion and a sense of community.

“This is a job that has to be classified as a hobby because we don’t get paid for it. It’s something that we love to do though. We do it because it interests us and to help the community. That’s really why we do it, we just want to help people.”

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