Published: 07/12/2006   

Warnings came from local spotters

By Steve Landwehr
Staff writer

DANVERS - Phillip Knight nearly fulfilled a burning ambition yesterday afternoon.

"I've been waiting all my life to see a tornado," the 38-year-old Danvers resident said. "Although God forbid anyone gets hurt."

For the past 11 years, Knight has been a member of Skywarn, a band of weather watchers trained by the National Weather Service to monitor conditions in their neighborhoods during severe weather. For a variety of reasons, radar doesn't always provide an accurate picture of what's happening on the ground, and the weather service takes reports from these volunteers seriously.

Knight was headed home at about 2:30 yesterday afternoon when he heard reports of severe weather headed for Topsfield. He drives a car equipped with a ham radio and, on a whim, drove north on Route 95.

Near the junction of Route 1, he saw what is technically called a rotating wall cloud. It's not a tornado, but it is a pattern that can spawn one at any second. Knight and two fellow spotters reported the news to the weather service, which quickly issued a tornado warning for eastern Essex County.

"We saw the wall cloud before the radar did," Knight said.

While most people might have headed for shelter at that point, Knight followed the cloud formation as it churned toward Ipswich, eventually chasing it all the way to Crane Beach. He never saw it touch the ground.

He admitted his pursuit might seem foolhardy, but said it's just in his blood.

"I've been fascinated by weather all my life," he said. "I get great pleasure from assisting the National Weather Service."