NEW ORLEANS (AP) — With spring approaching, so is storm season in Louisiana and Mississippi. National Weather Service meteorologists are on the road, training storm spotters to understand what they see in clouds and on the ground — and to call it in.

The National Weather Service says that since the Skywarn program started in the 1970s, 290,000 people nationwide have been trained to report severe thunderstorms, hailstorms, floods, tornadoes and their damage.

A free, two-hour class is all it takes. Meteorologist Frank Rivette told a recent class that storm spotters once had to be ham radio operators, but cellphones and other technology now allow more people to participate.

Meteorologist Stephen Wilkinson in Jackson said reports of a tornado before it reached Hattiesburg, Miss., in February probably helped avoid any deaths in the storm.

Click here to learn how you can join the Lafayette SKYWARN group, which serves Lafayette and the Acadiana area.