What is SKYWARN?
SKYWARN is the name given to a program sponsored by the US National
Weather Service. The program is made up of thousands of who volunteers
attend regular training and then spend hours scanning the skies of
their communities looking for signs of meteorological mayhem. These
volunteers, usually organized under the SKYWARN banner in the USA or
CANWARN in Canada, are trained by weather service forecasters to be the
eyes and ears (and skin) of the warning forecasters.
Most volunteers are just regular folks, some with an avid interest in
the weather and many without. Some are law enforcement officers,
firefighters, EMS or Emergency Management personnel. All share a sense of
responibility to their neighbors.
Charles Doswell, Alan Moler, and Harold Brooks cover the topic of
storm spotting (in the context of the Integrated Warning System) in an
excellent paper entitled Storm
Spotting and Public Awareness Since the First Tornado Forecasts of
What about all those new sensors the National Weather Service recently
installed? Don't tell me they don't work!
Not at all! The now complete network of WSR88D (Weather
Surveillance Radar, 1988, Doppler) radars is functioning quite well and
has saved many lives. However, the system can not detect every
tornado nor was it designed to do so. For this reason, spotters in the
field are used to provide invaluable "ground truth" information to
verify and enhance what forecasters see on their radar console.
How do I become a storm spotter?
The easiest way to become involved to contact your regional National
Weather Service office's Warning Coordination Meteorologist (WCM). The
WCM acts as the liason between the forecast office and local emergency
management and spotters.
Contact information for your local forecast office can be found in the
Blue Pages of your local telephone directory or at the National
Weather Service website.
In some areas, the programs are run directly from the office itself;
in other areas, programs are run by county or municipal authorities and
sometimes, even by citizen groups, such as amateur radio clubs.
Whichever model is used, the local WCM will be able to provide contact
information for a given area. The WCM is also the one that oversees
the meteorological aspects of spotter training.
For a general overview of storm spotting, meteorologist and
volunteer storm spotter, Keith Brewster, has written a brief guide to
Getting Started in
Tornado and Thunderstorm Spotting . Todd Sherman, KB4MHH,
Coordinator of Alachua County, Florida, SKYWARN program, has published
a comprehensive Index to
SKYWARN Web Pages On The Internet.
I've signed up to take a spotter class from my local NWS Forecast
Office, but it's not until next week. Are there any sources of training
You'd likely have been surprised if the answer were "no"! There are
many good training sites on the net, a few of which are listed below.
There is, however, one caveat: None of the pages listed below are
meant to be a substitute for official storm spotter training. Contact
your local NWS office for details on spotter training in your area.
Don't I need to be a "ham" to be a spotter?
Won't I have to learn Morse Code?
No site dedicated to SKYWARN activities would be worth the bandwidth
if it didn't inculde a section about communications. After all,
communicating -- getting severe weather observations from the field to
the forecaster or emergency manager and then out to the public -- is
what the SKYWARN program is all about!
In answer to the question "do I need to be a ham to be a spotter?"
the answer would have to be "no, but it sure helps!". Many, but not
all, SKYWARN programs use Amateur Radio to relay information from the
field to the weather service forecasters and emergency managers. Some
programs use the General Mobile Radio Service, while others use public
safety radio systems such as police and fire systems.
And about Morse Code? That went out with the 20th Century! Entry-level
amateur radio licenses haven't required Morse Code knowledge since
Keith Brewster, NØIAW, maintains a Weather
Spotting Frequency List. In addition to Amateur Radio Service
frequencies, many other frequencies are listed as well.
Last Update: 2006-04-14 @ 17:53:47 EDT