An Introduction to SKYWARN(TM) by Dr. Alvie B. Stiefer, PhD
The movie "Twister" brought the same type of
attention to storm spotting as the movie "Urban Cowboy" did to Country
Music and the Red-necking world. However, with popularity comes
mis-information and in the world of storm chasing/spotting,
mis-information can mean putting yourself in a very dangerous situation.
There are many Spotters out there, but few TRAINED-Spotters. The
Trained Spotters are the spotters you hear about on weather notifications
from you local radio and TV stations, not the adventure seekers. Trained-
Spotter are just that, "Trained." The NWS (National Weather Service) holds
a free one day class to train and certify Spotters. The name of this
course is " SKYWARN(TM) " and it is essential to the NWS for
identifying, tracking severe weather and public safety. (See Notes
There are several "Do's" and "Don'ts" concerning Spotting.
The biggest "Do" is SAFETY and "safety" comes through Education. That is
why these classes are so important. They teach you how to identify storms,
how to approach them safely, how to identify what you are seeing and how
to report it to the NWS and Law Enforcement. SKYWARN(TM) teaches how a storm
forms, the difference between a regular thunderstorm and a severe
thunderstorm, even what a severe thunder storm looks like on radar. There
are many, many other things that they teach, however, they are too
numerous to list here. All of these classes are taught by
a meteorologist from the NWS.
Being a Trained-Spotter is an
asset to early warning to the public. However, because of over
enthusiastic untrained spotters, the desire to enter this area of public
service has so waned over the last few years that the numbers of trained
spotters has also diminished. The need for Trained spotters has increased
as more people have moved out of the city to rural areas.
Ham Radio Operators have always made the best
spotters due to their communications ability and their disciplined nature.
So important is this fact, that most all NWS Offices have a Ham Radio
Operator on duty to communicate with spotters. Also, most Ham Radio Clubs
have repeater links to further communicate with each other and the NWS. An
example would be the Salt Grass Link System
(see notes below), which connects much of southern Texas and can be
activated during a severe weather event thus increasing the Ham Radio
Spotter's ability to communicate a severe weather event to the NWS, Law
Enforcement, and other Spotters. There are other repeater link systems in
Texas that perform a similar function function and you most likely
have one or more in your state.
Because getting the right
information to the NWS is important, the need for more trained spotters is
great. I am always encouraging Hams and Ham Radio Clubs to get involved
with SKYWARN(TM) . This
is a much needed Public Service and it is a proven life saver. For
example, most of the time the spotter is the first to get to a damaged
community and a trained spotter knows how to report the immediate needs.
(I encourage all hams to be trained in emergency communication.) The NWS
will relay all information to the appropriate agencies.
I hope you
are beginning to see how this is not a job for the untrained and how much
you are needed. The class is held beginning in January for
communities. The schedule of classes are listed on the NWS website. (See
notes below). I have even had the NWS come out and hold a special
class for a Ham Radio Club, if there is enough interest. So, let me
encourage you or your club to join this very special group. It is very
easy, as an individual, just find a class near you and go. As a Club, the
same thing applies or contact the NWS Office that covers your area,
let them know what you are doing and they will instruct you on what to do
next. Another area to explore is to find the SKYWARN(TM) Coordinator for your
area and let them know of your intentions. The NWS Office has the name of
the coordinator for your area, just give them a call. See notes below on
how to get more information.
Now is the time to get ready for storm
season for North-East Texas or wherever you live. Hope to see you there
and talk to you on the radio. So, come on, be a part of SKYWARN(TM) and be a part of a proven life saving Team!
73 K5NHY (Doc)
Dr. Alvie B. Stiefer, PhD. K5NHY Email for
questions here >> dr.alviebstiefer (AT) yahoo.com (remove
the (AT) and add @
in its place no spaces.)
Where is the safest place
at home to be in a tornado? Very dramatic demonstration! Courtesy
Although much of this article refers to the state of Texas,
Skywarn(TM) is nationwide
in the U.S.!
About Skywarn(TM) From the National Weather
"SKYWARN(TM) is a volunteer
program with nearly 290,000 trained severe weather spotters. These
volunteers help keep their local communities safe by providing timely and
accurate reports of severe weather to the National Weather Service."
Quoted from NWS
"Although SKYWARN(TM) spotters provide essential information for all
types of weather hazards, the main responsibility of a SKYWARN(TM) spotter is to identify and describe severe local
Who is Eligible For Skywarn(TM) ?
The NWS encourages anyone with an interest in public service and access
to communications equipment, such as HAM radio operators, to join the
SKYWARN(TM) program. Volunteers include police
and fire personnel, dispatchers, EMS workers, public utility workers and
other concerned private citizens. Individuals affiliated with hospitals,
schools, churches, nursing homes or who have a responsibility for
protecting others are also encouraged to become a spotter. This is another
great reason for you to get your ham radio license.
How Can I Get Involved?
NWS has 122 local Weather Forecast Offices, each with a Warning
Coordination Meteorologist, who is responsible for administering the
SKYWARN(TM) program in
their local area. Training is conducted at these local offices and usually
at other scheduled locations near you and covers:
Basics of thunderstorm development
Fundamentals of storm structure
Identifying potential severe weather features
Information to report
How to report information
Basic severe weather safety
Classes are free and typically are about two
hours long. To find a class in your area:
When your state comes up, click on the name of your Weather Forecast
Once at your local WFO home page, in the blue bar on the left, look
for the Weather Safey section, then click on "Get Prepared" to
find a schedule of classes and other local information for your area
and under the "Storm Spotter" tab look for "Spotter Train
Schedule"..click on it.
You should also find a handy Storm Spotter Frequency list for your
area. If by some chance that that does not work, use the contact
information on your state map for your area using the instructions
above. Always choose the location nearest you. Spotter's
English, Espanol (PDF files, long download times expected)
Grass Link System (System Map)
- This is one of many wide-area linked radio networks of ham radio
repeaters used by the National Weather Service "Skywarn(TM)" spotters when activated during severe weather
forcasts. There are many of this type of link systems spread all over the
U.S. Many of these systems can easlily cover 10,000 square
miles. Search Google for more information.
SKYWARN(TM) is a registered trademark of
NOAA's National Weather