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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 below)

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 >>

Local Dallas Texas Area WX Radar
From Wunderground.com weather maps


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 Service:

"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 storms." Quoted from NWS

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:

  • Go to: http://www.stormready.noaa.gov/contact.htm and click on your state
  • When your state comes up, click on the name of your Weather Forecast Office
  • 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 Guide: English, Espanol (PDF files, long download times expected)

Salt 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 Service.