The National Weather Service is looking to grow their citizen scientist volunteer population, encouraging more to join the Skywarn storm spotter network. Since the program started in the 1970s, the information provided by Skywarn spotters, coupled with Doppler radar technology, improved satellite and other data, has enabled the National Weather Service to issue more timely and accurate warnings for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and flash floods. The National Weather Service says that Skywarn storm spotters “form the nation’s first line of defense against severe weather” and adds that “there can be no finer reward than to know that your efforts have given your family and neighbors the precious gift of time–minutes that can help save lives.
To obtain critical weather information, the National Weather Service established Skywarn; today, there’s more than 350,000 trained severe weather spotters in the Skywarn program. While Skywarn spotters provide essential information for all types of weather hazards, the focus of reporting is on severe storms that strike throughout the country. According to the National Weather Service, the U.S. experiences more than 10,000 severe thunderstorms, 5,000 floods, and 1,000 tornadoes every year.
The National Weather Service encourages anyone with an interest in public service and access to communication, such as amateur radio, to participate as a Skywarn storm spotter. 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. But anyone with an interest in weather and a passion in being a citizen scientist is welcome to join. To join, interested people must participate in a training session offered by their local National Weather Service office. These free training classes usually last about 2 hours; most happen in a live classroom or auditorium setting, although more and more National Weather Service offices are hosting webinars and conference calls where people can dial-in and participate in the training from home.
In the roughly two hour long training session, meteorological basics are reviewed. Skywarn spotters will understand the basics of thunderstorm development, the fundamentals of storm structure, and will be able to identify potential severe weather features. Trainees will learn what kind of information to report to the National Weather Service and how to go about reporting it. In addition to learning about and reporting on severe weather, Skywarn spotters will also learn about basic severe weather safety to keep them safe when severe weather strikes.
To join a Skywarn training session or to learn about the next one in your area, you’ll need to contact your local Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the National Weather Service. He or she can help you get, find or replace your spotter information and let you know about upcoming classes. Information on where the local National Weather Service office is and who a Warning Coordination Meteorologist there is can be found at this National Weather Service website.
Once someone successfully completes a Skywarn training session, they are issued a unique Skywarn spotter ID code they’ll need to use when sharing their storm report. Once the Skyward spotter ID is issued, Skywarn members can also join a SpotterNetwork to network with others and learn more about severe weather events. The SpotterNetwork brings storm spotters, storm chasers, coordinators and public servants together in a seamless network of information. It provides accurate position data of spotters and chasers for coordination/reporting and provides ground truth to public servants engaged in the protection of life and property. Beyond SpotterNetwork, other local and county officials can provide additional information about how spotter groups are organized in local areas. Many spotter groups in some small communities are led by local volunteer firefighters with assistance from law enforcement, amateur radio operators, and other community volunteers such as CERT volunteers.