HOME OF THE WX4RNK SKYWARN
Weather Service (NWS), in cooperation with other organizations, has established
the SKYWARN local severe weather spotting network. Founded in the
early 1970's, SKYWARN is made up of a group of trained, dedicated
amateur weather enthusiasts who work in conjunction with the National
Weather Service by observing and reporting adverse weather conditions to
promote public safety and minimize property damage. Anyone over the age
of 16 with an interest in weather and public service qualifies for
SKYWARN spotter training. Once trained, you are a qualified SKYWARN
spotter. Currently, the National Weather Service has around 2000
spotters of all ages and walks of life.
SKYWARN is an Integral Part of the Detection and
With the advent of
NEXRAD WSR-88D (Weather
Surveillance Radar 88 Doppler) and
other technologies, the art and science of weather forecasting has made
great strides. There are 158 operational NEXRAD radar systems deployed
throughout the United States and at selected overseas locations. But even with all the technology the National Weather Service
still needs "ground truth" observations. WSR-88D Doppler radar will help locate and
track potentially severe and dangerous storms, but it is SKYWARN
spotters that report what the storm is actually doing (trees blown down,
a tornado on the ground, flood waters washing out a bridge, a dangerous
glaze of ice on roads and wires).
Through training the NWS
teaches interested volunteers to be safe, effective and accurate weather
spotters who provide them with the needed ground truth. SKYWARN spotters
are trained to spot tornados, funnel clouds, and severe thunderstorms.
They are told how to report hail, strong winds, heavy rain, floods, and
snow. Forecasters combine information from spotters with that of WSR-88D
radar, satellite and other tools. This information is then used to
provide appropriate warnings for communities in the path of the storm
and to keep people informed about what is happening and what steps they
may need to take to protect themselves.
How does SKYWARN work?
SKYWARN, generally speaking, is
placed on stand-by when a severe weather watch is posted by the
National Weather Service. Once that watch is upgraded to a
warning, SKYWARN may be activated and spotters are asked to make
severe weather observations. After making an observation that is
reportable, there are three ways to relay the information to the
National Weather Forecast Office which include: telephone, amateur
radio, and E-mail.
How do I become a SKYWARN
All you need to do to become a
member of the SKYWARN volunteer network is to have an interest in watching
the sky and a dedication to helping save lives. You must be at
least 16 years old, be able to observe weather (though no
instruments are required), and have access to a telephone,
internet, or be a licensed amateur radio operator so you can relay
your reports by radio. You also must take a SKYWARN class, a free
seminar that teaches you the basics of how SKYWARN operates, and
how to recognize and report severe weather. All
training courses are free and are held in various sites throughout
the 40 county NWS Blacksburg area of responsibility (see map below)
and an online version is available..
NWS Blacksburg County
Warning Area (click for larger map)
SKYWARN works with ARES, RACES,
and the American Red Cross
utilizes SKYWARN amateur radio operators to maintain close coordination
with the American Red Cross and area Emergency Management through both
the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and the Radio Amateur Civil
Emergency Service (RACES). SKYWARN is formally acknowledged in a
Memorandum of Understanding (MAU) between the American Radio Relay League (ARRL),
the American Red Cross, and the National Weather Service. This agreement
states that the ARRL will encourage local volunteers operating under
ARES to provide spotters services and Red Cross communications as
requested by either the NWS during times of severe weather, or the Red
Cross while administering disaster relief efforts. A copy of the MAU may
be obtained by contacting the ARRL Publications Department.
ARES consists of licensed amateurs who
have voluntarily registered their qualifications and equipment for
communications duty when disaster strikes or for public events.
Amateur radio operators (Hams) are ideally equipped to contribute
to the SKYWARN program. National Weather Service offices have
amateur radio equipment installed on site and SKYWARN "nets" run
by volunteer Ham radio net control operators allow for NWS offices
to receive severe weather reports direct. In some cases, amateur
radio net coordinators may operate a net for their area and then
relay this information via e-mail, FAX, or phone. Additional information on
Emergency Communications is contained in:
What Happens to My Report Once
it is Received at the NWS?
Many of the reports are used to
issue statements, warnings and short-term forecasts to the public.
The reports also go into "Storm Data," which is a publication that
documents severe weather across the country and can be used to
create a severe weather climatology database of a specific county,
city or region of the country.
What is the SKYWARN Amateur
Radio Advisory Committee?
The NWS Blacksburg, Virginia SKYWARN Advisory Committee is
made up of exceptionally dedicated technically oriented amateur
radio SKYWARN spotters who work together for the betterment of the
area SKYWARN program. The ten member Advisory Committee
helps guide NWS Blacksburg in decision and policy making with
respect to amateur radio operations.