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WX4RNK - Amateur Radio Home of Blacksburg SKYWARNanemometer


SKYWARN LogoThe National 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 Warning Process!

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 Spotter?

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 SKYWARN spotter 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..

RNK/NWS County Warning Area Map
NWS Blacksburg County Warning Area (click for larger map)

SKYWARN works with ARES, RACES, and the American Red Cross

ARRL LogoThe NWS 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.

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