National Weather Service Needs Skywarn™ Weather Spotter Volunteers

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The National Weather Service (NWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are seeking volunteers to join their SkyWarn™ Spotters group. They are looking for people who are interested in helping them with real-time reports and are offering free training.

NWS and NOAA prepare Skywarn™ volunteers semi-annually (spring and fall).  Their webinar is scheduled for Tuesday, April 23, 2019, at 6:00 p.m. PT.

Go to the National Weather Service’s link ( to find the webinar time for other time zones. Skywarn™ classes are also presented in person. See the website for a training list.

Skywarn™ Program Overview

“The key focus of the Skywarn™ program is to save lives and property through the use of the observations and reports of trained volunteers,” according to the National Weather Service.

Since Skywarn™ was instituted in the 1960s, the NWS indicates they have seen a notable decrease in the death rate due to volunteer’s reports of tornadoes and other severe weather.

“The United States is the most severe weather-prone country in the world,” according to the “Weather Spotters Field Guide.” Each year, Americans are subjected to “an average of 10,000 thunderstorms, 5,000 floods, 1,200 tornadoes, and two landfalling hurricanes.” Roughly 90 percent of all presidentially declared disasters are weather-related. These atmospheric events cause approximately 500 deaths yearly and nearly $14 billion in damage.

The explains Skywarn™ weather spotter volunteers may find they make a few calls a season to the program depending on the weather pattern in their “neck-of-the-woods.” Also, if the spotter agrees, the weather service may reach out to for a “ground-truth” of the actual events happening near the Skywarn™ volunteer’s home.

Most likely, reports the NWS, their phone call would be to confirm there may be potentially severe weather such as thunderstorms, large hail, or damaging wind. “Other calls may be to verify heavy snowfall or peak wind speed associated with large winter storms.”

Skywarn™ Program Volunteers

Participating in the Skywarn™ program is civically noble. “Volunteers support their local community and government by providing the National Weather Service with timely and accurate severe weather reports,” according to the NOAA website.

These reports are consolidated along with the NWS technology. Then, used to properly inform communities to tack appropriate actions to take as the severe situations threaten their area.

All types of reports are welcome, however, watchers are trained to report on situations that could be potentially damaging or life-threatening. Their website indicates an overview of these weather events includes:

  • Wind, 40 mph or greater.
  • Hail, 1/2 inch or larger in diameter.
  • Tornado, any tornado, funnel cloud, or waterspout, frequent lightning or damaging thunderstorm winds.
  • Flooding, any significant amount of water in normally dry areas,
  • River flooding, any river rising above their normal level.
  • Heavy rain, one inch or more within 12 hours or 1/2 inch or more within an hour.
  • Heavy snow, any snow for the valley or coastal areas, and four inches or more in the mountains.
  • Blowing snow, when winds are more than 30 mph and visibility is less than 1/2 mile.
  • Freezing rain; any.
  • High surf or tides that are causing beach erosion.
  • Volcanic activity or earthquakes; any.

Events may vary depending on the state where the weather spotter lives which would be covered in the training for that area. The NWS “Weather Spotters Field Guide” offers greater detail on the above-mentioned list and includes other specific types of atmospheric events.

If interested in becoming a Skywarn™ volunteer program the NOAA website would like potential weather spotters to email Will Abue at [email protected].

Written by Cathy Milne-Ware


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: SKYWARN™ Spotter Program
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE: Weather Spotter’s Field Guide
National Weather Forecast Office: Portland, OR

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of OnurTurkcu’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License


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