What is SKYWARN?

SKYWARN is a program of the U. S. Nation Weather Service or NWS. Its primary mission is to collect reports of localized severe weather events. These reports are used to aid forecasters in issuing and verifying severe weather watches and warnings and to improve the forecasting and warning processes and the tools used to collect meteorological data. It consists of a network of severe weather or “Storm Spotters” that observe weather conditions and make reports of severe weather to their local NWS offices. These spotters are regularly trained by personnel from the local NWS offices. In many areas, classes are conducted each spring in advance of the coming severe weather season.  Lowndes County usually puts on a class in the April time frame.

Where severe storms are possible, storm spotting groups such as SKYWARN in the United States coordinate amateur or “ham” radio operators and localized spotters to keep track of severe weather events such as thunderstorms and tornadoes. Reports from spotters and “storm chasers” are given to the National Weather Service so that they have the information to warn the general public. Spotting provides ground information and localized conditions that the National Weather Service might not know the extent or might not otherwise be aware of. They typically report events, such as structures struck by lightning, rotating wall clouds, funnel clouds–or conditions that exceed specific thresholds, such as extremely strong winds, significant hail or very heavy rainfall. The exact reporting thresholds can vary by region and may even dynamically change during a severe weather event. Spotters may also give status or information reports during winter storms, severe flooding, hurricanes and wildfires.

SKYWARN has long been associated with amateur radio service. Many NWS offices maintain an amateur radio station that is manned by amateur radio operators during times of severe weather. This allows licensed amateur radio spotters to transmit their severe weather reports directly to the NWS and receive up-to-date severe weather updates even if regular communications are disrupted or overloaded by the weather emergency. It does, however, it require 1) the cooperation of the local NWSFO, and 2) that the station actually be manned, live, in order for that to work. Depending upon a particular geographic location’s capabilities, enthusiasm, and security restrictions, manning an NWSFO can sometimes prove to be a difficult idea. Local amateur radio nets can still operate to gather the information, and someone can still then relay that information over the telephone or the internet.

It should be noted that participation in the SKYWARN program does not, however, require an amateur radio license. SKYWARN was not conceived by, nor is it owned or operated by any amateur radio organization. More than half of all SKYWARN spotters are not licensed amateur radio operators. SKYWARN is a program operated under the United States Department of Commerce/NOAA/NWS.

The NWS encourages anyone with an interest in public service and access to some method of communication, such as amateur radio, telephone, the Internet, etc. to join the SKYWARN 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 strongly encouraged to become spotters.

Those without radio communication capability can still make their reports via cellphone, landline telephone, or the Internet when those are still functioning.

When severe weather is active in the Valdosta/Lowndes County area VARC and SKYWARN members are encouraged to tune to the club’s 146.760 repeater  to report or to receive reports.

For more SKYWARN information contact Stewart KJ4GoJ who is the NWS-DEC at kj4goj (at) yahoo.com

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