National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
NWS BOX Skywarn Program
What is Skywarn?
 
The effects of hazardous weather are felt every year by many Americans. To obtain critical weather information, NOAA's National Weather Service (NWS), part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, established SKYWARN™ with partner organizations. SKYWARN™ is a volunteer program with nearly 290,000 trained severe weather spotters. These volunteers help keep their local communities safe by providing timely and accurate reports of severe weather to the National Weather Service. In the average year, 10,000 severe thunderstorms, 5,000 floods and more than 1,000 tornadoes occur across the United States. These events threatened lives and property. 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 NWS to issue more timely and accurate warnings for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and flash floods.

 

SKYWARN™ storm spotters are part of the ranks of citizens who form the Nation's first line of defense against hazardous weather. There can be no finer reward than to know that their efforts have given communities the precious gift of time--seconds and minutes that can help save lives. While the main role of a storm spotter is to be their community's first line of defense against dangerous storms, they also provide important information to NWS warning forecasters who make critical warning decisions. Storm spotters play a critical role because they can see things that radar and other technological tools cannot, and this ground truth is critical in helping the NWS perform our primary mission, to save lives and property.
Dual-Pol radar Images
Dual-Pol Radar Images
 

Date County State Location Time Trainer
Updated: July 28, 2014, 12:16 pm
Any questions, please contact Stephanie Dunten

Spotter Training Live Course:

Forecasters from the National Weather Service in Taunton conduct storm spotter training sessions each year to help prepare spotters for the upcoming severe weather season. Most sessions are open to anyone who is interested in learning more about being a spotter, but you should check to be sure before attending a class as some are specific to certain groups.

Our live training sessions are approximately 1.5 hours in length. This goal of the training is to train spotter to assist local officials and the NWS with early detection of hazardous weather, and provide ground truth during severe weather events. The learning objectives of our live training sessions are:

Image of Springfield Tornado Damage
Springfield, MA Damage from the June 1st 2011 Tornado
  • Understand the how the NWS Integrated Warning System works and how the spotter fits into this system
  • Identify the ingredients needed for organized thunderstorms
  • Recognize the visual and environmental clues suggestive of severe weather
  • Distinguish between legitimate clues and non-significant features associated with severe weather
  • Learn how to stay safe when storm spotting
  • Learn proper storm reporting procedures

Approximately one-third of NWS-Taunton's spotters also are amateur radio operators. This dual role can be helpful, especially during a major storm such as a hurricane, when phone and power lines are downed and amateur radio may become the primary means of communications.

SKYWARN volunteers also help the NWS by reporting winter weather, flash flooding, coastal flooding, etc., according to the established criteria. It must be stressed that we are looking for reliable and objective reports. When snowfall reports are inflated or hail sizes are exaggerated, for example, it can do more harm than good. While not a requirement, it is preferred that our SKYWARN volunteers would be available to receive a call from the NWS, in the event we feel that something suspicious is happening in their area. A questionnaire form handed out at the training sessions allows one to give additional information, such as hours of availability, access to rivers/streams, type of weather equipment owned (if applicable), etc. Training sessions are held throughout southern New England, typically in the late spring and early summer months. The latest training dates are here, or one can find announcements on our website or on social media.

Relationship to COMET training: We understand that some SKYWARN training courses are available through COMET (the Cooperative Program for Operations Meteorology, Education, and Training)...entitled "Role of the SKYWARN Spotter" and "SKYWARN Convective Basics." While these are instructive, they do not meet the requirements to become a NWS-Taunton SKYWARN Spotter. In order to attain a Taunton SKYWARN ID #, it is necessary to attend one of the in-person training classes offered, usually in the spring and early summer. Once you are a trained spotter, then additional recertification can be done online.

Image of Waterspout
Waterspout images in Manomet, MA. Picture taken by Kevin Doyle.

Spotter reports help the NWS in the warning process. Your report becomes part of the warning decision making process, and is combined with radar data and other information and used by NWS forecasters to decide whether or not to:

  • Issue a new warning
  • Cancel an existing warning
  • Continue a warning
  • Issue a warning for the next county
  • Change the warning type (from severe thunderstorm to tornado, for example)

For your reports to be the most useful, they should be as detailed, accurate and timely as possible. Use the guidelines below to help you make your report:

Image by Tom Winter of NBC10 in Providence during the Feb blizzard of 2013
Radar Imagery from the June 1st Tornado
HOW TO REPORT:

Your severe weather report should be detailed but concise, and should address the following questions:

WHAT did you see?
WHERE did you see it?
Report the location/approximate location of the event. Be sure to distinguish clearly between where you are and where the event is thought to be happening ("I'm 5 miles north of Bristol. The tornado looks to be about 5 miles to my northwest").
WHEN did you see it?
Be sure that reports that are relayed through multiple sources carry the time of the event, NOT the report time.

Any other details that are important - How long did it last? Direction of travel? Was there damage? etc.

WHAT TO REPORT
Weather Events

Although reporting criteria may vary slightly depending on the spotter network and local needs, these are the events the National Weather Service would like to know about as soon as possible:

TORNADO    
FUNNEL CLOUD   Organized, persistent, sustained rotation
WALL CLOUD   Organized, persistent, sustained rotation
HAIL Quarter size or larger Report the largest size hailstone
WIND GUSTS 58 mph or higher Specify estimate or measurement
FLOODING   Flooding that impacts roads, homes or businesses. Streams or Rivers are near bankful
STORM DAMAGE   Damage to structures (roof, siding, windows, etc)
Damage to vehicles (from hail or wind)
Trees or large limbs down
Power/telephone poles or lines down
Damage to farm equipment, machinery, etc

Again, reports should provide as much detail as possible to describe the where, when, how, etc of the event.
 
Some commonly used hail sizes
 
Pea .25 inch Golf Ball 1.75 inch
Half-inch .50 inch Hen Egg 2.00 inch
Dime .75 inch Tennis Ball 2.50 inch
Nickel .88 inch Baseball 2.75 inch
Quarter 1.00 inch Tea Cup 3.00 inch
Half Dollar 1.25 inch Grapefruit 4.00 inch
Ping Pong Ball 1.50 inch Softball 4.50 inch
 
General Guidelines for Estimating Wind Speeds
 
30-44 mph (26-39 kt) Whole trees in motion. Inconvenient walking into the wind. Light-weight loose objects (e.g., lawn furniture) tossed or toppled.
45-57 mph (39-49 kt) Large trees bend; twigs, small limbs break and a few larger dead or weak branches may break. Old/weak structures (e.g., sheds, barns) may sustain minor damage (roof, doors). Buildings partially under construction may be damaged. A few loose shingles removed from houses.
58-74 mph (50-64 kt) Large limbs break; shallow rooted trees pushed over. Semi-trucks overturned. More significant damage to old/weak structures. Shingles, awnings removed from houses; damage to chimneys and antennas.
75-89 mph (65-77 kt) Widespread damage to trees with large limbs down or trees broken/uprooted. Mobile homes may be pushed off foundation or overturned. Roof may be partially peeled off industrial/commercial/ warehouse buildings. Some minor roof damage to homes. Weak structures (e.g., farm buildings, airplane hangars) may be severely damaged.
90+ mph (78+ kt) Many large trees broken and uprooted. Mobile homes damaged. Roofs partially peeled off homes and buildings. Moving automobiles pushed off the road. Barns, sheds demolished.
 
Winter Weather Guidelines
 
Observations are not limited to summer storms only. The NWS is especially interested in reports when snow is falling and radar echoes are not always able to detect the amount of snowfall and conditions on the ground. Please pass on the following information to your weather service office
Winter Weather
  • Precipitation type changes (rain to sleet/freezing rain/snow, when the change has "taken hold")
  • Thunder, when accompanied by snow
  • 1/3" radial ice accretion (from twig outward; not circumference)
Flooding
  • Minor, Moderate or Major Coastal Flooding
  • Ice Jams
Snowfall
  • First 2 inches; every 2-3 inches thereafter
  • 1 inch per hour or greater
  • If less than 2 inched total, give final total only
  • After the storm has passed, please give a final total.
Frequently Asked Questions
 
What is my spotter ID number? Do I get an ID card?

NWS Taunton does issue certificates or ID cards for spotters. In order to obtain your spotter ID #, you must attend a SKYWARN training session. There is also a 5 year retraining requirement in which spotters can attend another live session or take the online class.

Image of a question mark
 
How do I become a member of SKYWARN?

SKYWARN is not really something to be a member of. It's the concept of using volunteer storm spotters to provide critical information to local communities and to the NWS, and that's what has driven the storm spotter program since it began decades ago. Your community may have an organized storm spotter network that uses the name SKYWARN, and you should contact your local emergency manager to find out what formal spotter networks are in place near you.

Do I need an amateur radio license to be a storm spotter?

It depends on your community and how involved you want to be. You don't have to be an amateur radio operator to make a weather report, but many spotter networks are made up of dedicated amateur radio operators who use radio to coordinate their local network and to relay reports to the NWS. If you're interested in learning more about amateur radio, visit this site.

How do I report severe weather?

Feel free to give us a call on the 1-800 number listed on your spotter ID card, or you can also give us your report through our online reporting form. If you by chance take any pictures or ideos of hazardous weather across southern New England, you can post that information on our Facebook and/or Twitter accounts.

How long are the classes and are they free?

The SKYWARN classes generally run about 2 hours long. They are free and open to the public. Registration may be required at some of the training site but that will be noted on the training list.

Image of SCUD
SCUD moving across North Woburn, MA. Picture by Boris A Konon
Is there a minimum age requirement to become a spotter?

Because of the complexity of severe thunderstorm structure and development, and the potential danger involved, spotting is recommended for adults. High School and Junior High School or Middle School students are welcome to attend the class with a parent or other adult. Spotter numbers are given to anyone who attends a training and is at least 16 years of age or older. People younger than 16 who desire a spotter number, and who can present special circumstances will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Have a question? Contact Stephanie Dunten