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Training Schedule About Spotters What To Report Amateur Radio Becoming A Spotter FAQ Resources

 

Spotter Training Classes (Back to top)

 

Spotter training classes cover severe weather hazards including thunderstorms and tornadoes.  This includes the general structure and movement of severe thunderstorms, identification of important storm features, and safety concerns.

  • All classes to be conducted by the NWS Hastings office in 2017 are scheduled and posted below.
  • All classes last about 2 hours.
  • They are free and open to the public.
  • Classes are appropriate for all ages. Ages 10 and up will likely get the most out of the training.
  • Pre-registration is NOT required unless specifically noted for a particular class.  
  • Classes are scheduled in collaboration with local emergency management officials.
  • You may attend a class in any location, offered by any NWS office, regardless of where you live.  
Date Time County Location
April 6 6:30 PM  Buffalo (Nebraska) Ravenna Fire Station
TBD 6:30 PM  Rooks (Kansas) Rooks County Sheriff's Office - 803 South Elm, Stockton, KS (map - accurate location, new construction)


* The Valley County presentation on April 1st is just one part of the Region 26 Weather Symposium...the entire event runs from 1-5 PM

Online Spotter Training Course

 

The online course is a great introduction to storm spotting and can also be used as a refresher or a way to reinforce what you have learned in an in-person class.  

Online Spotter Training Course

Important note: At this time the NWS Hastings only accepts new spotter registrations from people who attend a class in person.  The reason...relaying accurate information effectively is critical during severe weather.  Therefore, we feel that it is important to attend spotter training in person to optimize this process.  

 
 

 

About Storm Spotters (Back to top)

 

Real-time reports are critical in issuing warnings and saving lives.  That’s an indisputable fact.  Spotters are provide this real-time ground-truth of local conditions - such as hail size, wind speed, tornado development, and local damage - to help warn the public. Even as new technology allows the National Weather Service to issue warnings with greater lead time, spotters will always serve as a critical link between radar indications of severe weather and what’s happening on the ground.

Who are spotters?

Virtually every community has some form of spotter network. Often, local fire and police personnel are trained to observe and report severe weather, partly due to their extensive radio communication and 24-hour operations.  Citizens may also be an active part of the spotter network, some with an avid interest in the weather and many without.  Some spotters are amateur radio operators.  All share a sense of responsibility to their neighbors.  

What is Skywarn?

SKYWARN is a program sponsored by the National Weather Service. The program is made up of thousands of volunteers who attend regular training and then scan the skies of their communities identifying and reporting critical storm information.  These volunteers, sometimes organized under the SKYWARN banner in the U.S., are typically trained by NWS forecasters to be the eyes and ears of both the warning forecasters and the local public safety networks. 


 

 

What to Report (Back to top)

 

Important points to remember during severe weather:

  • The NWS Hastings Forecast Office service area covers 24 counties in Nebraska and 6 counties in Kansas.   Because of this large coverage area, it is important to maintain efficient and effective communication.
  • Take the time to be sure of your observation.
  • Take the time to formulate your report before calling.  
  • If you are mobile, make sure you know where you are at all times.
  • Remain CALM.  Speak slowly and clearly. 
  • Please do not relay second-hand reports from TV, scanners, etc.

Printable Spotter Reference Sheet

Photo of softball hail in Grand Island by Breanna Morse.


Reporting Criteria: Please report the following:

Weather-related damage

  • Size/number of trees or limbs down
  • Damage to cars, trains, tractors, other vehicles
  • Damage to buildings, signs, traffic signals, etc
  • Significant crop damage
  • Power lines or poles down

Flash Flooding

  • Water flowing across roads
  • Water standing on roads
  • Roads closed or washed out
  • Creeks or streams out-of-banks
  • Floating cars
  • Buildings with basements or first floors flooding 
  • Mud or rock slides or debris flow

Tornado
Funnel Cloud
Wall Cloud

  • rotation visible - Yes, No, Not sure.

Heavy Rain (1" or more)
Wind gusts (50 mph or greater)
Hail (size?)

  • measured or estimated?

 

Amateur Radio and Storm Spotting (Back to top)


In some communities, the amateur radio community plays a very important role in severe weather operations by collecting ground-truth spotter reports in their area and communicating those reports via amateur radio to our office. This service is provided entirely by volunteers, and is both extremely valuable and appreciated! 

 

ham radio deskHAM Radio operators at NWS Hastings. Photo credit to Grand Island Independent. 

 

Become a Spotter in the NWS Hastings Area (Back to top)

So you are interested in becoming a storm spotter for the National Weather Service in the Hastings area. That's great!  Now you are wondering how to get started.  Well, you've come to the right place!  Here are the steps: 

 

 

1. Read some brief background about storm spotting.

About the Skywarn spotter program 
Frequently Asked Questions about Storm Spotting

2. Attend a storm spotter training class. 

Schedule of Spotter Training Classes
Classes are free, last about 2 hours, and are open to the public.  In the Hastings area, spotter training classes are conducted from late February through early April.  Scheduling of spotter training classes begins around the New Year. Spotter training classes cover the basics of severe weather, including storm structure, feature identification, spotter positioning, safety, and severe weather communication.

3. Register as a storm spotter for the NWS Hastings

Forms are available at each spotter training class.  By completing the form, you become a  registered NWS spotter.  This allows the NWS to call you for information about severe weather in your area.
 

4. Find out about the local storm spotting network in your community.

If possible, attend a class in your local area so you will gain the most information about the Skywarn activities in your own community.  If you are not able to attend a class in your community, contact your county emergency manager to learn more about local storm spotting efforts.
 

5. Retrain.

The NWS Hastings requires that spotters retrain every 2 to 4 years to remain active.

 

 Spotter Training class in Iowa City, IA
 Spotter Training Class in Holdrege, Nebraska on March 12, 2013.

 

Frequently Asked Questions about Storm Spotting (Back to top)

Who are Storm Spotters?
Virtually every community has some form of spotter network. Often, local fire and police personnel are trained to observe and report severe weather, partly due to their extensive radio communication and 24-hour operations. Citizens may also be an active part of the spotter network, some with an avid interest in the weather and many without.  Some spotters are amateur radio operators.  All share a sense of responsibility to their neighbors.

Why become a storm spotter?
Real-time reports are critical in issuing warnings and saving lives. That's an indisputable fact. Spotters provide this real-time ground-truth of local conditions - such as hail size, wind speed, storm structure, tornado development, and local damage - to help warn the public. Even as new technology allows the National Weather Service (NWS) to issue warnings with more lead time, spotters will always serve as a key link between radar indications of severe weather and what's happening on the ground.

What is Skywarn?
SKYWARN is a program sponsored by the National Weather Service. The program is made up of thousands of volunteers who attend regular training and then scan the skies of their communities identifying and reporting critical storm information. These volunteers, sometimes organized under the SKYWARN banner in the U.S., are typically trained by NWS forecasters to be the eyes and ears of both the warning forecasters and the local public safety networks.

Do spotters “chase” storms?
Generally, no. Some may be mobile, such as law enforcement officers; and others may track storms, depending on how the local network is structured. However, most spotters simply report the weather that occurs where they are.

Do spotters need special tools or equipment?
Maybe – or maybe not. All spotters need a reliable and effective means of communication with their network. Some may invest in a rain gage or perhaps an anemometer for measuring wind speed.

How do I become a community storm spotter?
Although the NWS often provides training, spotter groups in most areas are organized by emergency management officials or the police or fire department. If you are interested in becoming a spotter, check with these agencies to find out who serves as spotters in your area.

How do I become a spotter in the Hastings service area?
We have assembled a guide for becoming a spotter in our area.  Please check it out here: Become A Spotter

Is there an age requirement for attending a class or becoming a spotter?
Short answer: not really. People of all ages attend spotter training classes. Those ages 10 and up are likely to get the most from the class. Youth who are interested in registering as spotters with the NWS Hastings are registered along with an adult in the same household.

What training is required?
A typical Skywarn training class conducted by the NWS lasts about 2 hours. Classes include information on identifying storm features, effective positioning strategy, safety, and severe weather communication. The National Weather Service recommends that spotters train every 2 years to remain current.

When will a class be offered in my community?
In the Hastings service area, spotter training classes are conducted from late February through early April.  Scheduling of spotter training classes begins around the New Year.  A list of classes currently scheduled can be found  here: Schedule of Spotter Training Classes

Can I attend a class in another area?
Short answer: Yes, you can.  However, keep in mind that attending a class in your own county will give you the most insight into the Skywarn activities in your home community.  It is also generally good practice to train with the people you will be working with.  However, if you are unable to attend your local class, you can certainly attend a class in another area.

How often should I retrain?
The NWS recommends that spotters retrain every 2 years.  For NWS spotters in the Hastings service area, we require that spotters retrain every 4 years to remain active in our database.

Can I take spotter training online instead of attending a class?
At this time the NWS Quad Cities only accepts new spotter registrations and updates from people who attend a class in person.  The reason...relaying accurate information effectively is critical during severe weather.  Therefore, we feel that it is important to attend spotter training in person to optimize this process.  In the future, there may be an option to renew training online.

I don't want to be a spotter. Can I attend a class anyway?
Sure!  Many people attend spotter training classes because they simply have an interest in weather and want to learn more about storms.  Some even attend because they have fear of storms and hope that learning more will ease their fear.  Scout troops, high school science classes, and many others also often attend spotter training.

Can I schedule a spotter training class for my group?
Because classes must be complete before severe weather season begins, we must limit the number of classes to one or two per county.  This means that we usually are not able to schedule classes for individual groups.  Spotter training classes are coordinated through the county emergency manager and should include all groups and general public involved in the local storm spotting program.  Check with your local emergency management officials if you are interested in hosting a class for your county.

What do spotters report?
Spotters report all kinds of hazardous weather including hail, tornadoes, and storm-related damage.  The complete list is available on our NWS Hastings Spotter Reference Sheet