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Frequently Asked Questions About Storm Spotters


 


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, many with an avid interest in the weather. 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. 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 actually 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? 
All spotters need a reliable and effective means of communication. Some may invest in a rain gage or perhaps an anemometer for measuring wind speed. Spotters should also have a way to monitor the weather as it approaches their location.

 Can I get a copy of the storm spotter's booklet?
There is a limited number of the Weather Spotter's Field Guide available for attendees of the spotter class. However, you can download your own copy by clicking here.

How do I become a spotter in the NWS Green Bay Service Area
Although the NWS often provides training, spotter groups in most areas are organized by county emergency management officials. If you are interested in becoming a spotter, check with these agencies to find out who serves as spotters in your area. We have assembled a guide for becoming a spotter in our area. Please check it out at: www.weather.gov/grb/skywarn

Is there an age requirement for attending a class or becoming a spotter?
Short answer: No. People of all ages may attend spotter training classes. However, spotters who report weather to the NWS should be 15 years or older.

What training is required?
A typical Skywarn training class conducted by the NWS lasts about 90 minutes. There is no cost to attend. Classes include information on identifying storm features, effective positioning strategy, safety, and severe weather communication. The National Weather Service recommends that spotters train every 2-3 years to remain current.

When will a class be offered in my community?
In the NWS Green Bay service area, spotter training classes are conducted from March through early May. Scheduling of spotter training classes begins around the New Year.  A list of classes currently scheduled can be found at: www.weather.gov/grb/spotterschedule

Can I attend a class in another area?
Yes, in most cases, you can.

How often should I retrain?
The NWS recommends that spotters retrain every 2-3 years. 

Can I take spotter training online instead of attending a class?
Yes. Information about online training is available on the NWS Green Bay spotter page: www.weather.gov/grb/skywarn

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 available. This means that we usually are not able to schedule classes for individual groups. Spotter training classes are typically 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?

  • Weather-related Injuries/fatalities
  • Weather-related damage:
    - Trees down (snapped or uprooted? diameter?)
    - Branches broken (diameter?)
    - Power poles down
    - Structural damage
  • Tornado (rotation?)
  • Funnel cloud (rotation?)
  • Rotating wall cloud
  • Hail (all sizes)
  • Wind gusts (50 mph or greater)
  • Flash flooding:
    - Creeks out of banks
    - Water > 6 in. deep that is moving/flowing over roads
    - Water > 2 ft. deep standing on roads
    - Unusual road and/or bridge closures
    - Buildings with basements or first floors filling with water
    - Mud or rock slides or debris flow
    - Ice jam, levee failure, dam break
  • Any other weather phenomena that is having a high impact (dense fog, black ice, etc.)

Including:

• Who you are
• Where you are
• Where the weather occurred
• When it occurred
• What was observed (details)

I have more questions. Whom do I contact?
Additional information is available on our Storm Spotter website: www.weather.gov/grb/skywarn
If you still have more questions, contact your county emergency manager or NWS Green Bay Warning Coordination Meteorologist Jeff Last (jeff.last@noaa.gov).