National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

skywarn logo

SKYWARN® Spotter Classes





SKYWARN® Spotter Classes are offered free of charge from the combined efforts of your local National Weather Service Forecast Office and typically either local government, local civic groups, or centers of higher learning. A National Weather Service meteorologist will teach the class and bring related materials. The local group will provide the facility for the class and register all participants in the class.


The classes are designed to educate the public on weather threats in this area, as well as strengthen the ties between the NWS and the local community. The more spotters the NWS has out there, the faster vital ground truth information gets to the NWS forecasters who make the decisions to issue life saving weather warnings. We generally teach between 15 - 25 classes in a year.


Due to limited extra staffing during the peak summer leave season, classes are generally taught between September and May.


The classes that are offered:



This course is a prerequisite for all other courses. Basics I is a good general overview of what it means to be a spotter as well as the basics of the different weather phenanomon that impacts the Mid-Atlantic. Upon completion of the course, you will be registered in the program by the NWS. You will receive a spotter code from the NWS within 6 weeks. Training in Basics I includes: 

  • The Basic Organization of the National Weather Service
  • The Role and Importance of the Skywarn Spotter
  • Reporting of Hazardous Weather
  • NWS Products and the Watch/Warning/Advisory system
  • Thunderstorm, Flooding, Tropical and Winter Weather Threats
  • The Role of Amateur Short-wave (HAM) Radio in the Spotter Program 



Training in the Tropical class is a good overview of tropical weather threats in this area. It is intended for everyone. Basics I is a prerequisite for this class. The Tropical class includes:

  • Types of tropical cyclones
  • Ingredients of meteorology necessary for Tropical cyclones
  • Hazards from tropical cyclones (storm surge, inland flooding, winds, tornadoes)
  • Hurricane climatology (where they form, typical tracks, season)
  • Local hurricane history
  • How they are observed and forecast
  • How to prepare and react?


Winter Storm

Training in the Winter Storm class is a good overview of winter weather threats in this area. It is intended for everyone. Basics I is a prerequisite for this class. The Winter Storm class includes: 

  • Winter Hazards in this Region
  • Winter Normals and Extremes
  • Winter Storm Ingredients
  • NWS Forecasts and Products
  • Role of Skywarn and Reporting
  • Winter Preparation and Safety



Training in the Flood class is a good overview of flood threats in this area. It is intended for everyone. Basics I is a prerequisite for this class. The Flood class includes:

  • Role of spotters & review of area
  • What to report & how
  • Types of Flooding
  • Forecasting and Meteorology of Flooding
  • Flooding Case Studies
  • NWS products for flooding


Coming Spring 2016...Convection

Training in the Convection class is a good overview of the severe weather threats in this area. It is intended for everyone. Basics I is a prerequisite for this class. The Convection class includes:

  • Radar Basics
  • Types of Thunderstorms
  • Ingredients for Severe Thunderstorms
  • Tornadogenesis
  • Severe Thunderstorm Hazards
  • Severe Weather Climatology
  • NWS products and tools for Severe Weather


Net Control (0-5 per year in our forecast area)

The Net Control class is for HAM radio operators who are interested in becoming Desk Operators for the SKYWARN amateur radio program here at the NWS Baltimore/Washington Forecast Office (in Sterling VA). Basics I is a prerequisite for this class.  Net Control includes:

  • Basics on the SKYWARN amateur radio program and organizational structure
  • The Network, subnets, and specs
  • Modes of operation of the SKYWARN amateur radio program
  • How to operate the Net Control position
  • Extended discussion of what the NWS is looking for in terms of reports, and how to work with spotters to get well-formed and accurate reports

**The Net Control class is taught by the National Capital Area SKYWARN Support Group. For more information on the class, please email Chris Strong at**