WHAT IS SKYWARN®?
SKYWARN® is a national network of volunteer severe weather spotters. The spotters are trained by local National Weather Service Forecast Offices on how to spot severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail and flooding. In some parts of the country, spotters also report snowfall and ice accumulation.
THE BALTIMORE/WASHINGTON FORECAST OFFICE SKYWARN® PROGRAM
The Baltimore/Washington Forecast Office has been recruiting and training spotters into its expanded network since 1990. We currently have over 5000 Spotters who cover 44 counties, 11 Independent Cities plus Baltimore City and the District of Columbia. Our network stretches west from the Chesapeake Bay across the eastern panhandle of West Virginia and south from the Mason-Dixon Line through Fredericksburg, Charlottesville and Staunton in Virginia.
WHO ARE OUR SPOTTERS?
Our volunteers are people who either have a strong interest in weather or are public service oriented such as amateur radio operators, REACT members, or emergency response personnel. Our spotters are all ages beginning as young as 14 and range well into retirement age. We have farmers, pilots, engineers, housewives, lawyers, television cameramen, teachers, students, firemen, and more. Our volunteers are truly diverse but with a common interest in weather and a strong desire to help their community.
HOW DOES SKYWARN® WORK?
When hazardous weather occurs such as severe thunderstorms, floods, tornadoes, snow and ice storms, our volunteers report what is happening at their location. They are asked to report whenever certain criteria are met such as when one inch of rain has fallen, four inches of snow is on the ground, a thunderstorm is producing hail, or trees have been blown down. Reports arrive at our office via the telephone, internet, and amateur radio. The reports are combined with radar and satellite data to determine what the storms will do next. Spotters provide the "ground-truth" to our forecasters. Radar may tell us that heavy snow is falling, but it can not tell us how much snow is on the ground or if rain is mixing with the snow. Spotters do. The reports are used by forecasters to send out public statements, warnings and advisories, and short-term forecasts. These products reach the public through the internet, NOAA Weather Radio, the media and other commercial services. SKYWARN® reports also go into Storm Data, which is an official publication that documents severe weather across the country. Storm Data can be used to create a severe weather climatology (or history) of a local county or city. Storm Data is published (electronic and hard copy versions) by the National Centers for Environmental Information.
HOW DOES THE SKYWARN® AMATEUR RADIO NET WORK?
Two-thirds of our volunteers are licensed amateur radio operators. Amateur radio plays a big role in the SKYWARN® program. During severe weather, amateur radio volunteers man a radio station at our office. They talk to our spotters in the particular area that a storm is hitting and request information needed by the forecasters such as hail size or rainfall accumulation. Large storms such as hurricanes can knock out phone service. Skywarn® Amateur radio volunteers help us when there are communications outages so that we can continue to receive weather reports and feed warnings and other critical information out to communities.