National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

 

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 NWS.

In the average year, 10,000 severe thunderstorms, 5,000 floods and more than 1,000 tornadoes occur across the United States. Eastern New York and western New England are no exception with major weather events such as Tropical Storm Irene, the Mechanicville Tornado of 1998, the February 2019 high wind event, and numerous blizzards including the latest of March 2017. These events threatened lives and property and because of this we rely heavily on our SKYWARN™ volunteers who call the NWS in Albany, NY to report certain weather conditions. 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.
 


Click here to register for a spotter training session

Date County State Location Time
11/20/19 Washington NY 383 Broadway – Building B Basement 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM

 

Webinars:

Date County State Location Time
12/14/19 ALL ALL Online Webinar (registration link) 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM

 

Forecasters from the National Weather Service (NWS) in Albany, NY conduct storm spotter training sessions each year to help prepare spotters for the upcoming severe and winter weather seasons. These sessions are free and open to anyone who is interested in learning about hazardous weather and the role of a spotter. There are some eligibility requirements to be a spotter: You must be able to observe the weather, be 16 years or older and need access to a phone to call in reports, access to the internet to submit reports via email or social media, or be able to report information through the Amateur Radio Network.

Our live training sessions are approximately 1 to 1.5 hours in length, and once you complete the training, you will be an official SKYWARN™ spotter and given a spotter certificate. This goal of the training is to train spotters to assist local officials and the NWS with early detection of hazardous weather, and provide ground truth during severe and winter weather events. The learning objectives of our live and online webinar training sessions are:
  • 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 about the different types of winter weather and how to measure each
  • Learn how to stay safe when storm spotting
  • Learn proper storm reporting procedures
Approximately one-third of NWS-Albany'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, 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 eastern New York and western New England, typically in the spring and fall months. The latest training dates can be found on the Training Schedule tab just above. One can also 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™ Spotter Convective Basics". These COMET courses do meet the requirements to become a NWS-Albany SKYWARN™ Spotter. In order to attain a Albany SKYWARN™ Spotter handout, you may either attend one of the in-person training classes offered, an online webinar session, or complete the online courses. Once you are a trained spotter, re-certification can also be done online. 


Please contact us with your completed certificates.


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, concise, accurate and timely as possible. Your severe weather report should address the following questions:
 

HOW TO REPORT:

Please use one of the following ways to contact NWS Albany with your storm report:

Remember to include the following information:

  • WHAT did you see?
  • WHERE did you see it?
  • WHEN 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.e., "I'm 5 miles north of Saratoga Springs. The tornado looks to be about 5 miles to my northwest"). 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.


Although reporting criteria may vary slightly depending on the spotter network and local needs, the significant weather elements below (Severe, Hail, Wind, Winter) are ones the National Weather Service (NWS) would like to know about as soon as possible. Again, reports should provide as much detail as possible to describe the where, when, how, etc., of the event.

Click on each item to view reporting criteria

 
Weather Event Report Criteria What Specifically to Report
TORNADO   What damage did you observe?
How long was it on the ground? When did it start and end?
How wide was it? How far did it travel if known?
FUNNEL CLOUD   Organized, persistent, sustained rotation
WALL CLOUD   Organized, persistent, sustained rotation
HAIL Pea-size or larger Report the largest size hailstone
WIND GUSTS 40 mph or higher Specify estimate or measurement
FLOODING   Report flooded roadways, river and streams, giving approximate water depth.
Is it standing water or is it flowing?
Is the water level continuing to rise, staying steady or falling?
Is the flooding occurring in a known flood prone area?
Any damage from the flooding or mudslides?
STORM DAMAGE   Damage to structures (roof, siding, windows, etc)
Damage to vehicles (from hail and/or wind)
Trees or large limbs down
Power/telephone poles and/or lines down
Damage to farm equipment, machinery, etc.

 

Commonly used hail sizes are provided below. As a reminder, spotters are encouraged to report pea-sized hail or greater.
 
Hail Type Hail Size
Pea 0.25 inch
Half-inch 0.50 inch
Dime 0.75 inch
Nickel 0.88 inch
Quarter 1.00 inch
Half Dollar 1.25 inch
Ping Pong Ball 1.50 inch
Golf Ball 1.75 inch
Hen Egg 2.00 inch
Tennis Ball 2.50 inch
Baseball 2.75 inch
Tea Cup 3.00 inch
Grapefruit 4.00 inch
Softball 4.50 inch

 

General guidelines for estimating wind speeds are below. As a reminder, we encourage spotters to report wind gusts of 40 mph or greater.
 
Wind Speed Typically Observed Damage
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.

 

Observations are not limited to severe 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:
 
Weather Event Criteria
Winter Weather
  • Precipitation type changes (rain to sleet/freezing rain/snow, when the change has "taken hold")
  • How much heavy snow accumulation is there and is there any damage?
  • Do blizzard conditions exist: winds 35 mph+ AND visibility 1/4 mile or less?
  • Thunder, when accompanied by snow
  • Any occurrence of freezing rain, ice accumulation and damage.
Flooding
  • Minor, moderate or major flooding (including standing water 3+ feet deep, rushing water 1+ foot deep, water rescues, etc)
  • Ice jams
  • Mud or debris slides caused by heavy rain
Snowfall
  • Snowfall amounts 2-inches or greater
  • If snowfall rates are 1-inch per hour or greater
  • Final snowfall total immediately at the end of the storm

 

 
 

What is my spotter ID number? Do I get an ID card?ExpandCollapse

NWS Albany does issue spotter certificates but no longer issue Spotter ID numbers. In order to obtain your spotter certificate, you must attend a SKYWARN™ training session or complete the COMET courses. There is also retraining requirement every other year in which spotters can attend another live session or take the online class.

How do I become a member of SKYWARN™?ExpandCollapse

SKYWARN™ is not to be considered a club which requires membership. It is the concept of using volunteer storm spotters to provide critical information to local communities and to the NWS, and that is 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?ExpandCollapse

It depends on your community and how involved you want to be. You do not 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.

How do I report severe weather?ExpandCollapse

The quickest way to report severe weather is by calling us at the 1-800 number listed on your spotter handout. Other methods include tagging us on Facebook or Twitter, submitting through our Google Storm Report Form, and by emailing us at alb.stormreport@noaa.gov

How long are the classes and are they free?ExpandCollapse

The SKYWARN™ classes generally run about 1 to 1.5 hours long. They are free and open to the public. Registration is required for all training sessions. 

Is there a minimum age requirement to become a spotter?ExpandCollapse

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 certificates 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 certificate, and who can present special circumstances will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

If I have additional questions, who do I contact?ExpandCollapse

Please feel free to contact  NWS Albany

 

Below are few resources hosted locally at the National Weather Service in Albany, NY, as well as National and Amateur Radio resources concerning SKYWARN™.


Below are previous SKYWARN™ training sessions and a quiz for your review.

Please note this training is only meant as a refresher. It is highly recommended you attend a live training session or online webinar when offered in the spring and fall, at least once every two years.