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REPORT Severe Weather
  Spotter Activation
  Local Hazardous Weather Outlook
Severe Monitor - Brief yourself!

 

About Storm Spotters


 

Real-time storm reports, combined with Doppler radar data, are critical for issuing timely and accurate severe weather warnings. Spotters provide ground-truth information, such as hail size, wind speed, tornado development, and local damage, to help warn the public. These reports, that lead to warnings, can directly save lives. 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.

Becoming A Spotter


 

While there is on-line material you can study, we recommend you attend a spotter training class when offered in your area.  They are free of charge and open to all.  This allows you to learn about local protocols and preferences used by NWS La Crosse.

The National Weather Service (NWS) and local county emergency managers host spotter training classes every spring. These in-person spotter training classes are offered primarily in larger cities and towns, but also in several rural counties and smaller towns.  Nearly every county in the NWS La Crosse service area offers in-person spotter training classes at least every other year.  A few online (virtual) classes are also conducted every spring.

Here is a link to the NWS La Crosse Storm Spotter Training schedule.

NOTE:  Storm spotting is different than storm chasing. Training classes are geared towards training SPOTTERS that report in the local area.

2021 Spotter Training Schedule

             [ Link to full schedule & map ]

 

DATE TIME (CT) COUNTY CITY LOCATION
March 11 6:30 p.m. ALL ALL Completed
March 16 6:30 p.m. ALL ALL Completed
March 22 10:00 a.m. ALL ALL Completed
April 1 1:00 p.m. ALL ALL Completed
April 7 6:30 p.m. ALL ALL Completed
April 15 10:00 a.m. ALL ALL Via Webinar
April 20 6:30 p.m. ALL ALL Via Webinar

 

What To Report


Tornado / Funnel Clouds
 
  • Is there contact with the ground? Or is it a funnel cloud (aloft)?
  • Are there indications of rotation?  Are there signs of debris?
  • Are there reports of damage from that area?
  • What direction was it heading?  Is it still on the ground?
Tornado
tornado
  Funnel Cloud
funnel cloud
  Wall Cloud
wall cloud
 
Damaging Wind
 
Shelf Cloud
shelf cloud
  Shelf Cloud
shelf cloud
 
Hail
 
  • What size are the largest hail stones?
  • Avoid "marble" sized hail - were they dime, nickel, quarter, golf ball?
  • Hail size reference chart
Hail Sizes
hail size reference
 
Flood
 
  • What is the depth of water? Is the water stationary or moving?
  • What impact are flood waters having? Roads closed?
  • How much rain has fallen?
 
Winter
 
 

Amateur Radio


 

Amateur Radio Operators (HAMS) are a vital link in the spotter and communication network used by the NWS during severe or otherwise inclement weather and provide a reliable means of communications to NWS offices should normal communication modes fail.

 

Frequencies

Below is a listing of amateur radio frequencies and/or repeaters that SKYWARN spotters use in the NWS La Crosse service area.

NWS La Crosse uses the vanity call sign of 'WX9ARX'.

Local amateur radio volunteers help operate our base stations to collect area spotter reports. Otherwise staff members from the La Crosse National Weather Service (NWS) office, who have their amateur radio license, also operate and coordinate information.

An example radio log file can be found here - Amateur Radio Log

Main NWS La Crosse contact for spotter coordination is Todd Shea, Warning Coordination Meteorologist.

Amateur Radio repeaters

Southeast Minnesota

CITY FREQ TONE NOTES
Rochester #1 147.255+ 100.0 W0EAS Repeater
Rochester #2 146.82- 100.0 RARC Repeater
Wabasha Co. 146.745- 136.5
Winona #1 146.64- 100.0
Winona #2 146.835- 131.8
Spring Valley 147.015+ 110.9
Austin 146.73- 100.0  Too distant from NWS La Crosse

Northeast Iowa

CITY FREQ TONE NOTES
Cresco 146.925- 103.5
Decorah #1 146.67- 103.5
Decorah #2 147.165+ 123.0
St.Ansgar 147.195+ 103.5  Quite distant from NWS La Crosse
Dubuque 147.240+ 114.8  Quite distant from NWS La Crosse

Western Wisconsin

CITY FREQ TONE NOTES
La Crosse #1 146.97- 131.8 Primary Contact Repeater
La Crosse #2 147.09+ 131.8
Mt.Sterling 147.36+ 131.8 SW Wisconsin link
Viroqua 145.170- 131.8
Tomah 146.805- 131.8
Black River Falls 145.390- 131.8
Eau Claire 146.91- 110.9
Galesville 147.00+ 131.8
Richland Co. 146.910- 131.8
Beetown 146.895- 114.8 Distant to NWS La Crosse - Grant Co.

Central Wisconsin

CITY FREQ TONE NOTES
Mauston #1 146.85- 123.0  Also serves Adams Co.
Mauston #2 147.210+ 123.0
Adams Co. 147.03+ 123.0
Coloma 146.700- 123.0 Also serves Adams Co.
Big Flats 146.625- 123.0
Granton 146.775- 114.8 N9RRF Repeater / Link to north central WI
Unity 145.41- 114.8  Link to Taylor Co.
Willard 147.270+ 114.8
Sauk Co. 147.315+ 123.0 Link to NWS Sullivan
Baraboo 146.88- 123.0

Frequently Asked Questions

 

Here is a list of frequently asked questions about the SKYWARN program or severe storm spotting for the La Crosse NWS office.


  1. What is SKYWARN?
  2. Is there a cost for the training?
  3. Do I need to register before the training?
  4. Do I need to bring anything to the training class?
  5. Do spotters “chase” storms?
  6. Do spotters need special tools or equipment?
  7. Is there a minimum age requirement to become a spotter?
  8. When are spotter training classes held?
  9. How long is a typical training class?
  10. What is the training like?
  11. Are classes rescheduled due to bad weather?
  12. Will I get paid for being a spotter?
  13. Will I get an official ID, spotter number, or certificate?
  14. Can I attend training in a different county?
  15. Who typically deploys SKYWARN spotters?
  16. Who organizes local spotter networks?
  17. Who organizes and schedules the spotter training classes?
  18. Why can't training be held in my community?
  19. Why isn't training being held in my county this year?
  20. Is an advanced spotter training class available?
  21. How often do I need to come to training?
  22. Can I storm spot from home?
  23. Can I attend a training class and NOT become a spotter?

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.

Is there a cost for the training?

  • No. The National Weather Service provides training for groups (usually countywide) free of charge.

Do I need to register before the training?

  • Usually not. In most cases the training is open to the public. All you have to do is show up.

Do I need to bring anything to the training class?

  • Typically not, but if you want to take notes bring a pen, pencil, and paper.

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.

Is there a minimum age requirement to become a spotter?

  • Because of the complexity of severe thunderstorms and the potential dangers involved, spotting is recommended for adults (18 yrs or older). High school and Middle school students are welcome to attend the classes with a parent or other adult.

When are spotter training classes held?

  • The La Crosse NWS office usually conducts training during March and April. Classes are normally held during the evening hours, Monday through Thursday. Sometimes an afternoon class is scheduled.

How long is a typical training class?

  • Usually two (2) hours or less.

What is the training like?

  • An interactive multimedia presentation is given by a meteorologist, including various images and video loops from past storms in Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Brochures are also available. Some locations host the class with snacks or refreshments.

Are classes rescheduled due to bad weather?

  • Usually. This might happen due to a spring snow storm or on-going severe thunderstorms.

Will I get paid for being a spotter?

  • No. Storm spotting is a volunteer service. A spotter helps their community by becoming the "eyes" of the National Weather Service.

Will I get an official ID, spotter number, or certificate?

  • The La Crosse NWS office does not assign spotter IDs or numbers.  Certificates are available online if you attend a training session.  Some counties do assign IDs and numbers though which you obtain at the training class in their county. Contact your county Emergency Management director for any local policies.

Can I attend training in a different county?

  • Sure. Training is not held in every county every year so this may be your only option. The material presented is basically the same for each talk. Spotter procedures may be different in each county though. For specifics in your area, be sure to contact your county Emergency Management director.

Who typically deploys SKYWARN spotters?

  • Usually the county (911/dispatch, Sheriff Dept., Emergency Management director) deploys their spotter networks. Amateur radio operators may activate their networks as well. The National Weather Service may request spotters to deploy in a particular area but it is up to the individual group to decide when to go out.  Spotter can sign up to the NWS La Crosse Spotter Activation Notification System but this is NOT meant to replace established call out procedures.
  • Spotters should be deployed anytime thunderstorms threaten their community. A WATCH is a good time to prepare. A WARNING is often too late to deploy. Spotter networks need to be proactive and position themselves before storms move in. The National Weather Service tries to provide the groups with as much information as possible but may not always be able to contact each county or each spotter group. Use NOAA Weather Radio as another source of severe weather information.
  • Use our Hazardous Weather Outlooks as a way to stay ahead of a severe weather risk or to plan when deployment may be needed. You can also view the daily convective outlooks or severe weather risks for the next three (3) days at the Storm Prediction Center's Outlook page.

Who organizes local spotter networks?

  • Spotter groups are typically run within each county, and hence are usually organized by the county Emergency Management director. It varies from county to county. Amateur radio operators often work through clubs. In some cases fire departments organized themselves.

Who organizes and schedules the spotter training class?

  • Usually the training class is scheduled and organized by the county Emergency Management director. They work with the Warning Coordination Meteorologist (WCM) at the local NWS office to pick a date that works best for the group.
  • If you would like to organize a class, check with your county Emergency Management director first. Make sure a class is not already scheduled in your area or in a neighboring county. Minimum attendance should be 25 so ensure you have enough interest first. You can also contact Warning Coordination Meteorologist Todd Shea.

Why can't training be held in my community?

  • The location chosen for training in a county can vary. Some spots are used because of their central location in the county. Some are used because of size limitations of the group or equipment needed. Some counties move the location of the training from year to year. Spotter groups may need to travel a small distance in order to make a nearby session. Since the NWS often travels several hours to give training, we expect spotter groups to drive the 15 miles or less it takes to make most nearby talks.

Why isn't training being held in my county this year?

  • Often times the NWS will coordinate spotter training sessions with county Emergency Management directors. In some areas, counties will alternate training with neighboring counties, hold training every other year, or may not be having training this year due to low expected attendance. Other workload issues concerning Homeland Security may also force training to be skipped. You can always attend training in a neighboring county.

Is an Advanced Spotter Training class available?

  • At the current time, the La Crosse NWS office conducts training that covers basic to advanced material in one session. Occasionally a class that covers additional storm observation tools is presented.

How often do I need to come to training?

  • The La Crosse NWS recommends spotters attend a training session at least every other year. Some new information or spotting ideas are presented each year to keep the training as fresh as possible.

Can I storm spot from home?

  • Certainly. You can send a message to the La Crosse NWS via the Internet using our Instant Message feature. You can also call us directly via the telephone number distributed during our training sessions.

Can I attend a training class and NOT become a spotter?

  • Yes. 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 a fear of storms and hope that learning more will ease their fear.

Resources for Storm Spotters


 

References

  Spotting   Training / Misc

Climatology

SKYWARN Spotter Location Maps

  • Maps of area counties with suggested spotting locations