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Heavy precipitation for parts of the Pacific Northwest

Moisture will continue to stream into the Pacific Northwest for the next several days. Heavy rain will continue along the coast, while heavy snow will impact the highest elevations of the Cascades. In the northern Plains and Upper Great Lakes, more arctic air will bring periods of snow, blustery winds and cold wind chills. Light snow is also possible in New England and the Ohio Valley. Read More >

About Storm Spotters

 

Real-time reports are critical in issuing warnings and saving lives.  That’s an indisputable fact.  Spotters provide real-time ground-truth of local conditions - such as hail size, wind speed, tornado development, and local damage - to help warn the public. 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.

   
 

Spotter Training Classes

 

Spotter training classes cover severe weather hazards including thunderstorms and tornadoes.  This includes the general structure and movement of severe thunderstorms, identification of important storm features, and safety concerns.

  • All classes to be conducted by the NWS Quad Cities office are scheduled and posted below.
  • All classes last about 2 hours.
  • They are free and open to the public.
  • Classes are appropriate for all ages. Ages 10 and up will likely get the most out of the training.
  • Pre-registration is NOT required unless specifically noted for a particular class.  
  • Classes are scheduled in collaboration with local emergency management officials.
  • You may attend a class in any location, offered by any NWS office, regardless of where you live.  (Links to classes conducted by neighboring forecast offices:  Des Moines   LaCrosse   Milwaukee   Chicago   Lincoln  St. Louis   Kansas City)  

NOTE: Please click on calendar entry below to view more information about the training session.

Online Spotter Training Course

 

The online course is a great introduction to storm spotting and can also be used as a refresher or a way to reinforce what you have learned in an in-person class.  

Online Spotter Training Course

Important note: At this time the NWS Quad Cities only accepts new spotter registrations from people who attend a class in person.  The reason...relaying accurate information effectively is critical during severe weather.  Therefore, we feel that it is important to attend spotter training in person to optimize this process.  

 
 
 

What to Report

 

Important points to remember during severe weather:

  • The NWS Quad Cities Forecast Office service area covers 36 Counties in Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri.  Because of this large coverage area, it is important to maintain efficient and effective communication.
  • Take the time to be sure of your observation.
  • Take the time to formulate your report before calling.  
  • If you are mobile, make sure you know where you are at all times.
  • Remain CALM.  Speak slowly and clearly. 
  • please do not relay second-hand reports from TV, scanners, etc.

Printable Spotter Reference Sheet


Reporting Criteria: Please report only the following:

Weather-related damage

  • Size/number of trees or limbs down
  • Damage to cars, trains, tractors, other vehicles
  • Damage to buildings, signs, traffic signals, etc
  • Significant crop damage
  • Power lines or poles down

Flash Flooding

  • 6-inches of water (curb-deep) or more flowing across roads
  • 2-feet of water standing on roads
  • Roads closed or washed out
  • Creeks or streams out-of-banks
  • Floating cars
  • Buildings with basements or first floors flooding 
  • Mud or rock slides or debris flow

Tornado
Funnel Cloud
Wall Cloud

  • rotation visible - Yes, No, Not sure.

Heavy Rain (1" or more)
Wind gusts (40 mph or greater)
Hail (size?)

  • measured or estimated?

 

 

 

Amateur Radio and Storm Spotting


In some communities, the amateur radio community plays a very important role in severe weather operations by collecting ground-truth spotter reports in their area and communicating those reports via amateur radio to our office. This service is provided entirely by volunteers, and is both extremely valuable and appreciated! 

  • Within our office, we have 2m, 440, and HF capability.
  • We activate amateur radio operations during periods of severe weather watches and warnings. 
  • Due to a high volume of reports during severe weather, it is very important that information be passed effectively and efficiently.  To ensure that critical information reaches the right people, please review and follow the Skywarn Net Protocol below when interfacing with the NWS Quad Cities.
  • Net control support is provided primarily by volunteers from the Davenport Amateur Radio Club. 

Printable Frequency List and Protocol Reference 

ham radio desk

 

 

Become a Spotter in the NWS Quad Cities Area

So you are interested in becoming a storm spotter for the National Weather Service in the Quad Cities area. That's great!  Now you are wondering how to get started.  Well, you've come to the right place!  Here are the steps: 

 

 

1. Read some brief background about storm spotting.

About the Skywarn spotter program 
Frequently Asked Questions about Storm Spotting

2. Attend a storm spotter training class. 

Schedule of Spotter Training Classes
Classes are free, last about 2 hours, and are open to the public.  In the  Quad Cities service area, spotter training classes are conducted from late February through early April.  Scheduling of spotter training classes begins around the New Year. Spotter training classes cover the basics of severe weather, including storm structure, feature identification, spotter positioning, safety, and severe weather communication.

3. Register as a storm spotter for the NWS Quad Cities.

Forms are available at each spotter training class.  By completing the form, you become a  registered NWS spotter.  This allows the NWS to call you for information about severe weather in your area.
 

4. Find out about the local storm spotting network in your community.

If possible, attend a class in your local area so you will gain the most information about the Skywarn activities in your own community.  If you are not able to attend a class in your community, contact your county emergency manager to learn more about local storm spotting efforts.
 

5. Retrain.

The NWS Quad Cities requires that spotters retrain every 2 to 4 years to remain active.

 

 Spotter Training class in Iowa City, IA
 Spotter Training Class in Iowa City, IA

 

Frequently Asked Questions about Storm Spotting

 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, 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.

Why become a storm spotter?

Real-time reports are critical in issuing warnings and saving lives. That’s an indisputable fact. 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 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? 
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.

 How do I become a community storm spotter?

Although the NWS often provides training, spotter groups in most areas are organized by emergency management officials or the police or fire department. If you are interested in becoming a spotter, check with these agencies to find out who serves as spotters in your area.

 

How do I become a spotter in the Quad Cities service area

We have assembled a guide for becoming a spotter in our area.  Please check it out at: www.weather.gov/dvn/spotters#becomeaspotter

 

Is there an age requirement for attending a class or becoming a spotter?

Short answer: not really.  People of all ages attend spotter training classes.  Those ages 10 and up are likely to get the most from the class. Youth who are interested in registering as spotters with the NWS Quad Cities are registered along with an adult in the same household. 

What training is required?
A typical Skywarn training class conducted by the NWS lasts about 2 hours. 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 years to remain current.

When will a class be offered in my community?
In the Quad Cities service area, spotter training classes are conducted from late February through early April.  Classes are offered in alternating years, with one class annually in the large population centers.  Scheduling of spotter training classes begins around the New Year.  A list of classes currently scheduled can be found  at: www.weather.gov/dvn/spotters_schedule

Can I attend a class in another area?
Short answer: Yes, you can.  However, keep in mind that attending a class in your own county will give you the most insight into the Skywarn activities in your home community.  It is also generally good practice to train with the people you will be working with.  However, if you are unable to attend your local class, you can certainly attend a class in another area.

How often should I retrain?
The NWS recommends that spotters retrain every 2 years.  For NWS spotters in the Quad Cities service area, we require that spotters retrain every 4 years to remain active in our database. 

Can I take spotter training online instead of attending a class?
At this time the NWS Quad Cities only accepts new spotter registrations and updates from people who attend a class in person.  The reason...relaying accurate information effectively is critical during severe weather.  Therefore, we feel that it is important to attend spotter training in person to optimize this process.  In the future, there may be an option to renew training online. 

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 to one or two per county.  This means that we usually are not able to schedule classes for individual groups.  Spotter training classes are 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?
Spotters report all kinds of hazardous weather including hail, tornadoes, and storm-related damage.  The complete and most up-to-date list is available on our NWS Quad Cities Spotter Reference Sheet