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Introduction

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.

 

Who Are Skywarn Spotters?

The effects of severe weather are felt every year by many Americans. Real-time storm reports, combined with Doppler radar data, are critical for issuing timely and accurate severe weather warnings. Trained Skywarn spotters will always serve as a critical link between radar indications of severe weather and what’s happening on the ground.

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. Spotters provide the NWS ground-truth information, such as hail size, wind speed, tornado development, and local damage. These reports can directly help the National Weather Service perform our primary mission, to save lives and property.

 

(Disclaimer: Trained Skywarn Storm Spotters are not employees of the National Weather Service. The National Weather Service always prioritizes safety and will never "deploy" Skywarn spotters.)

Becoming A Spotter

There are two options to become a Trained Storm Spotter for NWS Green Bay:

  1. Attend one of the NWS Green Bay Spotter Training webinars:
    These webinars are 100% virtual and presented every Spring by NWS Green Bay.

    -or-
     
  2. Complete the 2 Online National Skywarn Training Courses.
    The courses are "The Role of the Skywarn Spotter" and "Skywarn Spotter Convective Basics". The courses will require you to register with the MetEd Training Site here:  http://www.meted.ucar.edu/training_course.php?id=23
     

Spotter Registration

The form below allows people to register as a new spotter, or update their previous registration information for the Skywarn Spotter program with NWS Green Bay. This information will never be shared with anyone and is only used so NWS Green Bay can contact you in severe weather situations, and/or to help NWS Green Bay plot your information/location when you report severe weather.

NOTE: This is only for spotters in the NWS Green Bay forecast area.

 

 

2022 Spotter Training Schedule

Each year NWS Green Bay provides several online storm spotter training opportunities using GoToMeeting Webinars. These live interactive training sessions are conducted by a NWS meteorologist and available to you at no cost via your computer, or by using the GoToMeeting app on your smartphone or tablet. 

To sign up for one of our online classes, simply click on "REGISTRATON LINK" of the class you would like to attend.

 Notes:

  • Each class will have roughly the same content, so you only need to attend one session- but, you may attend more than one class if you wish.
  • These classes are always 100% free, and are open to new & seasoned spotters/observers alike.
  • Each class runs about 40 to 50 minutes in length.
  • During severe weather season, the "Standard" talk covers the basics of Spotter Training (e.g. severe weather safety, what to report, how to report, etc.)
  • During severe weather season, The "Advanced" talk covers severe weather safety and focuses more in-depth on the science behind severe weather. It is recommended that you have attended the Standard Talk prior to taking the advanced talk
DATE TIME (CST)   REGISTRATION LINK
Monday, November 14 12 PM 2022 Winter Weather Skywarn Safety Talk - #1  
Tuesday, November 29 7 PM 2022 Winter Weather Skywarn Safety Talk - #2
Thursday, December 1 7 PM 2022 Winter Weather Skywarn Safety Talk - #3
Tuesday, December 6 12 PM 2022 Winter Weather Skywarn Safety Talk - #4
Saturday, December 10 7 PM 2022 Winter Weather Skywarn Safety Talk - #5

          NOTE:  All Skywarn Spotter Training will be 100% virtual for 2022. 

 

Spotter Safety

Whether you are mobile or spotting from a fixed location, safety is a storm spotter’s number one priority!


 

Driving Hazards and Safety

The routine act of simply driving a vehicle is probably the most dangerous activity storm spotters engage in. When you take the normal everyday risks associated with driving, and add to that the additional risks storm spotters face, such as driving in bad weather, being distracted by the storm, using the radio or cell phone, etc, it becomes apparent that mobile spotters need to take extra care to be safe.

Here are some suggestions to help you stay safe when spotting from your vehicle:

  • Make sure your vehicle is mechanically ready.
  • Always be sure you have enough gas.
  • Always wear your seat belt.
  • Drive only as fast as the law, and weather and road conditions allow.
  • The driver should focus on the road, not the storm. When possible, spot in teams of at least two people.
  • Avoid unpaved roads. Being stuck in the mud as a storm approaches is a very uncomfortable position to be in.
  • Do not drive into blowing dust, heavy rain, hail or fog that obscures your view.
  • If you must pull over, be sure you are well off the roadway to avoid being hit from behind.
  • Highway overpasses should not be used as weather shelter areas. Watch for stopped vehicles near overpasses.
  • Consider keeping the engine running when stopped to view a storm.
  • Be alert for increased traffic and pedestrians (storm chasers, media, etc) around severe storms.
  • After the storm, be on the lookout for debris, downed trees and power lines. Assume every power line is live and stay far away from it.

 

Lightning Hazards and Safety

If you are close enough to a storm to hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning. Lightning can strike with no warning - the first bolt could be the one that gets you.

Here are some tips to stay safe from lightning while spotting:

  • Stay in your vehicle whenever possible.
  • While in your vehicle, try to avoid contact with the steering wheel, radio, etc.
  • Do not lean on your vehicle.
  • Stay away from fences and power lines - they can carry lightning currents to you.
  • Avoid being close to the highest object.
  • If you are in the open, avoid being the highest object. Squat on the balls of your feet. This will reduce the amount of area that your body is in contact with the ground.
  • Take a CPR class.

 

Flash Flood Hazards and Safety

Floods kill more people than any other weather hazard. Most people that are killed drown in their vehicles. Remember -- Turn Around, Don't Drown!

Here are some tips to stay safe from flash flooding while spotting:

  • Never drive across a flooded roadway unless you are certain of the water's depth and that the road is intact under the water.
  • Flooding is most dangerous at night, so be especially alert after dark.
  • Watch for washed-out roads and bridges.
  • If your vehicle stalls, get out immediately and head for higher ground. Again, most people who are killed by flash flooding drown in their vehicles.

 

Severe Storm Hazards and Safety

Mobile spotters should be extra cautious when operating around any thunderstorm, and even more cautious when dealing with a severe storm.

Here are some tips to stay safe from severe weather while spotting:

  • Know where you are at all times. Be sure your dispatcher or net control station knows your location.
  • Know where you are in relation to nearby thunderstorms.
  • Know the movement (speed and direction) of nearby storms.
  • Always have an escape route to take you out harm's way.
  • Do not "core punch" or drive into a thunderstorm's core. You may encounter a variety of extremely dangerous conditions, including giant hail or even a tornado.
  • Maintain a safe distance when viewing a wall cloud, funnel cloud or tornado. How much distance is safe will depend on a variety of factors, including the type of storm, its movement, the time of day, the road network, etc.
  • Keep your head on a swivel. Avoid being fixated on one feature and not recognizing other dangers with the storm.
  • Be prepared to move quickly and safely to a new position.


​What are hazards to storm spotters? 

  • Being on the road
  • Lightning
  • Flooding
  • Hail and wind,
  • Tornadoes

I see a tornado, what should I do?

  • If the tornado is a safe distance away and moving away from your location, then send us your report.
  • Otherwise, if the tornado is too close or it may be moving toward your location, you need to take immediate action to protect yourself!
  • Always plan ahead to have an escape route from a tornado. 
  • If the tornado is visible, far away, and the traffic is light, you may be able to drive out of its path by moving at right angles away from the tornado path. Otherwise, you need to find a sturdy shelter as quickly as possible!
  • If a sturdy shelter is not available (i.e. you are in the open country), as a last resort find a low spot and lie face-down covering the back of your head with your hands.
  • Remaining in your vehicle, or sitting under an overpass are very dangerous, and should not be attempted!

Severe Weather Safety Information

 

Additional Links

Handouts/Other Resources

 

These handouts are free to download, print and/or distribute as you need. If you have any questions about them, please reach out to our office: nws.greenbay@noaa.gov

 

Skywarn Tri-Fold Spotter Brochure-- .pdf format
Skywarn Measuring Snowfall for NWS Green Bay -- .pdf format
Skywarn
 Weather Spotter's Field Guide -- .pdf format 
Skywarn Hail size chart -- .pdf format 
 

Other Online Resources

 Skywarn Spotter Training -- Two modules/sections to receive full credit. Registration required.

 

NOAA Weather Radio Information
Skywarn NOAA Weather Radio Information -- NWS Green Bay area


Radar Interpretation
The radar training is not required to become a spotter, but is recommended for advanced spotters or net control operators.
Skywarn Introduction to the WSR-88D NWS Doppler Radar -- Basic Doppler radar overview 
Skywarn Doppler Weather Radar Fundamentals -- Fundamentals of Doppler weather radar operations & how to interpret common phenomena
Skywarn Dual Polarization Radar Fundamentals -- Dual-pol radar information

Severe Weather
Skywarn Severe Weather 101 -- Severe weather basics
Skywarn EF Tornado Scale -- Enhanced Fujita Scale

 

Winter Weather Safety Information

 

For the Winter Weather safety class information- including dates/times & how to register, look on the 'Training Schedule' tab! :)

Frequently Asked Questions

Here is a list of frequently asked questions about the SKYWARN program or severe storm spotting for the Green Bay 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 spotters “chase” storms?
  5. Do spotters need special tools or equipment?
  6. Is there a minimum age requirement to become a spotter?
  7. When are spotter training classes held?
  8. How long is a typical training class?
  9. What is the training like?
  10. Are classes rescheduled due to bad weather?
  11. Will I get paid for being a spotter?
  12. Will I get an official ID, spotter number, or certificate?
  13. Who organizes local spotter networks?
  14. Who organizes and schedules the spotter training classes?
  15. Is an advanced spotter training class available?
  16. How often do I need to come to training?
  17. Can I storm spot from home?
  18. 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 free of charge.

Do I need to register before the training?

  • Yes, look for the "Registration Link" on our Training Schedule page

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. The NWS will never "deploy" spotters.

Do spotters need special tools or equipment? 

  • 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?

  • With the emphasis placed on weather safety, these training classes are welcome for those of all ages.
  • Because of the complexity of severe thunderstorms and the potential dangers involved, actual storm 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 Green Bay NWS office usually conducts training during March and April. Classes are normally held during the evening hours. In order to allow for schools and/or other daytime offices to attend, a few afternoon classes are scheduled.

How long is a typical training class?

  • Usually 45 to 55 minutes.

What is the training like?

  • An interactive multimedia presentation is given by a meteorologist, including various images and video loops from past storms in Wisconsin and the Great Lakes. Brochures are also available online.

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 Green Bay NWS office does not assign spotter IDs or numbers.  Certificates are available online if you attend a training session.

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.

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 an additional 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 Kurt Kotenberg.

Is an Advanced Spotter Training class available?

  • At the current time, the Green Bay NWS office conducts both standard and advanced training material. Please see the schedule for more information.

How often do I need to come to training?

  • The Green Bay 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 Green Bay 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.