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What is SKYWARN®?

In an average year, the United States experiences more than 10,000 severe thunderstorms, 5,000 floods and more than 1,000 tornadoes. SKYWARN® was developed in the early 1970’s as a partnership between the National Weather Service (NWS), county Emergency Managers and the general public. In the event of observed severe weather, SKYWARN® Spotters contact their local NWS office, who use the information to issue warnings for severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, flash floods, and dust storms, or verify warnings already issued for these hazards. The NWS communicates these warnings to county Emergency Managers, who take appropriate action to help protect life and property of citizens in their jurisdiction. Since the program’s inception, the information provided by SKYWARN® spotters, coupled with Doppler radar technology, improved satellite and other data, has enabled the NWS to issue more timely and accurate warnings for a variety of weather hazards. SKYWARN® storm spotters are volunteer citizens who form the nation's first line of defense against severe weather. The NWS in Tucson, AZ currently has around 1600 SKYWARN® spotters in its County Warning and Forecast Area, which includes the counties of Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, Pima, SE Pinal and Santa Cruz. However, we are always seeking additional “eyes on the ground” especially in rural communities and open country.

Additional details can be found on the National SKYWARN® Webpage.

 

The Role of a SKYWARN® Spotter

SKYWARN® Weather Spotters play a crucial role in their communities and are often part of the NWS warning process. Spotters who observe significant weather relay the information to their local NWS office or appropriate local authority based on the hazard observed. During life-threatening weather, these real-time reports provided by Spotters can help protect life and property. The information provided by Spotters can be used by NWS meteorologists to help decide to:

  • Issue a new warning or cancel an existing warning
  • Continue a warning with more accurate information on the expected hazard(s)
  • Issue a warning downstream from an existing storm
  • Change the warning or advisory type (upgrade or downgrade based on the report)

These “ground-truth” reports made by trained Spotters give credibility to the warnings issued by the NWS. In essence, the weather information provided by Spotters help motivate action by the people in the path of a potentially dangerous storm to take action to protect themselves and their property.

SKYWARN® Spotters also make themselves available to be contacted by the NWS to inquire about the conditions which occurred during a storm. This information helps forecasters “train” for the next event, which may occur only a few minutes later. Of course, spotters are always encouraged to take the initiative to contact the NWS office with their information.

 

How do I become a SKYWARN® Spotter?

Anyone wishing to volunteer to become an official SKYWARN® Spotter in Southeast Arizona must meet the following criteria:

 

1) Be at least 18 years of age*

2) Have a working email address, phone number and internet access

3) Be a summertime resident of southeast Arizona

4) Be able to observe and report severe weather in their community

5) Be able to attend a free, two hour training class that will be conducted in/near their community during the spring by National Weather Service personnel

 

Residents of Southeast Arizona willing and able to meet the criteria, and interested in becoming a SKYWARN® Spotter, should monitor the NWS Tucson website to find out when the next training sessions are being held. Alternately, more information on the schedule can be found here.

*On a case-by-case basis we may allow young adults to participate in SKYWARN® training as long as they are accompanied by someone at least 18 years of age who fulfils the necessary requirements to be a SKYWARN® spotter. We will not initiate contact with minors for weather reports. Please contact emily.carpenter@noaa.gov or kenneth.drozd@noaa.gov for more information.

 

SKYWARN® and Amateur Radio Operators

The Tucson WFO works in cooperation with the local amateur radio community through an organized spotter network.  Arizona Sector 1 SKYWARN® is organized under the amateur radio call sign of WX7TWC, works in cooperation with the AARL’s district emergency coordinators in the area and is under the direction of a SKYWARN® Amateur Coordinator.

In anticipation of severe weather, a SKYWARN® net may be activated by Net Control, providing a systematic way to pass information between Spotters and the NWS warning desk without tying up phone lines.  Amateur Radio Operators also provide vital communication between the NWS and emergency management if normal communications become inoperative.  Amateur Radio Operators are experts in communication and in times of severe weather or disaster, have often provided the only means of communication when traditional infrastructure has been compromised.  In addition, spotter teams regularly practice directed network communications and are able to efficiently pass information through a net control operator who has a direct line to the local forecast office.  Because the communication is two-way and is passed through a network, weather information can be sent back and forth to a large number of spotters instantly and simultaneously. 

Because of the value that this model brings, all interested spotters are encouraged to obtain an amateur radio license and sign up to participate with these weather nets.  For more information regarding the operation of the Arizona Sector 1 SKYWARN® Team and for information regarding amateur radio, please visit www.skywarnaz.org or email Henry Gonzalez at k7ael@yahoo.com

 

Statewide and Local Amateur Radio Organizations

Amateur Radio Council of Arizona (ARCA)

Arizona Amateur Radio Club

Cochise Amateur Radio Association (CARA)

Eastern Arizona Amateur Radio Society (EAARS)

Green Valley Arizona Amateur Radio Club

K7UAZ Amateur Radio Club

Oro Valley Amateur Radio Club (OVARC)

Skywarn Sector 1

 

Other Frequently Asked Questions

What is my spotter ID number and what is it used for?

All official SKYWARN® Spotters for NWS Tucson will be assigned a spotter ID number after they have attended a training session. This number is used to quickly identify you and your location when you make a report. If you are making a report from somewhere other than your home, please be sure to indicate where the weather event occurred.

 

Do I need to have a HAM radio license to participate in SKYWARN®?

No, you do not need to have a HAM radio license to participate in SKYWARN®. However, NWS Tucson does have a close relationship with local HAM radio operators and they are an important part of our warning operations, particularly during monsoon season. If you are interested in obtaining your HAM radio license, please contact Henry Gonzalez at k7ael@yahoo.com for more information.

 

What is included in the Spotter training?

Spotter training sessions run approximately 2 hours and are offered in the early Spring for NWS Tucson. Topics covered include:

  • Why spotters are needed
  • Information on the Monsoon, thunderstorms, and severe weather hazards
  • Warning & safety information
  • How to make a storm report to the NWS

 

How else can I get involved in the community?

Many of our spotters are also CoCoRaHS or RainLog observers. Others have personal weather stations that are linked to the internet as part of the Citizen Weather Observing Program (CWOP). We also have a Weather Ready Nation Ambassador program for groups and organizations who wish to partner with the NWS to help promote and build weather-resilient communities. More information on these programs is presented during the training sessions or can be obtained by contacting NWS Tucson.

 

How can I host a SKYWARN® Spotter Training session?

If you have a group or organization of 15 or more people who would like to be spotters and you’d like to host a training session, please contact Ken Drozd or Emily Carpenter (contact information below).

 

Who do I contact for more information?

If you have other questions, please contact the WFO Tucson SKYWARN® Program Coordinator Emily Carpenter at emily.carpenter@noaa.gov or 520-670-6526, or the Warning Coordination Meteorologist Ken Drozd at kenneth.drozd@noaa.gov or 520-670-5156 x223.

 

Spotter Quick Links

Spotter Schedule

Online Storm Reporting

Safety & Preparedness Information

Coyote Crier Newsletter

SKYWARN® Recognition Day (Skywarn site)

SKYWARN® Recognition Day (weather.gov site)

NWR (NOAA Wx Radio) Information for Southeast AZ