HAM Radio 101

EMCOMM: Getting Involved in the Storm Spotter Program

The SKYWARN program was developed by the National Weather Service (NWS) in the 1960s. Even though the NWS receives information from satellite, surface weather stations and Doppler radar, technology is not foolproof. Real eyewitnesses on the ground are needed to report on how storms are affecting their area. SKYWARN-trained spotters fill in any gaps that technology can’t cover.

The SKYWARN website explains why this service is so critical:

“The United States is the most severe weather-prone country in the world. Each year, people in this country cope with an average of 10,000 thunderstorms, 5,000 floods, 1,200 tornadoes, and two landfalling hurricanes. Approximately 90% of all presidentially declared disasters are weather-related, causing around 500 deaths each year and nearly $14 billion in damage.”

Although SKYWARN is a registered name through the NWS, it is closely related to EMCOMM and holds the same ideals. Unlike being an EMCOMM operator, however, you do not have to be a ham to be a SKYWARN weather spotter. The NWS encourages anyone with a desire to serve the public to join the program. Training is completely free and lasts approximately two hours. Local NWS offices tend to hold training during non-busy seasons. With the onset of the pandemic, classes have also switched to virtual learning.

What does SKYWARN training entail? According to the SKYWARN website, you’ll learn:

  • Basics of thunderstorm development
  • Fundamentals of storm structure
  • Identifying potential severe weather features
  • Information to report
  • How to report information
  • Basic severe weather safety
Skywarn Spotter image

Once you become a SKYWARN-trained spotter, it is recommended that you attend a training class every two to three years to retain your spotter status. Many people, myself included, make it a point to refresh our training every year when it is available in our area. If you want to further your spotter training, advanced classes are also available. This training features NWS meteorologists providing a detailed look at storm spotting and severe weather operations. The training covers advanced storm-spotting strategies and the science of using weather radar in warning operations. These classes have been mostly postponed due to the pandemic.

National Weather Service Map

Questions? Share them in the comments below or email me at KE8FMJ@arrl.net.

Leave a Reply