HAM Radio 101

Skywarn Amateur Radio Network and How to Get Involved

Keeping the public aware of severe weather hazards isn’t just for meteorologists anymore. Amateur Radio operators, known as storm spotters, partner with the National Weather Service (NWS) to recognize and notify the NWS of critical weather situations through a volunteer program called SKYWARN®.

The organization is comprised of between 350,000-400,000 severe weather spotters trained to stay abreast of severe weather situations and communicate potential threats to the NWS using Amateur Radio. With over 10,000 severe thunderstorms, 5,000 floods, and over 1,000 tornados reported annually, SKYWARN is more than just a hobby—it saves lives.

The critically important organization got its start in the 1970s. Today, it’s combined with Doppler radar technology and satellite data to create a strong first line of defense against the dangers of inclement weather. Seemingly harmless to some, thunderstorms, lightning, and problematic weather situations are responsible for hundreds of injuries, deaths, and billions of dollars spent on property and crop damage each year.

The NWS encourages those with an interest in public service to volunteer their time and Amateur Radio abilities with the SKYWARN program. Volunteers regularly include police, fire personnel, dispatchers, EMS workers, public utility workers, and of course, private citizens interested in keeping their communities safe and informed.

Training for SKYWARN is generally free of charge and is condensed into a two-hour module. During the course, participants learn the fundamentals of thunderstorm development, basic storm structures, how to identify potential severe weather features, how and what to report, and basic severe weather safety.

Want to learn more? Head to the NWS website to find training programs in your state or check out SKYWARN spotter training to begin the training process online. Most states require in-person class participation in addition to the online course load. Or pick up ARRL’s Storm Spotting and Amateur Radio 2nd Edition from DX Engineering for additional reading material.

You can contact your local Warning Coordination Meteorologist for information on how to find or replace your spotter number and ways to participate in upcoming training seminars—or head to the NWS website to learn how to participate in annual SKYWARN Recognition Day activities. 

For real-time updates, check SKYWARN out on Twitter at #skywarn19.

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