SKYWARN is a concept developed in the early 1970s that was intended to promote a cooperative effort between the National Weather Service and communities. The emphasis of the effort is often focused on the storm spotter, an individual who takes a position near their community and reports wind gusts, hail size, rainfall, and cloud formations that could signal a developing tornado. Another part of SKYWARN is the receipt and effective distribution of National Weather Service information.
The organization of spotters and the distribution of warning information may lie with the National Weather Service or with an emergency management agency within the community. This agency could be a police or fire department, or often is an emergency management/service group (what people might still think of as civil defense groups). This varies across the country however, with local national weather service offices taking the lead in some locations, while emergency management takes the lead in other areas.
SKYWARN is not a club or organization, however, in some areas where Emergency Management programs do not perform the function, people have organized SKYWARN groups that work independent of a parent government agency and feed valuable information to the National Weather Service. While this provides the radar meteorologist with much needed input, the circuit is not complete if the information does not reach those who can activate sirens or local broadcast systems.
SKYWARN spotters are not by definition "Storm Chasers". While their functions and methods are similar, the spotter stays close to home and usually has ties to a local agency. Storm chasers often cover hundreds of miles a day. The term Storm Chaser covers a wide variety of people. Some are meteorologists doing specific research or are gathering basic information (like video) for training and comparison to radar data. Others chase storms to provide live information for the media, and others simply do it for the thrill.
Storm Spotting and Storm Chasing is dangerous and should not be done without proper training, experience and equipment.
The National Weather Service conducts spotter training classes across the United States, and your local National Weather Service office should be consulted as to when the next class will be held.
Reports of the following conditions should normally be reported to the Mich-A-Con ARC Net Control Operator via the club's 146.85 repeater. However, if the Net has not been activated or you are unable to access the Net, please use the toll-free phone number below:
Tornado or Funnel Cloud
Wall Cloud: rotating, non-rotating
Hail: Any size
Wind Damage: Trees and branches broken (give diameter), structural damage, etc.
Heavy Rain: 1" or more per hour
Heavy Snow: 1" or more per hour, accumulations of 2" or more
Flooding: Water over roadways, streams/rivers rising to 1 ft. of bankfull, over bankfull, flood damage
Call: 1-800-828-8002 and give the following information:
Who: Name/Spotter ID
What: Is happening
Where: Event is occurring
When: Did event start/end - include time zone
Movement of the event (observe storm as a whole, not the movement of small cloud elements)
Even with Doppler weather radar and advanced weather satellites, there is a need for storm spotters. The radar and satellites help meteorologists detect storm features often associated with severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, but radar and satellites do not by themselves provide ground-based reports of cloud features, hail size, thunderstorm wind speeds, and tornado touchdowns. Storm spotters provide emergency managers and weather forecasters with these vital, real-time observations of tornadoes, hail, damaging wind, flooding, and winter storms.
Storm spotter training provides initial instruction for new spotters and refresher training for experienced spotters. The training focuses on safety, the observational aspects of storm structure and evolution, and reporting criteria and procedures. To become a storm spotter and to stay current with the latest science, techniques and procedures, new spotters as well as veteran spotters should attend a spotter training session. The training is presented by National Weather Service personnel based in Marquette, Michigan. NWS training classes typically last about 1 1/2 hours. Advance reservations are not required, and there is no charge for the training.