Spotter Reporting Procedures

From radio or cellular phone-equipped vehicles, report severe weather observations to a central point and request them to relay the report to the National Weather Service.

Law enforcement and Emergency Management spotters---report to your dispatchers or net controller via NAWAS, radio, cellular phone, or other direct communications links as prescribed by your Emergency Operations Plan.

When the telephone is your only communications method, call your primary or alternate contact, and ask him or her to relay your report to the National Weather Service. If the call is long distance, you can make it collect. Report promptly as the storm may interrupt communications.

Report Briefly:

What you have seen: tornado, funnel cloud, wall cloud, waterspout, flash flood, etc.

Where you saw it: the direction and distance from a known location, i.e., 3 miles south of Beltsville. To avoid confusion, make sure you report the event location and not your location.

When you saw it: make sure you note the time of your observation.

What it was doing: describe the storm's direction and speed of travel, size and intensity, and destructiveness. Include any amount of uncertainty as needed, i.e., "funnel cloud; no debris visible at the surface, but too far away to be sertain it is not on the ground."

Identify yourself and location. Give spotter code number if you have one.


  • 1. Tornado, funnel cloud, waterspout, or wall cloud.
  • 2. Large hail, as defined by your local NWS office.
  • 3. Damaging winds (usually greater than 50 mps).
  • 4. Flash flooding.
  • 5. Other criteria as defined by your local NWS office.

    This scale was originally derived by Admiral Beaufort of the British Navy and was based on the amount of wind needed to support varioussails on frigates of the time. It has since been modified for land use, but retains the original name.

    All Speeds are in mph.



    No wind, smoke rises vertically, tree leaves quiet.


    Smoke follows wind flow.


    Wind noticeable on face, wind vine moves, leaves rustle on trees.


    Wind extends light flag, noticeable force when facing wind, leaves and and small twigs in constant motion.


    Raises dust and loose paper, dry snow begins drifting, small branches moving. 


    Wind is noticeably uncomfortable, dust or snow stirred up to a height of several feet. Small trees in leaf begin to sway.


    Loose clothing flaps vigorously, blowing snow extends to a considerable height, large branches in motion, whistling heard in in utility wires, umbrellas used with difficulty.


    In convenient to walk against wind, visibility maybe reduced considerably by blowing snow. Large trees in motion. small trigs break off.


    Walking requires considerable effort, limbs up to 1/2 inch diameter break off, larger rotted limbs maybe blown down, some shingles may blow off. Visibilitywill be near zero if loose snow or dust is present or if it is raining or snowing. Garbage cans and lawn furniture may be blown away.


    Exterior doors facing the wind are difficult to open or close, automobile driving become difficult. Limbs up to 2" in diameter break off, rotted trees may be blown over, many shingles blown off. Metal lawn buildings blown away. TV antennas and chimneys may be damaged. Awnings blown off mobile homes. Open garbages, pole buildings or sheds facing wind damaged, unroofed or destroyed. 


    Large limbs up to 6" diameter broken off. This may bring down some lines and wires. Shallow rooted trees, trees with limited root structure or trees in wet soil blown over. Pole building destroyed.

    Hail Sizes for Common Camparison

  • Pea Size .25"
  • Dime/Penny .68"/.75"
  • Nickel .88"
  • Quarter 1.0"
  • Half Dollar 1.25"
  • Walnut 1.5"
  • Golf Ball 1.75"
  • Hen Egg 2.0"
  • Tennis Ball 2.5"
  • Baseball 2.75"
  • Tea Cup 3.0"
  • Grapefruit 4.0"
  • Softball 4.5"

  • Any hail, 4.5 in. or larger should be saved in a freezer until it can be photographed on a scale with a ruler in the picture.....


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