Protecting lives and property...

Whenever severe storms are possible, the National Weather Service (NWS) calls upon SKYWARN volunteer storm spotters to track the most dangerous thunderstorms and tornadoes. Reports from spotters provide the "on the ground" information. Forecasters at the National Weather Service combine information from the spotters with that from radar, satellite, lightning detection equipment and other tools. This provides timely and accurate statements and warnings in an effort to save lives and property during weather emergencies. Storm spotters may also be used to give reports during winter snow storms, floods, seasonal hurricanes, and wildfires.

SKYWARN has long been associated with amateur radio, and many NWS offices maintain an amateur radio station manned by amateur radio operators during times of severe weather. This allows licensed amateur radio spotters to transmit their severe weather reports directly to the NWS and receive up-to-date severe weather updates even if regular communications are disrupted or overloaded by the weather emergency.

While some weather spotters are storm chasers, the majority participate from their homes. It is preferred that home weather watchers have the means to measure temperature, wind and precipitation. Many install home weather stations such as this one from La Crosse Technology that I use. Software that comes with many of the home weather stations allows the collected information to be displayed and saved on a personal computer. Computerized weather stations are not required. The NWS can also recommend preferred rain gauges that are accurate and can be read manually. A ruler is also recommended for measuring hail size and snow depth.

One item recommended for all weather spotters is a NOAA weather radio, or a scanner capable of receiving the NOAA weather station broadcasts. The frequencies are:

















Another handy item for all homes is an "all hazards" weather radio using S.A.M.E. (Specific Area Message Encoding) technology. When the National Weather Service sends an advisory, watch or warning, an alarm is set off in these radios to warn the owner of the event. In the model shown, this can be a light, a siren, or a siren for 8 seconds followed by a digital voice. A warning such as "Tornado" will be shown on the screen. More warning information can be read by scrolling the text on the unit's LED screen. Information on many other types of hazardous conditions (flooding, landslides, hurricane statements, chemical hazard warnings, boil water warnings, etc.) can also be received. These units can be programmed to only allow the alarm to sound in an individual county, or it can be set to allow alarms for surrounding counties as well.

Weather radios of this type do not have to be expensive. The Midland WR-100 at the right can be purchased new for $25 to $35. I bought a used unit on eBay for $3.99, complete with the wall wart for powering it, but that was probably an exception. Figure on paying $10 to $15 for a used model like the one shown. After downloading the missing manual from Midland for programming the unit and replacing the three AA alkaline batteries that hold the memory in case of a power failure, the unit worked great. It also features an LED display with clock, alarm clock, snooze alarm, and one-button access to the weather broadcast frequency of the seven given in the chart above that is strongest in your area. Several manufacturers make this type of radio, and they come in hand held models as well as the desk top style shown. I've seen good hand held models for less than $20. If you decide to buy a weather radio, be sure it uses S.A.M.E. technology.

The NWS is required to hold weekly and monthly tests of their system, so this is an easy way to ensure your unit is working and that the alarms are heard.

It would be wrong to believe that only radio amateurs are weather spotters. In fact, more than half of the SKYWARN volunteers are not licensed radio operators. Weather spotters may make their reports by telephone or the Internet if those services are functioning. Anyone interested in pubic service who has some method of communication with the NWS is encouraged to join SKYWARN. Call your National Weather Service office for further information.

EF-5 Tornado Damage Greensburg, Kansas

On-line Storm Spotter Guides