Paul Bunyan Amateur Radio Club
Skywarn Severe Weather Spotting Program
The Paul Bunyan Amateur Radio Club has provided the SKYWARN severe weather spotting program in Beltrami County for approximately 30 years. This program provides the National Weather Service (NWS) with eyewitness reports of severe weather. Trained observers relay severe weather spotter information to the NWS using amateur radio as a reliable and quick method of communication. The NWS has expensive radar equipment designed to monitor weather patterns. Even state-of-the-art equipment (NEXRAD) is not sensitive enough to determine the existence of an actual tornado or other kind of severe weather. It can only see where severe weather is likely to occur. The NWS relies on reports from the public, law enforcement personnel, and trained amateur radio SKYWARN observers to verify actual severe weather.
The NWS is most interested in receiving severe weather reports from trained sources. The kinds of reports sought by the NWS can include hail, wind, damage, flash flooding, wall clouds (the area of a thunderstorm where tornadoes can form), funnel clouds and tornadoes. Establishing the existence of a rotating wall cloud or funnel cloud can provide the NWS with verification of dangerous conditions in the storm that are indicated, but not seen by radar. Reports on the size of hail stones provides the NWS with a relative indicator of the intensity of the thunderstorm. Because conditions in and near a thunderstorm are chaotic and confusing, many cloud formations are erroneously reported as indicators of severe weather. Trained spotters are needed to confirm these reports. Then NWS meteorologists quickly notify local authorities, which activate civil defense sirens. The news media also receive notification so they can make reports on local broadcast stations.
Members of the Paul Bunyan Amateur Radio Club carry pagers which allow the National Weather Service to alert us when severe weather threatens Beltrami County. When severe weather approaches the county, we send out trained spotters equipped with ham radios which allow us to communicate directly with the NWS radar operators in Grand Forks, ND. We report our observations of dangerous cloud formations, wind speeds, hail, rain amounts, flooding, and tornados. Normally, severe weather approaches Beltrami County from the west or southwest. Therefore, we station our storm spotters in an line west of Bemidji. The map below indicates the six typical spotter positions we occupy (green circles numbered 1 through 6).