Severe Weather Awareness 2018: SKYWARN Spotters and Social Media Reporting

Though severe weather often occurs within a defined “season” in the spring to early summer (plus a secondary “season” in the fall), as we saw on February 24, 2018, severe storms can strike during any month of the year at any time of the day or night. When severe thunderstorms threaten, the National Weather Service calls SKYWARN volunteers into action. SKYWARN volunteers are the eyes and ears of the National Weather Service, providing instant reports of severe weather, including hail, high winds, and dangerous cloud formations.

SKYWARN spotters keep a close eye on the sky anytime severe thunderstorms approach. Many communities deploy spotters around the edge of the city and use their early reports of impending hazardous weather to warn the community. Some spotters relay reports from their home or business while other more adventurous volunteers brave the elements and try to get as close to the storm as possible.

Ham radio operators collecting storm reports from SKYWARN storm spotters in the field. Picture courtesy NWS.

Who are these SKYWARN volunteers? A large number of SKYWARN storm spotters in the Mid-South are Amateur Radio Operators, commonly known as HAMs. These public service minded individuals make ideal storm spotters since they have the ability to communicate their reports. They are willing to be trained and they have a real interest in helping the National Weather Service, and their local communities prepare for severe weather. Amateur Radio operators are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, even thought they receive no compensation of any kind for their hard work.

Many other groups participate in the SKYWARN program, including law enforcement agencies, fire departments, utility companies, rescue squads, and the news media. Individual citizens are also trained as spotters, and are asked to relay their reports to the National Weather Service. Spotters are a vital link in the warning process, and it is important to have as many trained spotters in each county as possible.

How can you get involved?  You can attend a storm spotter training class in person or online to become a trained spotter. Each session is free, lasts about 90 minutes and covers basics of thunderstorm development, fundamentals of storm structure, identifying potential severe weather features and (more importantly perhaps) severe weather look-a-likes, what and how to report, and basic severe weather safety. Online options include watching a training session that was conducted by the National Weather Service in Memphis or an online spotter training course that is available with a free registration.

Want to attend in person? We highly recommend it! A schedule of upcoming classes in the Mid-South can be found here. In the Memphis area, a class taught by NWS-Memphis will take place on Tuesday, March 27, at 7:00pm at Lord of Life Lutheran Church on Poplar Pike in East Memphis. All current SKYWARN volunteers should attend as a refresher, while new volunteers are strongly encouraged to attend and learn how to be a spotter, what to look for, and how to report. The classes are free and open to the public, including teens and older elementary children who enjoy attending with their parents. You can learn more about the SKYWARN program from the NWS here.

In addition to being a trained spotter, Memphians can use their social media accounts to report severe weather to the National Weather Service (@NWSMemphis) or to us (@memphisweather1)! We make sure that any and all severe weather reports we receive are sent on to the NWS. The best reports include a geo-tagged tweet and picture of the severe weather event (storm damage, hail, funnel/tornado, or even winter weather), as well as short description.

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MWN is a NOAA Weather Ready Nation Ambassador Meteorologist Erik Proseus is an NWA Digital Seal Holder

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