Skywarn – sometimes written in all-caps – is a program run by the US National Weather Service with the intention of collecting reports of localized severe weather, which can then be used to help improve forecasting and the issuing of weather watches and warnings.
Skywarn is run by a network of ‘sever storm spotters’ who are located across the country and who have the job of observing weather conditions and reporting back to the local NWS offices. These spotters are trained by personnel from those offices and may attend classes that are run each spring prior to the severe weather season.
SKYWARN spotters will typically use alternative methods of communication, which of course can be particularly useful due to the poor weather conditions which might interfere with usual cellular signals.
Amateur radio ham ‘nets’ are used by mobile ham radio operators as one example. This is an example of weather radio. Of course other tools can also be useful, such as satellite phone or a satellite messenger.
Reading this, you may be having one of two reactions. You might be wondering where you can sign up, or you might be wondering why anyone would want to do this!
Of course, being a spotter for skywarn will appeal to two types of people. Any HAM radio enthusiast for instance might enjoy the idea of being able to put their skills to good use. Ham radio is amateur radio, and these operators get enjoyment out of being able to communicate over distance through a novel manner that is resilient and that requires skill and expertise.
Being able to put that skill to real use not only acts as a kind of verification of the importance of the ability – even today – but also serves as a fun and useful challenge. With great power, comes great responsibility!
The other group that this will appeal to of course are storm chasers. Many people find watching storms to be exhilarating – as a demonstration of the power of nature, and of a relatively safe form of thrill seeking. Again, being able to pursue that hobby while helping people in the short and long term is a very appealing notion.
How to Take Part
To get involved, all you will need to do, is to get yourself a two-way radio or another form of communication. From there, you will then be able to find the correct frequencies for reporting to the NWS – with the station being continuously manned. You can either look out for these signs of weather events in person, or you can look online and listen to the radio waves – this is how ham radio nets often operate.
Automatic weather station observations and spotter positions are also available from the automatic packet reporting system (APRS) which can accommodate text message. You do not need an amateur radio license to participate, and in fact you can take part purely by phone. Still, the NWS encourages anyone with an interest in unusual methods of communication to get involved.