Skywarn - Frequently Asked Questions

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How Does the Skywarn Program Work?

Skywarn EyeWhen hazardous weather occurs, SKYWARN volunteers report what is happening at their location. They are asked to report certain phenomena, such as large hail, damaging winds, tornadoes, flooding, and even snow and ice accumulations. Reports arrive at our office via the telephone, facsimile, the Internet, and amateur radio. Spotters provide the "ground_truth" to our forecasters of what is "really" happening in the atmosphere. Radar may give us an indication that heavy snow is falling, but it cannot tell us how much snow is on the ground, or if rain may be mixing with the snow. The radar may estimate rainfall amounts or hail stone size in a particular location, but it cannot tell us exactly how much rain has fallen, or how big the hail really is. Forecasters use this information to determine the appropriate statements, watches, warnings, or advisories to issue to protect life and property across central Kentucky and south central Indiana.

Who Are Our Spotters?

Our spotters are volunteers who either have a strong interest in weather or are public-service oriented such as amateur radio operators, ARES/RACES members, or emergency response or law enforcement personnel. SKYWARN spotters make up all walks of life, including farmers, pilots, truck drivers, engineers, housewives, lawyers, television cameramen, teachers, students, firemen, doctors, and more. Our volunteers are truly diverse but with a common interest in weather and a strong desire to help not only the citizens in their own communities, but in surrounding cities and counties as well. Please keep in mind however that weather spotting can be a dangerous activity.

Why Do We Need Skywarn?

The NWS meteorologists in the Louisville, Kentucky Weather Forecast Office are responsible for issuing forecasts and warnings for 59 counties across south central Indiana and central Kentucky, with a population base of roughly 2.5 million people (based on Census 2000 data). It is impossible for us to know what is "really" going on in your home town, and thus, SKYWARN volunteers, like you, become the additional eyes and ears in the field for the meteorologists. You provide information that assists the National Weather Service in our critical mission of saving lives and protecting property.

When Will Skywarn Be Activated?

Formal SKYWARN nets will be activated for a variety of severe weather, mainly severe thunderstorm and tornado watches, and larger winter storms. However, informal SKYWARN nets may be conducted at any time.

Who Will Activate the Skywarn Network?

Meteorologists at the NWS will active SKYWARN and will contact a net control coordinator to gather information. He or she will then monitor amateur radio, collect reports, from you and other SKYWARN volunteers, and relay it to us as quickly as possible. On occasion, severe weather occurs without the net being activated, however this does not preclude informal SKYWARN nets from taking place.

Do I Need an Amateur Radio License to Participate?

Technically, no. Amateur radio operators do provide valuable information to forecasters at the National Weather Service during severe weather. However, there are many types of volunteer spotters in the SKYWARN program. You may provide your reports directly to the National Weather Service via telephone or electronic mail, or you may give your reports to your local law enforcement agency who will relay information to the NWS for you. To learn more about obtaining an amateur radio license, please visit the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) for more information.

How Do I Become a Volunteer Skywarn Spotter?

Anyone may participate in the SKYWARN Program. We do, however, require that you attend a SKYWARN training seminar. The class, which typically lasts 1 to 2 hours, will teach you how to identify severe weather, how the NWS responds to severe weather, the basics of the SKYWARN program, what type of information to report, along with proper reporting procedures. There is no cost for the class. Classes are held throughout our 59 county warning area at local fire or EMS departments, libraries, and civic, judicial and community centers.  You must be able to observe the weather, and you must have access to a telephone to call in reports, though reports are accepted through electronic mail and the amateur radio network.

How Do I Register for a Class?

Preregistration is not necessary to attend a class. Classes will be posted here on our web site, and will be announced on NOAA Weather Radio. Spotter classes are now being scheduled.  Check here for a list of classes in your area.  Classes may be also be listed in your local newspaper, or may be advertised on your local radio or television stations. You may also call our office to inquire if a class will be held in your area. The majority of classes are given from February through April, however a few classes begin as early as January, and continue through May.

How Can My Organization Host a Skywarn Class?

Classes are typically sponsored by local county Emergency Management, the local Red Cross, or a local amateur radio or ARES/RACES group. In reality, any group may host a class if they are able to provide a meeting location large enough to accommodate their group, and provide audio/visual equipment which often include a TV and VCR and a screen or white wall in order to project multimedia presentations, slides, and overhead transparencies.


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