The National Weather Service, working with Emergency Management officials across the country, has trained hundreds of thousands severe weather spotters. Based on information through October 1, 2006, there are 268,790 trained spotters across the county. From October, 2005 to October, 2006, there were 93,179 newly trained spotters across the U.S.!
Of course, some spotters loose interest and simply stop reporting, others move to another area or state, and some die each year. Keeping track of trained spotters is a very difficult task, consequently, the number of trained spotters in the U.S. (268,790) is only an educated estimate based on sign-up sheets at each severe weather class. We probably have more trained spotters, but how many more can’t be determined.
All 122 National Weather Service field offices, known as Weather Forecast Offices (WFO), conduct free severe weather spotter training, generally during the months of February through May. Most of the classes are held in March and April, just before the start-up of the severe weather season. Offices near the Gulf Coast conduct their classes sooner than the northern offices since the severe weather season starts sooner in the southern latitudes.
What kind of people become severe weather spotters? We have found over the years that nearly anyone can become a good severe weather spotter. Spotter include law enforcement officials, fire fighters, emergency response people (Emergency Management, EMTs, etc.), amateur radio operators (hams), county highway department personnel, and other people from the general public. Basically, we have spotters from all walks of life - including teachers, students, truck drivers, construction workers, auto mechanics, news reporters, doctors, nurses, bus drivers, lawyers, accountants, pilots, engineers, scientists, factory workers, computer programmers, grandmothers and grandfathers, and so on.
Why does the NWS need severe weather spotters? Spotters are needed to provide "ground-truth" information to the NWS forecasters. The NWS’s Doppler radar system doesn’t detect all tornadoes or other severe storms. Additionally, due to the earth’s curvature and the fact that the radar beam goes out in a straight line, the further one goes from the radar site, the higher above the ground the radar beam is found. This means that the Doppler radar system may not be able to "see" below cloud base. It’s up to the spotters to recognize what is happening at cloud base and what is happening at the ground, and get that information back to the NWS meteorologists.
If you’re interested in becoming a severe weather spotter, and passing on your information to a local NWS office, then please attend a scheduled severe weather spotter class in your home county. In general, each WFO will post the class schedule in a "Top News of the Day" article. In the mean time, check out the Storm Spotter Page link you see in the upper portion of the column of links on the far left side of this Milwaukee/Sullivan WFO web site (www.weather.gov/milwaukee).
Here is a link for a list of all WFO web sites, plus other NWS offices: http://www.weather.gov/organization.php