Greater Pee Dee Skywarn Group

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What is SKYWARN?


The effects of severe weather are felt every year by many Americans. To obtain critical weather information, NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS), part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, established SKYWARN® with partner organizations. SKYWARN® is a volunteer program with nearly 290,000 trained severe weather spotters. These volunteers help keep their local communities safe by providing timely and accurate reports of severe weather to the National Weather Service.

Although SKYWARN® spotters provide essential information for all types of weather hazards, the main responsibility of a SKYWARN® spotter is to identify and describe severe local storms. In the average year, 10,000 severe thunderstorms, 5,000 floods and more than 1,000 tornadoes occur across the United States. These events threatened lives and property.

Since the program started in the 1970s, the information provided by SKYWARN® spotters, coupled with Doppler radar technology, improved satellite and other data, has enabled NWS to issue more timely and accurate warnings for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and flash floods.

SKYWARN® storm spotters are part of the ranks of citizens who form the Nation’s first line of defense against severe weather. There can be no finer reward than to know that their efforts have given communities the precious gift of time–seconds and minutes that can help save lives.

Who is eligible?
The National Weather Service encourages anyone with an interest in public service and access to communication, such HAM radio, to join the SKYWARN® program. Volunteers include police and fire personnel, dispatchers, EMS workers, public utility workers and other concerned private citizens. Individuals affiliated with hospitals, schools, churches, nursing homes or who have a responsibility for protecting others are also encouraged to become a spotter.

How do I get involved?
The National Weather Service has 122 local Weather Forecast Offices, each with a Warning Coordination Meteorologist, who is responsible for administering the SKYWARN® program in their local area. Training is conducted at these local offices and covers:

  • Basics of thunderstorm development
  • Fundamentals of storm structure
  • Identifying potential severe weather features
  • Information to report
  • How to report information
  • Basic severe weather safety

Classes are free and typically are about two hours long. 

SKYWARN® is a concept developed in the late 1960s that was intended to promote a cooperative effort between the National Weather Service and communities. The emphasis of the effort is often focused on the storm spotter, an individual who takes a position near their community and reports wind gusts, hail size, rainfall, and cloud formations that could signal a developing tornado. Another part of SKYWARN® is the receipt and effective distribution of National Weather Service information.

The organization of spotters and the distribution of warning information may lies with the National Weather Service or with an emergency management agency within the community. This agency could be a police or fire department, or often is an emergency management/service group (what people might still think of as civil defense groups). This varies across the country however, with local national weather service offices taking the lead in some locations, while emergency management takes the lead in other areas.

SKYWARN® is not a club or organization; however, in some areas where Emergency Management programs do not perform the function, people have organized SKYWARN® groups that work independent of a parent government agency and feed valuable information to the National Weather Service. While this provides the radar meteorologist with much needed input, the circuit is not complete if the information does not reach those who can activate sirens or local broadcast systems.

SKYWARN® spotters are not by definition “Storm Chasers.”  While their functions and methods are similar, the spotter stays close to home and usually has ties to a local agency. Storm chasers often cover hundreds of miles a day. The term Storm Chaser covers a wide variety of people. Some are meteorologists doing specific research or are gathering basic information (like video) for training and comparison to radar data. Others chase storms to provide live information for the media, and others simply do it for the thrill.

Storm spotting and storm chasing is dangerous and should not be done without proper training, experience and equipment.

SKYWARN® is a registered trademark of NOAA’s National Weather Service.

PARTICIPATING IN A SKYWARN® WEATHER NET


By participating in the Greater Pee Dee SKYWARN®  Net you are actively providing the vital "ground truth" to the National Weather Service in Lincoln as they make critical and often life saving decision on severe weather warnings.  To participate in the net you will need an hand held, mobile, or base station radio with VHF amateur radio.  The W4PDE repeater can be accessed using the following method:


  • 146.745 MHz -600 KHz (input) CTCSS 82.5 Hz


When first checking into the net follow these simple guidelines:

  1. Listen to the repeater for 30-60 seconds to make sure your transmission will not interrupt a conversation in progress
  2. Announce yourself by giving your call sign only
  3. Listen to the courtesy tone.
  4. Give your call sign, name, location and status (portable/mobile/base)


During the net follow these guidelines to help both the Net Control Operator and other participants:

  1. Direct all communication to the Net Control Operator unless otherwise directed by the NCO
  2. Give only your call sign when calling the Net Control Operator
  3. Notify net control if you move locations
  4. Notify net control if you need to leave the net (it is perfectly fine to come and go from the net as you need to, we understand, but please notify the NCO as you come and go)
  5. Report severe weather as directed in the Weather Spotter's Field Guide pages 2-5
  6. Listen carefully to questions from the NCO, clarification on event and/or your location is often required 

WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT FROM NET CONTROL

The Net Control Operators (NCOs) have a lot of responsibility and duties, much of which is not heard over the air.  Generally speaking the NCO will be monitoring 2 or more different radio systems.  It is not uncommon for NCO to be talking on one of those when a station calls on the SKYWARN® Weather Net.  Stations need to be patient and give the NCO a few extra seconds to switch radios or complete their traffic on the other system.  Do not be surprised if you hear multiple different people filling in as NCO even during the same event.

NCOs will notify the participants as the National Weather Service issues new warnings or provides updates on existing warning.  In addition the NCO will give some radar updates and interpretations.  We recognize that some spotters today have radar capabilities with them in their vehicles but feel it is important for all to be aware of what we are seeing.  Keep in mind that the radar images we are viewing are not real time.  At best they are usually 3-6 minutes delayed.  Storms can travel many miles and transition rapidly during that time.  Make sure you are aware of the ACES as described on page 6 of the  Weather Spotter's Field Guide .  


The NCO will take the reports received and send them on to the National Weather Service and/or Emergency Management Agency in the location being affected.  Not all traffic is passed on via radio, with today's technology other communications systems are also used and therefore your specific report may not be heard on your scanner.

When severe weather has left the area and initial damage assessment is completed the NCO will return the repeater to normal use.  In the event of large scale damage the net may be continued.  Further direction and information will be provided by the NCO.


YOUR SAFETY IS MOST IMPORTANT

We can not stress enough how important your safety is.  Each participant must take personal responsibility for their own safety.  The NCO is not sitting there next to you and can not see or assess the situation like you can.  There is never a time when you should compromise your own personal safety based on the information you receive from NCO.  Each participant of the SKYWARN® Weather Net should read and be familiar with the safety guidelines found on the first 14 pages of the  Weather Spotter's Field Guide.


IS THIS REALLY JUST FOR MOBILE STORM CHASERS?

Absolutely not, in our area we are not promoting storm chasing.  The media has picked up on the storm chasing aspect, which involves following the storm sometimes hundreds of miles on shows such as the Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers.  However spotters differ from chasers by reporting from local locations around the storm.  Being a spotter does not mean you have to try to stay ahead of the storm or try to get video - it means being prepared to report what is occurring when a storm passes nearby or overhead.   Not all chasers are hams, and some don't even report what they are seeing - so having ham radio equipped spotters is still vital, especially in our area since this is still the main communications method for severe weather activities.  Storm spotters do not have to be mobile stations – reports from your home, office or work locations are just as valuable and help provide a safe shelter if needed.  We encourage as many hams to participate in the weather net as can.


We can not stress how important the role of spotters who are located at home, office or other fixed locations especially at night when mobile storm spotting can be even more dangerous.  If you are able we encourage you to check into the net and provide reports from your vantage point.  The more information we are able to obtain and relay to the National Weather Service the better for all concerned.


We appreciate you taking the time to read through this article on the Peoria Area SKYWARN® Weather Net.  If you have questions or comments about this article please feel free to contact the ECRT Team Lead from contacts page.