"SKYWARN: AN EYE TO THE SKY" (by Glenn Field, Warning Coordination

Meteorologist, NWS - Taunton, MA)


SKYWARN is the National Weather Service's (NWS) nationwide program of trained volunteer severe weather spotters. SKYWARN volunteers support their local community and government by providing the NWS with timely and accurate severe weather reports. These reports, when integrated with NWS Doppler Radar signatures and other data, can be critical in the issuance of severe weather warnings. This can save lives and protect property, which is the main mission of the NWS.

SKYWARN was formed in the early 1970's as a nationwide program after major tornado outbreaks ravaged many areas. However, each NWS Forecast Office runs its own SKYWARN program. In southern New England, approximately 2,500 spotters have become official spotters for the NWS Forecast Office located in Taunton, Massachusetts. But we still can use many more, since severe storms can strike anywhere. The Taunton office is responsible for issuing severe weather warnings for all of Massachusetts except Berkshire County (Albany NWS); all of Rhode Island; Hartford, Windham, and Tolland Counties in Connecticut; and Cheshire and Hillsborough Counties in New Hampshire.

In order to become an official NWS spotter, one needs to attend a training session conducted by the NWS. It is about a 3 hour slide and video presentation about the cloud features associated with severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. Being able to accurately identify these features is essential, so that roll clouds are not mistaken for funnel clouds or so that a true wall cloud does not go unrecognized. Criteria and procedures for reporting hail, wind, and other damage to the NWS are discussed. All SKYWARN spotters receive a newsletter at least once per year.

Approximately one-third of NWS-Taunton's spotters also are amateur radio operators. This dual role can be helpful, especially during a major storm such as a hurricane, when phone and power lines are downed and amateur radio may become the primary means of communications.

SKYWARN volunteers also help the NWS by reporting winter weather, flash flooding, coastal flooding, etc., according to the established criteria. It must be stressed that we are looking for reliable and objective reports. When snowfall reports are inflated or hail sizes are exaggerated, for example, it can do more harm than good. While not a requirement, it is preferred that our SKYWARN volunteers would be available to receive a call from the NWS, in the event we feel that something suspicious is happening in their area. A questionnaire form handed out at the training sessions allows one to give additional information, such as hours of availability, access to rivers/streams, type of weather equipment owned (if applicable), etc.

Training sessions are held throughout southern New England, typically in the late spring and early summer months. The latest training dates are here , or one can listen for announcements on NOAA Weather Radio.

Any questions, please contact william.babcock@noaa.gov.