SKYWARN® is a national network of volunteer severe weather spotters. The
spotters are trained by local National Weather Service Forecast Offices
on how to spot severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail and flooding. In some
parts of the country, spotters also report snowfall and ice accumulation.
BALTIMORE/WASHINGTON FORECAST OFFICE SKYWARN® PROGRAM
Forecast Office has been recruiting and training spotters into its expanded
network since 1990. We currently have over 4000 Spotters who cover 44 counties,
11 Independent Cities plus Baltimore City and the District of Columbia. Our
network stretches west from the Chesapeake Bay across the eastern panhandle
of West Virginia and south from the Mason-Dixon Line through Fredericksburg,
Charlottesville and Staunton in Virginia.
ARE OUR SPOTTERS?
Our volunteers are people who either have a strong interest in weather
or are public service oriented such as amateur radio operators, REACT members,
or emergency response personnel. Our spotters are all ages beginning as
young as 14 and range well into retirement age. We have farmers, pilots,
engineers, housewives, lawyers, television cameramen, teachers, students,
firemen, and more. Our volunteers are truly diverse but with a common interest
in weather and a strong desire to help their community.
DOES SKYWARN® WORK?
When hazardous weather occurs such as severe thunderstorms, floods, tornadoes,
snow and ice storms, our volunteers report what is happening at their location.
They are asked to report whenever certain criteria are met such as when
one inch of rain has fallen, four inches of snow is on the ground, a thunderstorm
is producing hail, or trees have been blown down. Reports arrive at our
office via the telephone, fax, internet, and amateur radio. The reports
are combined with radar and satellite data to determine what the storms
will do next. Spotters provide the "ground-truth" to our forecasters. Radar
may tell us that heavy snow is falling, but it can not tell us how much
snow is on the ground or if rain is mixing with the snow. Spotters do.
The reports are used by forecasters to send out public statements, warnings
and advisories, and short-term forecasts. These products reach the public
through the internet, NOAA
Weather Radio, the media and other commercial services. Skywarn® reports
also go into Storm Data, which is an official publication that documents
severe weather across the country. Storm Data can be used to create
a severe weather climatology (or history) of a local county or city. Storm
Data is published (electronic and hard copy versions) by the National
Climatic Data Center.
DOES THE SKYWARN® AMATEUR RADIO NET WORK?
Two-thirds of our volunteers are licensed amateur radio operators. Amateur
radio plays a big role in the SKYWARN® program. During severe weather, amateur
radio volunteers man a radio station at our office. They talk to our spotters
in the particular area that a storm is hitting and request information
needed by the forecasters such as hail size or rainfall accumulation. Large
storms such as hurricanes can knock out phone service. Skywarn® Amateur
radio volunteers help us when there are communications outages so that
we can continue to receive weather reports and feed warnings and other
critical information out to communities.