Become a SKYWARN® Trained Weather Spotter!

Weather Talk
Wednesday, June 18, 2014 - 12:56pm

Be the “Eyes and Ears” of the National Weather Service to help verify weather which helps them inform and warn the public

Do you have a passion for weather? How would you like to help the National Weather Service confirm severe weather, like hail, heavy rain damaging winds or even tornadoes?
I noticed there are two more training sessions to become a trained weather spotter open to the public here in El Paso. I thought I word out to all the “weather enthusiasts” and “weather geeks” like myself so you can have the opportunity to broaden your weather knowledge and help the National Weather Service verify weather data and keep people safe. In today’s “Weather Talk” I tell you about a brief history of weather spotting, about the training and duties and how you can become one!

John Fausett, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, here at the National Weather Service of El Paso, educates "trained weather spotters"  He says “They become the “eyes and ears “of the National Weather Service because a radar does not see every thing.” He went on to say “A report from a trained weather spotter adds credibility to warning’s and storm reports. The spotter reports add ground truth to radar estimates.” These radar estimates include rainfall, hail, wind speed and even severe storm cloud formation. I have known John Fausett ever since I got to El Paso over 19 years ago. He is excellent person who loves weather and his career. He used to be a television meteorologist here in El Paso on Channel 13(now Channel 7) for 10 years back in the 80’s and he writes and records top notch weather songs like one entitled “Skywarn Spotter”. This song is all about today’s topic. One of his many duties is to coordinates public awareness programs and the weather spotting training workshops

Our internet producer at NewsChannel 9, Andra Litton, is also trained spotter and “crazy about weather”. Her enthusiasm and John’s motivation helped me think about how I should spread the word to get more people involved as “Trained Weather Spotters”

• Storm spotting developed in the United States during the early 1940s. A joint project between the military and weather bureau saw the deployment of trained military and aviation lightning spotters in areas where munitions for the war were manufactured.

• A string of other tornado outbreaks destroying some military bases in the early 1940's increased the presence of “spotter networks ” There were over 200 networks by 1945.

• Their mandate of a storm spotter changed to include reporting all types of active or severe weather; this included giving snow depth and other reports during the winter as well as fire reports in the summer, along with the more typical severe weather reports associated with thunderstorms.

• Storm spotting was still mainly carried out by trained individuals in either the military, aviation or law enforcement fields of service. In 1947 that volunteer spotting as it exists today was born.

• In the 1950’s when the first dedicated weather radars were set up there need to be some ground verification of what the radar was seeing? The volunteer spotters began with “amateur” or “Ham” radio operators. The term "ham radio" was first a nickname that mocked amateur radio operators with a 19th-century term for being bad at something, like "ham-fisted" or "ham actor". It had already been used for bad wired telegraph operators.

• The National Weather Service came up with a concept in the 1960’s “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. In the 1970’s they named this program of trained weather spotter’s SKYWARN®.

Another part of SKYWARN® is the receipt and effective distribution of National Weather Service information.”

Here is what group of volunteer weather spotters is all about according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, NOAA's
“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.”

The National Weather Service wants to emphasize 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."
As adds “Storm Spotting and Storm Chasing is dangerous and should not be done without proper training, experience and equipment.”

How Can I Get Involved?
NWS 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:
• Up to three hours in length, free of charge
• Learn to identify hazardous weather features
• Basics of thunderstorm development
• Find out when we would like a call from you (certain thresholds & criteria must be met)
• Elementary to intermediate meteorological concepts are taught
• Basic severe weather safety
• How to report information
• Prerequisite to the ADVANCED COURSE (goes much deeper into the theory)
• For more information, please contact John Fausett best at or at 575-589-4088 ext 223

There are two more open to the public training sessions available in El Paso this year coming up on this Friday evening and another on Saturday

Friday evening June 20th, 2014 in  El Paso, TX
(El Paso County) 7:00pm MDT Sun City ARC Clubhouse
Basic Skywarn (public invited)
Contact Information:

Saturday morning June 21st, 2014 in  El Paso, TX
(El Paso County) 9:00am MDT 200 N. Kansas
Basic Skywarn (public invited)
Contact Information:

If you are out of the area Go to: and click on your state to find out where training classes are taking place around you.

What a cool thing, right? Become a “SKYWARN® trained weather spotter” for free! Just 3 hours and you can report weather conditions around your home or work. You are not only helping the weather service by confirming their weather data, but you are helping to keep your community safe. You be helping the primary mission of the National Weather Service is to save lives and property through timely warnings and forecasts.

Chuck DeBroder, Chief Meteorologist
KTSM, NewsChannel 9, NBC, El Paso, TX

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