SKYWARN: National Weather Service Spotters
Story & Photo by Virginia Hatch
Seacoast Scene, Wednesday, June 23, 2004
SKYWARN is a nationwide network of volunteer weather spotters who report to and are trained by the National Weather Service (NWS). Significant weather that should be reported by weather spotters include: tornado or funnel clouds, hail of any size, flooding of any kind, heavy rains of an inch or more, high winds (estimate speed) and/or weather related damage in the summer. In the winter, snowfall amounts and storm total amounts, significant ice accumulation, changes in precipitation type, high winds, weather-related damage and present temperature should be reported.
Skywarn was developed in 1975 after a day of killer tornadoes in 1974 in Xenia, Ohio, that destroyed a whole town. On April 3 and 4, 158 tornadoes tore across the Midwest and Ohio Valley. It was realized how much a trained group would help get more lead time to take protection. In New England, roads curve. It does not make chasing storms easy. "Our philosophy is: we have hills and trees in the way; so, our methodology is to train many spotters to saturate the area from home or work. Taunton has 4200 trained weather spotters of which 10 to 15 percent report," said Glenn Field of the NWS in Taunton, Massachusetts. "We need to train more because current spotters may forget their training or move," said Field.
Captain Matthew W. Clark of the Hampton Fire Department recalled attending a weather-spotter seminar given by a meteorologist. Capt. Clark noted that the importance of the weather spotters is that while the National Weather Service can forecast general trends using their instruments, spotters can verify what the NWS is seeing on the instruments and help them to refine the forecasts; for example, hail that is observed to be falling in Hampton and reported to the weather service in Gray, Maine, may make a more helpful forecast possible. Capt. Clark remembers, also, that those attending the weather spotter training program received a measuring device to take home. He, especially,remembers the presentation of cloud formations and configurations, their development and meaning to be very helpful.
Chief Hank Lipe of the Hampton Fire Department said that all their firefighters have had weather-spotter training and Hampton is considered a "storm ready" community.
Ray Crowell of Londonderry ha.s~ been a spotter for about six or seven years.` "We're supposed to report severe weather and keep track of the volume of rain as well as snow. Anything over a certain amount, we're supposed to report. The only time I've called in has been rain from a rain gau&e and large snow falls. Rain is reported every two inches and a final storm total. In Ap 71, we had over five inches. In winter, I've reported snow -the first two inches and every two inches after that. We've had 18 inches of snow.
"I've been doing this in several places, Derry","T ~:nd Lake (where we have a summer place). 'i attend a class every year -a class by the Taunton, Massachusetts, facility. Rockingham County is in the territory assigned to National Weather Service facility in Gray, Maine . Hillsborough and Cheshire counties are assigned to Taunton. Taunton classes are given in h tanchester, and Merrimack , New Hampsl',ire. Quite frankly, Taunton puts on more c lasses which are accessible for me. I believe that Gray is a smaller facility. It is recommended every year to be certified and as refresher classes. I have an ID number for Taunton in case I'm travelling and another ID for Gray, Maine.
"Living in New Hampshire, I have not had the chance to report any deadly form of activity. It's been very mundane." Spotter Crowell confessed to being a ham radio operator; but, not active. When he reports weather data, he uses the special 1-800 ... number which is given to spotters. They get a different number each year E-mail can be used to report data; but, it's faster to telephone which gets the spotter right to the forecaster.. Spotters are all volunteers who have a special interest in weather.
Spotter Crowell is semi-retired; but, he was able to pursue this interest while he was working full-time. Weather spotting does not take a lot of time. Attendance at one three-hour class once a year held in a high school or public facility when a meteorologist is brought in is about all that is .required.Asked if he has seen and reported hail, Crowell replied that he has actually seen hail; but, he had not reported it. Asked if the spotters maintained contact with one another, he said "I have no idea who is a spotter except in a classroom."
If Spotter Crowell were in another part of the country and observed severe weather, he would call 911.
"This whole program is called Skywarn. It has expanded tremendously over the last five or six years. Every class I attend is larger. National Weather Service people have told us that the interest is incredible. The more spotters the more reporting of severe weather before radar finds it. The technology of the spotter is eyes and knowledge. Sightings can be confirmed by the Doppler Radar screen," said NWS Spotter Ray Crowell.
About 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 down and amateur radio may become the primary means of communications."Packet radio is an encrypted, digital form of communication, which can be used to transmit weather data," said Ham Radio Operator Tom Doubek of Hampton.
If you are interested in learning more and becoming a storm spotter, contact your local emergency management agency or, if you live in Rockingham County, the National Weather Service Forecast Office at Gray, Maine; Rt. 231, 1 Weather Lane P O Box 1208, Gray, ME 04039, Attn: Mr. John Jensenius, Telephone 207-688-3216; or, by e-mail at GYX,Skwarn@noaa.gov.
If you live in Hillsborough or Cheshire Counties or Massachusetts, contact: Glenn Field, Warning and Coordination Meteorologist; email firstname.lastname@example.org ; or telephone: 508-823-1983.