In the December issue of Allen County HamNews, I hinted at a possible change in reporting criteria for SKYWARN spotters. During a conference call with leaders of IMO SKYWARN, NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist Michael Lewis discussed a goal for spotter reports. Lewis wants reports to be based more on weather impact than on measurements such as wind speed or hail size. For example, if the weather does damage or causes injury, Lewis wants to know about it, even if conditions do not meet traditional reporting criteria.
In addition, Lewis wants net control operators and spotters to pay attention to a text product that the NWS issues when meteorologists are concerned about conditions but don’t have enough data to issue a warning. That text product is called a Special Weather Statement.
During periods of severe and/or near-severe weather, Lewis wants spotters to report conditions in areas covered by Special Weather Statements, even if the conditions don’t meet traditional reporting criteria. In other words, spotters should interpret a Special Weather Statement to mean that the NWS needs their help deciding whether to issue a warning for the area described in the statement; even if that means reporting that nothing is happening there.
When the NWS issues a Special Weather Statement, spotters and others can find it on the NWS website. Just look at the forecast page for your area. If a Special Weather Statement is in effect, a link to it will appear in the “Hazardous Weather Conditions” area below the forecast graphics and above the textual “7-Day Forecast.” You can also go to (and bookmark) this Web page: tinyurl.com/bdlf9dp. That page lists every Special Weather Statement issued by the Northern Indiana NWS office, for any county in its coverage area. As I write this, the page contains Special Weather Statements related to dense fog. There are also several services that will send email or text messages when Special Weather Statements are issued, so you don’t have to keep checking the Web to see if a new one has come out.
Finally, a few months ago I wrote an article that was intentionally a little provocative. It dealt with NWS interest in receiving spotter reports via Internet social media and whether such channels would make ham radio reports obsolete.
Derek Augsburger, AB9SO is ARES emergency coordinator for Adams County and leads ham radio SKYWARN operations there. He responded to my article with an email message in which he described Adams County spotters who became hams after they’d been avid spotters for a while. These folks had been using cell phones to communicate and maintain situational awareness, but of course, they could each talk to only one other spotter at a time (or perhaps two other spotters with a 3-way call). After these spotters became hams, “they realized that an entire group was in communications at once and information was passed quickly to everyone at the same time,” Derek wrote. “Basically it became a weather spotting ‘party’ and not just a bunch of single people doing their own thing,” he continued. “They realized it was a coordinated effort and ham radio made that possible.”
Derek makes a good point about the value of ham radio to serious storm spotters. Nonetheless, NWS is continuing its efforts to involve more non-hams in the warning decision process, via reports those folks send on media like Twitter and Facebook. Look for more on that in another article.