How often do SKYWARN storm spotters need training?

Regarding upcoming SKYWARN training sessions about which I wrote Jan. 15, an experienced spotter asked me a great question, specifically referring to the free, online training that the National Weather Service (NWS) recommends people complete before they attend live training sessions.

This spotter asked, “If we took the course last year to get certified, do we need to take it again prior to this year’s training?”

As I replied to him, the answer depends largely on your definition of “need.” But first, let’s clear up a possible misconception.

The northern Indiana NWS office (IWX) trains SKYWARN severe weather spotters, but it does not certify them. As the office explains on one of its Web pages:

Some NWS offices issue ID’s and/or certificates. However, maintaining such a large database in addition to tracking all the ID’s, can be a difficult task. As a result, this office does not issue ID’s or certificates. The host of each training session, typically the county or city Emergency Manager, can issue and track these, at their discretion.

Light green area: County Warning Area (CWA) of the northern Indiana National Weather Service office.

So, if you live in the 37-county warning area (CWA) covered by IWX and think you need recurrent training to maintain an NWS certification, you’re incorrect, only because there’s no such thing as NWS spotter certification in the IWX CWA. But please read on.

The northern Indiana NWS office does maintain a list of trained (not certified) spotters and, “in an effort to maintain an accurate database, spotters who have not received training within 3 years of the their last session will be removed.” So, if you took training (online and/or live) last year, you don’t need to take any training this year to stay on the NWS list of trained spotters. But please read on.

As I wrote above, whether you need training (online or live) this year depends on your own definition of “need.” Unless you are confident that you remember everything you learned last year and that there will be no new information in this year’s training that will be valuable to you, you might need to take both the online and live training again to remain a safe and effective severe weather spotter.

Personally, I plan to go through the online modules again before I attend a live training session this year. And I plan to attend one or more live training sessions as well, plus one or more advanced events (in Indianapolis, Wheaton, Ill., and/or Columbus, Ohio).