Category Archives: SKYWARN

First Indiana Severe Storm Risk of Season

Severe storm season could get underway in Indiana this week. Today, the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center (SPC) issued a “Day 3 Convective Outlook” that outlines an area in which the SPC believes there is a slight risk of severe storms on Wednesday, April 10. The slight risk area is indicated by yellow in the map below.

Convective outlook map

As you can see, the yellow area covers almost the entire state of Indiana. It also covers all of the counties IMO SKYWARN has designated as “quadrant two,” which is the quadrant I represent on the IMO SKYWARN board of directors.

What does this mean to you? I recommend the following:

  • Go to the SPC site tomorrow and check out the “Day Two Convective Outlook” for a more specific forecast on the risk of severe weather Wednesday. 
  • On Wednesday, check the SPC “Day One Convective Outlook” for even more specific information and if the risk of severe weather is still present in your area, be sure to monitor NOAA Weather Radio, your favorite broadcast station and/or other sources for any watches the SPC issues. 
  • If you’re a spotter, spend the next couple days making sure all your gear is ready to go for the season and review your training.

 How are you preparing for storm season? Add a comment below!

Tornado Look-Alike Appears over Fort Wayne


Here’s a good training aid for SKYWARN spotters. What does this look like to you?

No, it’s not a tornado or even a funnel cloud. It’s a funnel-shaped rain shaft. You might call it, “virga,” but the technical definition of virga is rain shaft that evaporates before it reaches the ground and the bottom of this rain shaft (the illuminated part) appears to be reaching the ground. I took this photo in the early evening of March 31, 2013 in northeastern Fort Wayne, Indiana.

During SKYWARN training, instructors warn spotters not to confuse rain shafts with funnel clouds. But never before have I seen a rain shaft that so closely mimics the appearance of a funnel cloud.

How did I know it wasn’t a tornadic funnel?

  • It wasn’t spinning (sorry, I didn’t think to shoot video).
  • The weather conditions weren’t right for tornadoes.
  • I could see the rain in the illuminated part at the bottom.

I forwarded this photo to my local NWS weather forecast office to use as a training aid. If you ever see something like this, I encourage you to photograph it and do the same.

Leave a comment below if you’ve ever seen something that looks like funnel cloud or a tornado but wasn’t.

NWS Changing Storm Warnings in Regional Experiment

Jeff Koterba "Siren Fatigue" cartoon
Used with permission, Jeff Koterba/Omaha World-Herald.

Does your mother know the difference between the damage that can be done by 58 mph winds and 91 mph winds? I didn’t think so. Everyone knows that 91 mph is worse than 58 mph, but Mom probably doesn’t know how much worse. She’s not alone. And that’s part of the reason so many people were surprised by how much damage the June 29, 2012 derecho did.

When a thunderstorm produces winds of at least 58 mph the National Weather Service (NWS) issues a severe thunderstorm warning. The June 29 derecho produced a measured wind gust at Fort Wayne International Airport of 91 mph. What does NWS do when thunderstorm winds reach 91 mph? It issues … a severe thunderstorm warning.

Beginning April 1, 2013, the NWS Northern Indiana weather forecast office will join all other offices in the NWS central region in an experiment to test of a new type of storm warning. “Impact-based warnings” are designed to help people understand the difference between barely severe storms and storms like the one we had June 29, by indicating what the storms might do.

For example, at 3:09 p.m. June 29, NWS issued a severe thunderstorm warning for several northwestern Ohio counties (Example 1). It included the following text: “This storm has a history of producing destructive winds in excess of 80 mph. Seek shelter now inside a sturdy structure and stay away from windows!” Notice that the warning mentioned a wind speed and action to take but said nothing about what that wind might do.

Example 1: 2012 Severe Thunderstorm Warning

BULLETIN – IMMEDIATE BROADCAST REQUESTED
SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NORTHERN INDIANA
309 PM EDT FRI JUN 29 2012

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN NORTHERN INDIANA HAS ISSUED A

* SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING FOR…
  WESTERN ALLEN COUNTY IN WEST CENTRAL OHIO…
  SOUTHERN DEFIANCE COUNTY IN NORTHWEST OHIO…
  PAULDING COUNTY IN WEST CENTRAL OHIO…
  VAN WERT COUNTY IN WEST CENTRAL OHIO…
  SOUTH CENTRAL HENRY COUNTY IN NORTHWEST OHIO…
  PUTNAM COUNTY IN WEST CENTRAL OHIO…

* UNTIL 400 PM EDT

* AT 304 PM EDT…NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED A
  LINE OF SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS CAPABLE OF PRODUCING DESTRUCTIVE WINDS
  IN EXCESS OF 80 MPH. THESE SEVERE STORMS WERE LOCATED ALONG A     
  LINE EXTENDING FROM 27 MILES NORTHWEST OF ANTWERP TO 12 MILES     
  WEST OF PAYNE TO 24 MILES SOUTHWEST OF OHIO CITY…AND            
  MOVING EAST AT 65 MPH.

* LOCATIONS IN THE PATH OF SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS INCLUDE…
  PAYNE…ANTWERP AND CONVOY…
  PAULDING…VAN WERT AND OHIO CITY…
  SPENCERVILLE AND DEFIANCE…
  DELPHOS…OTTOVILLE AND CONTINENTAL…
  ELIDA…

OTHER LOCATIONS IMPACTED BY THESE SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS INCLUDE
WORSTVILLE…TIPTON…MIDDLEBURY…MARK CENTER…BRICETON…SCOTT…
LATTY…HAVILAND…CECIL…CAVETT…THE BEND AND SHERWOOD.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

DOPPLER RADAR HAS INDICATED SOME WEAK ROTATION WITHIN THIS LINE OF
SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS. SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS CAN PRODUCE TORNADOES WITH
LITTLE OR NO WARNING. IF A TORNADO IS SPOTTED…ACT QUICKLY AND MOVE
TO A PLACE OF SAFETY IN A STURDY STRUCTURE…SUCH AS A BASEMENT OR
SMALL INTERIOR ROOM.

THIS STORM HAS A HISTORY OF PRODUCING DESTRUCTIVE WINDS IN EXCESS OF
80 MPH. SEEK SHELTER NOW INSIDE A STURDY STRUCTURE AND STAY AWAY FROM
WINDOWS!

TO REPORT SEVERE WEATHER…CONTACT YOUR NEAREST LAW ENFORCEMENT
AGENCY. THEY WILL RELAY YOUR REPORT TO THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE
IN NORTHERN INDIANA.

&&

LAT…LON 4064 8404 4064 8410 4065 8411 4065 8421
      4068 8422 4068 8437 4071 8445 4072 8445
      4072 8449 4084 8480 4135 8472 4127 8400
TIME…MOT…LOC 1908Z 269DEG 58KT 4154 8487 4104 8487
          4054 8487
WIND…HAIL 80MPH <.50IN

Example warnings courtesy Michael Lewis, warning coordination meteorologist, NWS Northern Indiana 

Had impact-based warnings been in effect that day, the same warning would have included language like this: “Impact … damage to vehicles…buildings…roofs and windows. Trees uprooted and large branches up to 9 inches in diameter down.” (Example 2). Impact-based warnings will also tell us whether a storm is indicated by radar or actually observed by humans.

Example 2: Mock Impact-Based Severe Thunderstorm Warning

BULLETIN – IMMEDIATE BROADCAST REQUESTED
SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NORTHERN INDIANA
309 PM EDT FRI JUN 29 2012

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN NORTHERN INDIANA HAS ISSUED A

* SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING FOR…
  WESTERN ALLEN COUNTY IN WEST CENTRAL OHIO…
  SOUTHERN DEFIANCE COUNTY IN NORTHWEST OHIO…
  PAULDING COUNTY IN WEST CENTRAL OHIO…
  VAN WERT COUNTY IN WEST CENTRAL OHIO…
  SOUTH CENTRAL HENRY COUNTY IN NORTHWEST OHIO…
  PUTNAM COUNTY IN WEST CENTRAL OHIO…

* UNTIL 400 PM EDT

* AT 304 PM EDT…A LINE OF SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS EXTENDED FROM 27
  MILES NORTHWEST OF ANTWERP TO 12 MILES WEST OF PAYNE TO 24 MILES
  SOUTHWEST OF OHIO CITY…AND MOVING EAST AT 65 MPH.
 
  HAZARD…GREATER THAN 80 MPH WIND GUSTS.
 
  SOURCE…TRAINED SPOTTERS.
 
  IMPACT…DAMAGE TO VEHICLES…BUILDINGS…ROOFS AND WINDOWS. TREES
           UPROOTED AND LARGE BRANCHES UP TO 9 INCHES IN DIAMETER 

           DOWN. 

* LOCATIONS IN THE PATH OF SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS INCLUDE…
  PAYNE…ANTWERP AND CONVOY…
  PAULDING…VAN WERT AND OHIO CITY…
  SPENCERVILLE AND DEFIANCE…
  DELPHOS…OTTOVILLE AND CONTINENTAL…
  ELIDA…

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

THIS STORM HAS A HISTORY OF PRODUCING DESTRUCTIVE WINDS IN EXCESS OF
80 MPH. SEEK SHELTER NOW INSIDE A STURDY STRUCTURE AND STAY AWAY FROM
WINDOWS!

TO REPORT SEVERE WEATHER…SEND REPORTS VIA TWITTER WITH THE HASHTAG #NWSIWX.

&&

LAT…LON 4064 8404 4064 8410 4065 8411 4065 8421
      4068 8422 4068 8437 4071 8445 4072 8445
      4072 8449 4084 8480 4135 8472 4127 8400
TIME…MOT…LOC 1908Z 269DEG 58KT 4154 8487 4104 8487
          4054 8487

HAIL…<.50IN
WIND…>80MPH

The impact-based warnings experiment includes three forms of tornado warnings, based on the storm’s damage threat. Tornadoes with “considerable” and “catastrophic” damage threats will have new “tags” at the very bottom of the warnings, for example, “tornado damage threat … considerable” and “tornado damage threat … catastrophic.” Note that NWS has been including tags at the bottoms of warnings for the past three to five years (they’re highlighted at the bottoms of the example warnings above). The impact-based warnings experiment expands on these tags to enable users and automated systems to glean information more quickly.

A basic tornado warning will have no damage threat tag. It will include impact language such as, “Significant house and building damage possible.” The vast majority of tornado warnings issued by the Northern Indiana NWS office will look like this.

A “damage threat considerable” tornado warning will include impact language such as, “Major house and building damage likely and complete destruction possible.”

A “damage threat catastrophic” tornado warning will include impact language such as, “This is a life threatening situation. You could be killed if not underground or in a tornado shelter.” The NWS will rarely use the catastrophic language, saving it for storms like the 2011 Joplin, Missouri tornado.

More information about impact-based warnings, including example tornado warnings and a map of NWS offices participating in the experiment, is available on the NWS website.

When a warning is issued, it will be important to access the entire text of the warning. You can do so via NOAA Weather Radio, the Web and some email services. Make sure your friends and family also know how to get the full text of warnings, so they’ll benefit from the impact statements.

Impact-based warnings will make detailed, timely reports from SKYWARN storm spotters even more important. More than ever, NWS will need to know what storms are doing near you; exactly what they’re doing. Did tree limbs come down? How big? Did you see structure damage? Was it just a few shingles blown off or part of a wall blown down? And NWS meteorologists will need that information immediately, especially when a storm system moves as fast as the June 29 derecho did (60 mph). The tornado damage threat tags are especially dependent on spotter reports. Radar data alone is insufficient for NWS meteorologists to determine appropriate damage threat tags.

If we provide the information NWS needs, when it needs it, impact-based warnings could lead to fewer comments like one often heard after the June 29 derecho: “I had no idea it would be that bad.”

Know others who could benefit from the information in this blog post? Use the sharing buttons below to share a link on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, email, etc. Have questions or comments? Use the comment form below.

Allen County SKYWARN Spotters Receive Training

About 35 people attended SKYWARN spotter training Feb. 26 at the Allen County Public Library. Here are some highlights:
SKYWARN Spotters receive training at the Allen County Public Library, February 26, 2013
Warning Coordination Meteorologist Michael Lewis reminded spotters of the importance of their reports. He pointed out that studies have shown that members of the general public pay more attention to weather warnings when they include eyewitness reports. In other words, if a tornado warning says a spotter has seen a tornado on the ground, it’ll get a lot more response from the public than a possible tornado indicated by radar.
Reporting Methods
Lewis covered the preferred and less preferred reporting methods.
Twitter. Lewis said Twitter is not only the fastest way to get a report in front of meteorologists’ eyes; it’s also supported by software that automates the process of creating a local storm report (LSR). That means news media and emergency managers see it faster. To send a report via Twitter, include the “hash tag” #nwsiwx. If possible, attach a photo to the tweet.
Facebook. This is the second choice of the NWS. Lewis said it’s a bit slower than Twitter and requires manual retyping to create an LSR. “But it’s still pretty darn fast,” Lewis said. Another advantage of Facebook is that it archives photos and videos, making it easier for meteorologists to look at them after the event. To report via Facebook, Log into your Facebook account and go to the National Weather Service Northern Indiana Facebook page (www.facebook.com/US.NationalWeatherService.NorthernIN.gov). Click on “Write Post” and enter your report. If possible, include a photo.
SpotterNetwork.org. NWS likes this web-based spotter organization (www.spotternetwork.org), in part because it requires spotters to complete the organization’s own online independent study training before it accepts reports from them. Also, SpotterNetwork.org conducts quality assurance on reports and suspends people who make inappropriate reports. Michael says SpotterNetwork.org is fast but depends on the speed of the weather forecast office’s (WFO) Web connection, which can vary.
Amateur Radio. Lewis described amateur radio as “super-fast” but also described a significant issue: Volunteer operators are not always available to staff the amateur station at the WFO, WX9IWX. Also, meteorologists do not monitor the radio traffic; they wait for the volunteer operator to write down a report and hand it to them. Lewis urged amateur radio spotters to use one of the other methods whenever WX9IWX is not on the air.
CoCoRaHS. The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (www.cocorahs.org) is a grassroots volunteer network of backyard weather observers who measure precipitation and report it via the Web. The network can also receive reports of severe weather. NWS has access to these reports and considers the speed of this reporting method to be comparable to amateur radio.
E-spotter. The NWS operates this web-based spotter reporting system (espotter.weather.gov) but not for much longer. Lewis said 2013 is probably the last year that E-spotter will be available. It’s running on a server that uses the outdated operating system MS-DOS!
Telephone. Lewis gave the audience the toll-free spotter hotline number (888-668-3344) but said the phone is far from an optimal way to make a report. In fact, he said spotters should consider the phone to be a last resort. He said the phone line can get swamped with calls and there can be a considerable delay getting out an LSR.
Email. NWS does not really consider email a reporting method, especially for urgent reports like tornadoes. Lewis said that accessing the email account (w-iwx.webmaster@noaa.gov) is a burden to meteorologists, so the delay can be significant. It’s such a problem that Lewis advised spotters who send email to also call the WFO to alert it to look for the message.
So what does the IMO SKYWARN quadrant director recommend? Get a Twitter account and use it but also send every report on ham radio, so other spotters will hear it immediately. Twitter lets you send spotter reports from any cell phone that supports text messaging. And if you have a smartphone, you can shoot a photo and use a Twitter app to share the photo with the WFO. Of course, if you’re at an Internet-connected computer, you can use it to send a report via Twitter.
But remember, spotters who monitor our radio nets depend on hearing each others’ reports. So if you use another method to report, put it on the radio too. Just make sure the net control station knows you already sent it via another method.
Reporting Criteria
Lewis presented the following new set of reporting criteria for 2013:
·         Hail, regardless of size. Lewis advised, however, that redundant hail reports (same size in a nearby location) are not particularly helpful. If you’re uncertain whether your report is redundant, send it anyway.
·          
·         Measured wind speed greater than 50 mph. Lewis cautioned spotters to make sure they’ve calibrated their equipment. And he suggested referring to the Beaufort wind scale to see if the wind is doing damage consistent with the measured wind speed. If not, be suspicious of your anemometer.
·          
·         Wind damage·          
o   Report an estimatedwind speed based on the Beaufort wind scale
o   Report the size (diameter) of broken branches and fallen trees
o   Report the number of trees damaged
o   Report Impacts(power outages, impassable roads, specific structure damage, etc.)
    
·         Funnel Clouds or Tornados. Remember that rotationmust be present with either feature. Also, do not report a tornado if you can’t see debris being lifted (for any reason … it might be a tornado but if you can’t see the debris because of a tree line, call it a funnel cloud).
·          
·         Flooding.Don’t drive or wade into the water to measure its depth!
·          
Those are highlights of this year’s training session. Feel free to contact w9lw@arrl.netwith any questions or post them in the comment section below.

Pay Attention to Special Weather Statements



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.

NWS Announces Plans for Local SKYWARN Training


In early December, Michael Lewis, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, Northern Indiana Weather Forecast Office, National Weather Service (NWS), sent an email message outlining updated plans for SKYWARN spotter training in 2013.
Lewis confirmed that in 2013, NWS will not conduct in-person, face-to-face training.
“We had to weigh the options,” Lewis said, “conduct spotter trainings, or reserve travel for possible storm damage surveys, or other Disaster Response Services. In general, one storm damage survey consumes travel and personnel costs equivalent to approximately four spotter talks. We had to decide where to put our resources. We chose to reserve our budget for possible disaster response/recovery.”
The so-called “fiscal cliff” is the reason NWS had to make such a choice. At the time of this writing, Congress had not passed a bill to prevent the automatic austerity measures included in the Budget Control Act of 2011. Unless Congress does so, the federal government must cut spending on Jan. 1 by $200 billion, which means across-the-board cuts, including at NWS. This situation required our local NWS office to plan as if it won’t have enough money for both in-person spotter training and the other activities Lewis mentioned above.
The NWS office therefore plans to conduct spotter training at various sites around its area of responsibility via live, Internet presentations. Spotters will gather at such sites to view — as a group — presentations provided remotely from the NWS office. The current plans do not include opportunity for spotters to view the presentations elsewhere, e.g. their homes or offices.
Lewis said the program will represent a complete rewrite of presentations that have been used for in-person presentations of the past. NWS expects a 90 minute program, including a 15 minute break. “We are doing everything possible to make this a dynamic learning process for the attendees,” Lewis said.
NWS is coordinating with county emergency management agency directors to set up host sites at which spotters may gather to view the online presentations. At the time of this writing, NWS had not announced the specific sites. After all host sites have received their remote presentations. NWS plans to make a recorded presentation available for individual viewing.
Lewis said the new remotely led training will cover less meteorology and radar interpretation than previous in-person training has included. Instead, the new training will focus on the following:
  • Why to report
  • What to report
  • How to report (including telephone, ham radio, etc. and new tools like social media)
  • Where to obtain the reports of others (for situational awareness)
Because the online spotter training will not contain much meteorology, Lewis strongly recommended that all spotters take advantage of available online independent study training courses. “These courses are well-prepared and provide the student the opportunity to go back and review the material at their convenience,” Lewis said. He referred specifically to the following:
Lewis said spotters should complete the above independent study course before attending remotely-presented spotter training.
Lewis said NWS does not have any authority to prevent others from creating their own, local spotter training programs. “There are plenty of people willing to step up and present whatever they think is best,” he said. Lewis warned, however, “This will result in inconsistencies, and conflicting information, and likely result in confusion.”
Lewis said he hopes to have a “train the trainer” program in place for the 2014 spotter season and beyond. Such a program would train volunteers who are not NWS employees to provide NWS-authorized spotter training in their communities.
As I receive more information about NWS plans, I’ll keep you posted. In the interim, I recommend that you encourage any spotter or potential spotter you know to complete the above-referenced online, independent study course.

NWS SKYWARN Training Suspended, SKYWARN Operations Continue


The Northern Indiana office of the National Weather Service hosted a conference call with leaders of IMO SKYWARN Nov. 19. During the call, Warning Coordination Meteorologist Michael Lewis formally announced that the NWS has suspended plans for local NWS-led SKYWARN spotter training in 2013. Although the federal government’s fiscal year began October 1, Congress had not yet passed a budget for the fiscal year, leaving the NWS with no idea how much it can spend on the travel and overtime that spotter training requires. Lewis indicated that after Congress passes a 2013 budget, there is a possibility that the NWS will be able to conduct spotter training in 2013, but such training sessions would likely not occur before storm season begins.
Lewis said all SKYWARN operationswill continue without change. IMO SKYWARN nets on amateur radio will continue to function as they have in 2012 and the NWS will continue to receive spotter reports on the same toll-free telephone number it has used in the past.
Lewis emphasized that the NWS wants all SKYWARN spotters to receive the message that their services continue to be essential, despite the suspension of annual training.
Lewis said he hopes that spotters and potential spotters will take advantage of available online training modules. He specifically recommended the following resources:

Lewis noted that the COMET system will notify the local NWS office when spotters complete its training modules. Therefore, spotters who did not attend training in 2012 or 2011 can avoid being dropped from the rolls by taking the COMET training in 2013.
Lewis indicated that volunteers might conduct their own in-person spotter training sessions in 2013. The NWS will not, however, be able to provide any training materials to such volunteers. He recommended that volunteer trainers use the online training resources above (especially those provided by The COMET® Program) as the basis for their presentations.
Lewis also said that the local NWS office might explore the possibility of conducting live, online training sessions (webinar-style) from the office. But he indicated it was too early to know whether or when that might happen.
In other news from the conference call, the IMO SKYWARN leaders and Lewis briefly discussed advanced spotter training. IMO SKYWARN has sponsored advanced training every other year for several years and 2013 would normally be the year of the next event. Past events depended heavily on support from the NWS. Specifically, NWS travel budgets supported the participation of NWS meteorologists from outside our area as expert speakers. Lewis said NWS has forbidden all such travel in 2013. IMO SKYWARN has not yet decided whether it will try to host advanced training in 2013 without that NWS support.

Are Ham Radio SKYWARN Spotters Becoming Irrelevant?


Are ham radio SKYWARN spotters becoming irrelevant, the way that ubiquitous cell phones reduced the importance of repeater autopatches? Comments at a recent meeting hosted by the Northern Indiana National Weather Service could lead one to believe that answer is, “Perhaps.”
The Northern Indiana NWS weather forecast office conducted a workshop October 17 for its Integrated Warning Team (IWT). By NWS definition, an IWT includes the local NWS office, news media and emergency management community. The purpose of the workshop was to find ways to increase data sharing between the three components of the IWT. Representatives of each of the three IWT segments gave presentations on their needs. The comments of the NWS representatives were particularly interesting.
“The only way we really know what’s going on is when we get that ground truth report,” said an NWS presenter. Unfortunately, the NWS is not receiving enough timely reports from its trained spotters. An NWS representative expressed frustration at seeing significant radar data in an area where he knew trained spotters lived but getting no reports.
When reports don’t arrive via traditional means (like ham radio, or messages from emergency officials), the NWS has no choice but to search elsewhere for information. It has started searching on social media networks like Facebook and especially Twitter. It turns out that users of social media often write about the weather they see, because they believe their friends and followers are interested. Members of the IWT acknowledged that most such reports come from people without any weather training. But many social media users send their updates from camera-equipped smart phones and include photos with their reports.
“One picture of a funnel cloud is better than 10 reports from trained spotters,” an NWS representative said.
Does that mean ham radio operators should abandon SKYWARN nets? Perhaps not. But it might be wise to take steps to improve the value of our service. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Education. By learning all we can about meteorology, we can assure that all our reports are valid and valuable.
  • Technology. By becoming familiar with and using other technologies to supplement ham radio (e.g. tweeting photos from smart phones), we can provide a more complete service while demonstrating our ability to stay on the “cutting edge.”
  • Procedures. By insisting on sounding as professional as possible when we communicate, we can build credibility among any IWT members who monitor or receive our reports.

In upcoming articles, I’ll share more ideas along these lines, especially ways to gain more education and use technology.

Keeping the Mic on its Hook


SKYWARN spotters who refrain from transmitting are very valuable. These are the well-trained operators who know the National Weather Service reporting criteria by heart. When they see nothing that meets those criteria, they keep their microphones on their hooks. A recently implemented change in IMO SKYWARN Quadrant Two procedures will recognize these helpful operators. When a SKYWARN quadrant operation ends, the active net control operator (NCO) now takes check-ins from all stations who participated in the operation, including those who had nothing to report. The net control team thanks Ron Busch, WB9AA, for suggesting the change.
The team also made a slight change in the suggested call-in procedure for use during standby mode. To refresh your memory, during standby mode, an NCO is on frequency but the repeater is available for normal use. The NCO team has noticed that many stations that want the NCO’s attention during standby mode simply transmit their own call signs once. So the NCO team has made that the suggested procedure. Now, when an operator transmits his or her call sign alone during standby mode, the NCO on duty will assume the call is meant for the NCO and respond accordingly.
An updated version of the IMO SKYWARN Quadrant Two operations manual that contains these changes is available here.

Storm Spotters as Advocates

If you’re a trained SKYWARN storm spotter, who in your family knows more than you about severe weather? How about in your neighborhood, place of employment or place of worship?

Unlike most of your family, friends and coworkers, you know that a tornado watch means that conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes and a tornado warning means it’s time to take cover. You know that flooding kills more people in northern Indiana than do tornadoes. You know that most people cannot rely on tornado sirens to warn them of danger.

Chances are, in most (if not all) of your circles, you are the severe weather expert.

I’d like to propose, therefore, that you have more responsibility than observing and reporting severe weather. You should also be a weather safety advocate.

I wrote in a previous post that many residents of Joplin, Missouri initially ignored warnings of the tornado that would devastate part of their city. Compared to years past, the National Weather Service is able to issue more specific warnings earlier than ever before. But for too many people, these advances are wasted, because they don’t know how to react to the information. That’s where you come in.

Be an advocate. Advise your friends and family to buy weather alert radios. Help program the radios. Help them learn how to interpret and react to severe weather information. Make sure they know that a tornado warning means “take shelter,” not “go outdoors to look.” Teach them they’re not necessarily in the clear just because 10 minutes have passed without a tornado.

We can be the best possible weather spotters but if the people we’re trying to protect don’t know what to do, what’s the point?