Sunday, January 30, 2011

SkyWarn...Eyeing the Skies and Saving Lives

Mother Nature can be cruel.  Each year over 10,000 severe thunderstorms, 5,000 floods, and 1,000 tornadoes strike the U.S., and all can ruin lives or destroy property.  While technology has provided many tools to  predict severe weather, the best and most reliable observer is still a trained human being reporting what they see in front of them.

In the 1970's the National Weather Service created SkyWarn to enlist private citizens in identifying severe storms quickly and helping emergency responders pinpoint areas needing the most assistance.  With a large network of over 290,000 people, SkyWarn can provide timelier, more precise data than radar can.  The network also collects data  for improving storm forecasts and validating local weather models.

Many SkyWarn volunteers are first responders such as police and firefighters, as well as utility workers and private citizens looking to lend a hand.  The program is also a great vehicle for learning about thunderstorm development, storm structure, weather safety, and other meteorological data from trained professionals and your own (future) SkyWarn experiences.  So this is definitely a program we recommend everyone consider getting involved with.

Getting Started is Easy:
  1. Find the local SkyWarn coordinator (Warning Meteorologist Coordinator) in your area by clicking on the National Weather Service local Weather Forecast office map.  All SkyWarn acticities are coordinated by these offices and they will help you become an active part of the network.
  2. Attend a two-hour SkyWarn training class in your area.  With over 122 offices nationwide offering frequent classes you shouldn't have to wait to long to attend a session.  Online versions of the basic and beginner classes can found online on the SpotterGuides web site but we still recommend an in-person course.  Not just for the training, but so you can get more involved with the actual community of SkyWarn observers and interact with them personnaly.
  3. Go about your daily business.  You don't need to constantly observe or provide weather data; only when severe local storms and similar weather phenomena are in your area.  But always be ready for the day an event does occur.
  4. When a storm hits use your training to obtain accurate observations.  Many people relay sightings in through a HAM radio but this is not a requirement.  Many SkyWarn offices also collect information through phone calls, faxes, e-mails, or other online communication methods.
That's all there is to it.  SkyWarn just requires a small personal investment for training and a commitment to stay alert when storms approach.  And it benefits not just your own intellectual curiousity, but helps emergency responders react quickly and ultimately save lives.

Just promise you'll try to stay dry!