Storm Spotters Help National Weather Service with Early Emergency Warnings

Each year, more than 1,000 tornadoes, 5,000 floods, and 10,000 severe thunderstorms strike throughout the US. Advanced warning of such weather emergencies greatly helps emergency management personnel provide timely warnings to the public, and allows personnel to be better prepared to mitigate these catastrophic events.

One system the National Weather Service (NWS) uses to find out about emergencies is its national network of storm spotters. Its volunteer program has nearly 290,000 trained people who specialize in spotting severe weather events and quickly reporting these events to the NWS. These volunteers range from concerned members of the public to emergency management specialists and law enforcement personnel.

Since its inception in the 1970s, the combination of Doppler radar technology and information from spotters has helped the NWS issue more accurate and timely warnings for severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, and flash floods. The agency welcomes volunteers with access to communication such as HAM radios and an interest in public service.

The training is free and typically takes about 2 hours. If you take part in it, you will learn about how to report weather information, and be introduced to the following topics:

  • Basic severe weather safety
  • Identifying the features of potentially severe weather
  • Fundamentals of storm structure
  • Basics of thunderstorm development

To find a class in your area, go to the NWS website for local programs on storm spotters.

The use of volunteers for storm spotting evolved from the use of trained military, aviation, and law enforcement personnel to spot critical storms. After a devastating series of tornadoes in Texas in 1947, local weather offices started training volunteers in how to spot severe weather events.

Now you have the chance to become a weather spotter and help your fellow citizens survive a weather catastrophe!