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Skywarn, formed in the early 70's, has historically provided critical severe weather information to the NWS in time to get the appropriate warnings issued. Thus, the key focus of the Skywarn program is to save lives and property through the use of the observations and reports of trained volunteers. (Gropper, 1993) Despite the elaborate radar and forecasting equipment at the National Weather Service, they are only able to determine the potential for severe weather. They rely on reports from the public and law enforcement personnel and actual severe weather. Accurate and reliable information from the general public is difficult to obtain. Severe weather is complicated and confusing. The NWS has found that only regular training of weather spotters improves the quality of information.

The National Weather Service (NWS) collaborates with Amateur Radio organizations and others to put together training programs. The NWS brings its weather knowledge, the Amateur Radio Service brings its expertise in emergency communication, and together they work with governments and the Red Cross. The Amateur Radio's operators participation in the Skywarn program is formally acknowledged and encouraged in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) and the NWS. This agreement indicates that the ARRL will encourage its local volunteer groups operating as the Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) to provide the NWS with spotters and communication as requested by the NWS during times of severe weather. (Gropper, 1993) Many civil disasters are the direct result of severe weather and/or are exacerbated by severe weather.

Accordingly, the NWS may utilize the Skywarn Amateur Radio operators not only to obtain and disseminate severe weather observation and warnings, but may also use them to maintain close coordination with the Red Cross and Emergency Managers from local government entities under ARES or Radio Amateur Radio Civil Emergency Service (RACES)(Gropper, 1993). RACES is an organization of volunteer Amateur Radio operators trained in emergency communications and severe weather spotting. Authorized and regulated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), RACES provides essential communications and warning links for the state and local governments during emergencies.

The importance of this additional role for the Skywarn was demonstrated during the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in August of 1992. Trained Skywarn observers provide the Weather Service with accurate, and timely reports from radio equipped cars, homes and other locations. The NWS is most interested in severe weather reports. Severe weather includes flash flooding, hail, damaging winds, a wall cloud (which is the area of a thunderstorm where a tornado could form) and a tornado funnel. If the NWS confirms severe weather with radar and other available information, it then notifies local authorities and Civil Defense agencies, who then can activate the EAS system. The news media receives notification so they can make reports on local broadcast stations.

Skywarn volunteers donate thousands of hours and the use of their own personal radio equipment and vehicles to give their communities advance warning of life threatening weather. Since the NWS instituted the Skywarn Program, there has been a significant decrease in the death rate due to tornadoes and other severe weather.

Courtesy: Mississippi State Skywarn Group and Dave Johnson of the Merto Skywarn Homepage
/ Reference. Gropper, Daniel R. Skywarn Net Control Manuel, Washington, D.C. 1993.


The only requirements for becoming a member of the SKYWARN volunteer network is an interest in watching the sky and a dedication to helping save lives. In Northeast Louisiana, however, the program is built primarily around the the Amateur Radio community, because of their extensive communication network. (Information on acquiring an Amateur Radio License is available on another page) The National Weather Service has offices at many locations around the country. The two NWS offices that serve Northeast Louisiana are located in Shreveport, La, and Jackson, Ms. The Doppler radar, called NEXRAD (NEXt generation RADar) is located in both cities, as well. NEXRAD is designed to improve the detection of severe storms so that the NWS can provide more accurate and timely warnings to the public.


SKYWARN is an integral part of this detection and warning process. NEXRAD will help locate and track potentially severe and dangerous storms, but it is SKYWARN spotters that report what the storm is actually doing (trees blown down, a tornado on the ground, flood waters washing out a bridge, a dangerous glaze of ice on the roads and wires, etc). SKYWARN spotters are trained to spot tornadoes, funnel clouds, and severe thunderstorms. They are told how to report hail, strong winds, heavy rain, floods, and snow. Forecasters combine information from spotters with that of radar, satellite and other tools. This information is then used to provide appropriate warnings for communities downstream from the storm and to keep people informed about what is happening and what steps they may need to take to protect themselves.


The SKYWARN spotter network is a vital element in the nation's ability to react to dangerous and threatening weather. Spotters are a crucial front-line part of the Weather Service's storm warning program; they provide up-to-the-minute reports on developing storms and for confirming reports on storms that appear threatening. Most importantly, spotters' reports help give communities a first line of defense against hazardous weather. It does not overstate the importance of spotter reports to say that the weather safety of the U.S. public rests on the quality and timeliness of those ground truth reports. While there have been important strides in storm detection technology, ground truth observations remain crucial to effective storm warnings. And while the scientific understanding of storm structure has grown, on-the-spot observations remain at the heart of continuing to increase that body of knowledge. Spotters are the eyes and ears of the National Weather Service.

Please note: You must attend a class FOR EACH LEVEL, every two years to stay certified at that level. Classes are always open and you may attend as often as you like.

The dates for upcoming classes are:

CLICK HERE for Details

Online Skywarn Spotter Course !!!
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For information on having a SKYWARN class in your area, contact:
Mark Frazier
SKYWARN Coordinator (Shreveport NWS)
Phone#: 318-631-3669
Monday-Friday 8am-4pm



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This site was last updated 05/06/06

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