trained weather spotter

How to Become a Trained Weather Spotter

You’ve probably heard something like, “a trained spotter observed a tornado in XYZ location last night,” on the news.   What is a trained weather spotter anyway?  They are volunteers that provide real-time observations of storm structures for the National Weather Service.   

The NWS is tasked with warning the public of dangerous weather.  While they do a pretty good job of this on their own, they also rely on these trained spotters around the country to help with actual visual confirmations to assist meteorologists in making warning decisions.  Severe weather costs billions in property damage and many lives each year.  Trained spotters can give precious extra minutes to warnings for locals, allowing them to make it to safety. 

Who Should Get Involved

The National Weather Service teamed up with Skywarn in the 1960s to build a volunteer program that now has around 400,000 trained severe weather spotters.  While it is true that many of the volunteers are amateurs from the ranks of law enforcement, emergency response personnel, and public safety officers, many are just concerned citizens.  They either just want to help or have a deep interest in the weather.  Either way, you’re welcomed into the program.  In fact, it’s encouraged for any individual affiliated with hospitals, schools, churches, nursing homes, or anyone that has a responsibility for protection others.

How to Become a Trained Weather Spotter

Once you’ve determined that you want to become a weather spotter, you should follow this link to the National Weather Service Skywarn Programs page.  Here you can select your state from the map and find the training schedule in your local area.  Training is free and typically last about two hours.  Here are some of the things you’ll learn in the class:

  • Basics of thunderstorm development
  • Fundamentals of storm structure
  • Identifying potential severe weather features
  • Information to report
  • How to report information
  • Basic severe weather safety

Once you learn the basics in the spotter class, you’ll typically receive a Skywarn ID card with reporting instruments within a few weeks.  In most cases, this will be covered during the class or can be inquired about if it’s not.  This ID will be used when reporting weather conditions. 

Other Training Available

In addition to the course required above, there are a couple of Skywarn training online courses you can take.  These courses are also free of charge and full of great information for someone who thinks they might want to become a weather spotter.  One course describes the role of a weather spotter and the other covers spotter basics.  These are a great option to check out before the local course if you’re on the fence about taking the next step with SKYWARN®.  Here is a link to the courses at MetEd.  Be aware that many NWS offices require training in addition to these online courses.

To summarize, anyone with an interest can become a trained weather spotter.  Without too much hassle and very little to no cost, the National Weather Service will educate and train you to make accurate reports.  In return you’ll be helping them provide timely and accurate warnings to the citizens in your local area.  If you have any questions on the process, I’d suggest contacting your local NWS office.


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