Storm Spotters

One of the more high profile amateur radio/served agency relationships is the one which exists with the National Weather Service.

While the Houston/Galveston National Weather Service office has all kinds of computerized equipment, including their Doppler Radar, to use when severe weather is threatening the area, on the ground real time information or “ground truth” as they call it is a vital part of their severe weather event notification process. Even as new technology allows the NWS to issue warnings with more lead time, spotters will always be needed as links between radar indications of severe weather and ground truth. Storm Spotter volunteers serve as severe weather spotters for the NWS and local emergency management programs and generally have two things in common – an interest in the weather and a desire to serve their community. SKYWARN® is a volunteer program with between 350,000 and 400,000 trained severe weather spotters as of Feb 2016 – no doubt there are far more today but there is a lot of territory to cover.

In recent years, roughly 90% of the severe weather events for which warnings were issued have had that warning issued prior to their occurrence! Their staff will continue to issue warnings with as much lead time as possible and hopefully they can improve their average. To achieve that objective means that they continue to need the public’s help. These reports help them (and the public) out in many ways. They can check their radar algorithms to make sure what is really happening is what the radar really “sees”. Every warning they issue is either verified by a severe event or is not verified at all; either because no one reported it, the event took place in an unpopulated area or it shouldn’t have been issued in the first place. All of these statistics are reported to National Weather Service Headquarters.

Another thing to keep in the back of your mind–if, for example, your roof sustained hail damage on a particular day and no one in your area reported it to the authorities, there is a good possibility that insurance companies might give you a hard time concerning repair or
replacement. Many times insurance companies call the NWS to verify that a severe weather event happened on a certain day. If they have no reports there is not much they can say but “no!”.

So the question is — How can you, the public, help out? You should report a severe weather event as soon as possible. Although they are there 24 hours a day, they answer public calls Monday through Friday from 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM. The public phone number is (281) 337-5074. You can also report the event to your local law enforcement agency; county sheriff or highway patrol office who can reach them around the clock.

In addition, as a trained SKYWARN® volunteer, we have the ability to report by amateur radio on a 24/7 basis on 146.920 or 448.000 or by a hotline 800-846-1828.

Early each morning, the NWS local office Area Forecast Discussion gives the probability of a severe weather event and the necessity for activation of any spotters.

When a severe weather event occurs, the local SKYWARN® repeater system is activated and more likely than not one of the participating stations will be one of the NWS trained amateur radio operators on duty. Here in the Greater Houston-Galveston area those stations will be controlled by the Saltgrass Link System so tune in, keep informed and stay alert.

Spotter Reporting Procedures
Effective spotter reports are a critical component of NWS severe weather operations. NWS meteorologists use science, technology, training, experience and spotter reports when making warning decisions. An effective spotter report is one that is timely, accurate, and detailed. Spotters should use the following guidelines when reporting:

  • Follow the specific reporting guidelines for your area.
  • Remain calm, speak clearly, and do not exaggerate the facts.
  • If you are unsure of what you are seeing, make your report, but also express your uncertainty.
  • Your report should contain the following information:
    • WHO you are: trained spotter
    • WHAT you have witnessed: the specific weather event
    • WHEN the event occurred: NOT when you make your report
    • WHERE the event occurred, (not necessarily your location) using well known roads or landmarks

Immediate, real-time reports are most helpful for warning operations but delayed reports are also important – even days after an event. Delayed reports are used for climatological and verification purposes. Weather events should be reported according to the instructions provided by your local NWS office. Here are some general guidelines on what to report.


What damage did you observe?

  • How long was it on the ground?
  • When did it start and end?
  • How wide was it?
  • How far did it travel if known?

Flash Flooding

  • Report flooded roadways, rivers and streams, giving approximate water depth.
  • Does the flooding consist of standing water or is it flowing?
  • Is the water level continuing to rise, staying steady or falling?
  • Is the flooding occurring in a known flood prone area?
  • Any damage from the flooding or mud slides?

Wall Clouds
• Report if clouds are rotating and how long they have existed.

Funnel Clouds
• Watch for organization, persistence and rotation.

• Only report lightning when damage or injuries occur.


  • Report estimated or measured wind speed and wind damage.
  • Wind speed estimation is difficult. A detailed description of moving objects or damage is often more useful.
  • • Details to submit for tree damage:
    • What is the height and diameter of the branch, limb or tree that was broken or blown down?
    • Was the tree healthy or decayed?
    • What type of tree was damaged, e.g., hardwood or softwood?

Details to submit for damage to structures.

  • Is the damage to a well-built structure or a weak outbuilding?
  • What is the main building material for the structure: wood, brick, metal, concrete, etc.?
  • If the structure is a mobile home, was it anchored down?


  • Report the size of the largest stone and any damage.
  • To estimate size, compare hail to well-known objects such as coins or balls, but not to marbles, or measure the hail with a ruler.

Marine Hazards
Report the following marine events:

  • Waterspouts: you must observe rotation
  • Squall lines
  • Heavy freezing spray
  • Wave heights and winds that differ significantly from forecasted conditions
  • Hydrometeorological phenomena that are not in the current marine forecast, e.g., thunderstorms, dense fog
  • Waves greater than twice the size of surrounding waves
  • Tsunami inundation and any damage
  • Coastal Flooding: Inundation of people, buildings, and coastal structures on land at locations that under normal conditions are above the level of high tide.
  • Lakeshore Flooding: Inundation of land areas along the Great Lakes over and above normal lake levels
  • High Surf: Large waves breaking in the surf zone with sufficient energy to erode
  • beaches, move large logs, wash over jetties or exposed rocks, etc.

Other Environmental Hazards

  • Dense fog: visibility ¼ mile or less
  • Any injuries or fatalities as a direct result of weather

Classroom Training generally occurs in various county locations in the fall.
A schedule and Online Training are available at: https://training.weather.gov

That concludes tonight’s training. Are there any questions, comments or suggested additions to this material?

Thanks, this is (callsign) clear to net control.