The National Weather Service is always looking for trained volunteers to provide severe weather reports, including reports of tornadoes.
Its spotter training sessions are free and last between 90 minutes and two hours. Trained volunteers receive certificates and are added to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, database of weather spotters. They also receive a Spotter ID. A virtual training option is also available.
The spotter program is informal and voluntary. Observations can be made as spotters carry out their daily routines.
The training covers the basics of thunderstorm development and fundamental storm structure. Spotters learn to identify potential severe weather features and how to report the information. Basic severe weather safety is also covered.
SKYWARN is a NWS volunteer program with more than 350,000 trained severe weather spotters. Volunteer spotters relay their severe weather reports to the weather service as they observe them. Their observations are used by forecasters to track storms and alert the public to dangerous weather situations.
NOAA is also seeking volunteers to help collect additional data about people’s severe weather experiences. Their new Tornado Tales citizen science tool is an online survey in which participants submit anonymous reports of their tornado experiences. The information will be used by NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) to better understand how people receive, interpret and respond to tornado information from NOAA.
NOAA collects a lot of science data about storms from satellites, radars and weather stations. It has less data about what people do when tornadoes strike, or are about to strike. Tornado Tales — go.madison.com/TalesTornado — gathers information about what people affected by severe weather are really doing. Hopefully, this will generate understandings that NOAA social scientists can use to refine messaging about tornado warnings and watches.
Steve Ackerman and Jonathan Martin, professors in the UW-Madison department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, are guests on WHA radio (970 AM) at 11:45 a.m. the last Monday of each month. Send them your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.