Local Skywarn Activity
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NOTICE, posted 22 April 2009

According to an article in The Greenfield Recorder of 22 April 2009, p C1, the National Weather Service needs weather spotters in Franklin County. It will be conducting a severe weather spotter training session on May 14 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the Rowe Elementary School at 86 Pond Road.

The training session, which is part of the NWS SKYWARN program, includes a presentation that discusses the development of thunderstorms, the criteria for "severe" thunderstorms as well as the cloud features associated with severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. Additional information will be presented about winter storms and how to take proper snow measurements.

According to Bill Babcock, SKY­WARN program leader, there is a need for more weather spotters within Franklin County. "It is very important that we get more weather spotters from the Franklin County area because while we have great equipment that gets the job done, it still runs up against the law of physics," Babcock said. "The storms that we get in New England are multifaceted storms so it is important to have trained weather spotters on the scene reporting whether or not they are receiving rain, snow, freezing rain or ice."

On Dec. 11, 2008, the NWS received phone calls from trained volunteer weather spotters regarding the ice storm that devastated the area. "A weather spotter in Ashfield called to report that there was an accumulation of a half-inch of ice," Babcock said. "We got another call from a weather spotter in Sunderland who reported that they received l.86 inches of rain. Both of these individuals helped contribute to public safety by reporting what was happening around them." For more on this storm, see Emergencies! page.

He added that there aren't any trained spotters in Heath, a town where regular communications were severed by the storm in December. It was a ham radio operator who alerted FCARC members that the town needed help.

Call (508) 823-1900 during normal business hours if you have questions.


Usually the National Weather Service will notify Skywarn liaison Jim, N1VMH, ahead of time to let him know that severe weather is coming. Jim will let various people know that a storm is coming by the various repeaters in the area.

Everybody in Franklin County would listen to the 146.985 repeater. Other repeaters involved are the 146.940 Mt. Tom repeater, and the 146.910 Mt. Greylock repeater. Those are the main ones to listen to when severe weather strikes. In addition to these repeaters, we can use any one of the KD1XP repeaters to relay information back to Jim, N1VMH. These repeaters are useful because there is so much activity going on at once that these repeaters are monitored by Jim N1VMH and there is not as much traffic on them. That way we can get the information the the NWS in Tauton, Ma ASAP.

Any weather is important and can be reported when there is an informal net going on. However, when really severe weather happens, it is good to stick to only the important information. That way the major stuff gets priority over the minor stuff. Important information includes winds in excess of 45 miles per hour, flooding, dime size hail, funnel clouds, and damage caused by lightning.


What is Skywarn?

Skywarn is the National Weather Service (NWS) program of trained volunteer severe weather spotters. Skywarn volunteers support their local community and government by providing the NWS with timely and accurate severe weather reports. These reports, when integrated with modern NWS technology, are used to inform communities of the proper actions to take as severe weather threatens. Skywarn, formed in the early 1970'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 to locate 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 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 communications, and together they work with local government and the Red Cross.

Amateur Radio 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 the ARRL will encourage its local volunteer groups operating as the Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) to provide the NWS with spotters and communicators 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 observations 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 Civil Emergency Service (RACES)(Gropper, 1993). RACES is 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 state and local governments during emergencies. The importance of this additional role for 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 and homes. The NWS is most interested in severe weather reports. Severe weather includes flash flooding, hail, damaging winds, wall clouds (the area of a thunderstorm where a tornado could form) and tornado funnels. If the NWS confirms severe weather with radar and other available information, it then notifies local authorities who then can activate Civil Defense sirens. 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 advanced 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.

Many VUSIT members are active Northern Indiana Skywarn Members, and we hope this cooperation between VUSIT and Skywarn will continue in the future.

Reference: Gropper, Daniel R. Skywarn Net Control Operations Manual, Washington, DC, 1993.