San Angelo NWS Relies on SKYWARN Volunteers for Precise Weather Observation Reports
SAN ANGELO, TX — With modern technology like color radar, high-definition displays, and computer modeling, the National Weather Service still relies on trained weather spotters in the field to confirm dangerous weather conditions. Nationwide, the NWS has between 350,000 and 400,000 trained volunteer weather watchers and on-the-ground reporters in the SKYWARN program.
“It’s like crowdsourcing real-time, on-the-ground weather observers.” explained Hector Guerrero, a Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the San Angelo office of the NWS.
SKYWARN volunteers save lives, Guerrero said. Their primary benefit to the public happens during server weather, particularly during thunderstorms. Annually, the NWS tracks 10,000 severe thunderstorms nationwide. With severe thunderstorms come tornados, hail, high winds, and flooding.
“SKYWARN volunteers are our trained storm spotters who are constantly feeding reports to our office. They’ll report sightings of tornados, damaging winds, and flooding.” Guerrero said, offering examples.
There’s a difference between a SKYWARN volunteer and a tornado chaser. SKYWARN volunteers go through a special training class. Tornado chasers may or may not be trained, but there’s no training requirement to chase tornados. A known and trained SKYWARN volunteer gives NWS forecasters an extra level of comfort when receiving their reports from the field.
SKYWARN reports confirm with NWS with 100 percent assurance that the weather phenomenon being reported from the satellite, radar and computer displays is in fact happening. “You can’t beat ground truth reports. You cannot replace ground-sensing for information.” Guerrero said.
Saturday at the San Angelo NWS offices, a SKYWARN appreciation event was held. Volunteers manned the SKYWARN radio network all day and refreshments were served.
Working the radios early Saturday morning were SKYWARN volunteers King Walker and Matt Healy. Walker, a retired military veteran and life member of the VFW, works as a security guard. Healy and his wife Leslie are active with the San Angelo Chamber of Commerce and own a real estate brokerage, San Angelo Homes. We caught them relaying scenario weather information from the NWS in Lake Charles, Louisiana over the radio during an exercise Saturday morning.
Guerrero said to become a SKYWARN volunteer, all one needs to do is attend a class. The next SKYWARN classes will be in March 2020. Watch the San Angelo NWS website for the exact date and times.
“The more people we train, the more people we have out in the field providing credible, knowledgeable feedback to the National Weather Service.” Guerrero said.
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