Sunday, January 31, 2010

Radio operators are the eyes of the National Weather Service

Even in the age of high-powered Doppler radar, instant communications and the Internet, the National Weather Service and local safety officials still rely heavily on old methods for accurate observations and emergency communications.

Volunteer amateur — or ham — radio operators still play a primary role in providing on-site information about tornadoes and storm conditions to weather forecasters and letting emergency responders know what’s going on.

"There’s nothing like ground troops," said Keith Wells, assistant coordinator with the Tarrant County Office of Emergency Management, who was helping the National Weather Service on Saturday at the annual Skywarn storm spotter training session at Texas Christian University.

"One of the most important things we do all year is train the spotters," Wells said. "When you have a trained observer on the ground at Bryant Irvin Road reporting golf-ball-sized hail or a funnel cloud, that really tells a meteorologist what’s going on."

More than 400 people showed up for the training, most already members of Tarrant County RACES (Radio Amateurs in Civil Emergency Service). The volunteers are willing to fire up their radios and vehicles and often head out looking for storm action to provide instant observations to the weather service.

It’s a service that amateur radio operators have provided locally since the early 1970s.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegraph has the complete article here.


  1. Skywarn is what really got me into Ham Radio. I still get excited when I hear the phrase, "Skywarn activation expected" during the severe WX season.

    However, I wonder if skywarn is starting to get usurped by things like Twitter and the proliferation of the iPhone and mobile computing.

    During some severe weather last year, there was a huge amount of storm reporting happening on Twitter. There are tons of iPhones out there with 3G internet access and a camera. I wonder if a Skywarn app would make sense. The only issue then is the problem of training.

  2. One issue with the explosion of the social networking world is the ability to trust the reporting done with these services. Earlier in the year, fake tornado pictures were sent out from California tornadoes. Many of these reports that come through Facebook and Twitter are from untrained spotters. Even Skywarn has it's own cracks of false reporting and training issues (i.e. multi-vortex wall cloud reports) that needs to be improved upon before we move to other technologies. Reporting needs to be done by a specialized, trained group of indviduals.