Frequently Asked Questions


What is SKYWARN?

The SKYWARN program is a nationwide network of volunteers trained by the National Weather Service (NWS) to report significant weather. Anyone is welcome to participate.

Why have SKYWARN?

The NWS staff is responsible for issuing weather warnings. It is impossible to observe conditions in each region simultaneously during a severe weather event. SKYWARN volunteers become the eyes and ears of the NWS to provide better watch and warning services to the public.

When will SKYWARN function?

Information is relayed to the National Weather Service during tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, snow storms, flooding, and any other weather event that involves the use of volunteer storm spotters.

Who will activate SKYWARN?

The Weather Office and/or emergency management authorities may activate the SKYWARN net usually whenever there is a threat of severe weather, or the forecast office issues a severe thunderstorm watch, tornado watch, or flood watch. Information is relayed through an amateur radio repeater.

Where will SKYWARN observation be taken?

SKYWARN reports are relayed from wherever the weather spotters are -- on the road, in the office, or at home. It is not necessary to travel to a specific location. It is important, however, not to jeopardize your own safety while participating in SKYWARN.

How do Ham Radio Operators fit into SKYWARN?

HAM radio operators (also know as Amateur Radio) have a special place in the SKYWARN system. Most NWS offices have HAM radio equipment on site. A SKYWARN Net, which is run by volunteer amateur radio net control operators, allows for reports from the field to be directly heard at the National Weather Service.

What is the difference between a WATCH and a WARNING?

A WATCH means that the atmospheric conditions are favorable for that specific event. For example, a Tornado WATCH means that the conditions and ingredients are right to POSSIBLY produce tornadoes in or around the watch area.

A WARNING means that an event is occuring NOW. For example, a Severe Thunderstorm WARNING means that a severe thunderstorm is occuring NOW in the specified area.

The weather seems to be real bad. Why isn't a warning issued?

The National Weather Service only issues warnings when a minimum criteria is met with a thunderstorm.  A severe thunderstorm is a storm that has either 3/4" hail or larger, winds in excess of 58 MPH, or tornado/funnel cloud in the thunderstorm.  Without any of this criteria, the NWS cannot issue a warning.  SKYWARN spotters usually report items to the NWS that are just below this criteria.  Lightning and heavy rain are NOT criteria for a warning issuance as these events occur in all types of thunderstorms.


Most of the information above is provided by the National Weather Service Office in Cleveland, OH.