National Weather Service SKYWARN is looking for storm spotting volunteers

National Weather Service SKYWARN is looking for storm spotting volunteers

Between 1870 and August 7 of this year, there have been 338 observed tornadoes across the 40 counties monitored by the National Weather Service office in Morristown.

Fifty-five of those tornadoes struck on one day: April 27, 2011.

During extreme events such as a violent spring tornado outbreak, the Morristown office relies on its powerful radar to warn the public. But the other greatest tool for keeping the public safe is a group of amateur radio operators called SKYWARN, the National Weather Service’s eyes on the ground.

“The greatest technology we use here is our radar, and I would say the SKYWARN observation network is a very close second,” said Anthony Cavallucci, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service. “I think a lot of people automatically assume we know what’s going on on the ground, and we really don’t know until someone reports it. These reports are really very helpful.”

Cavalucci told Knox News that 4,081 trained observers in Morristown ranging in age from 12 to over 80 report what they see to the office, and there is always a need for more volunteers. There are 390 superintendents living in Knox County.

The office hosts training sessions both in-person and online throughout the year, and you don’t have to know how to operate a radio to join. SKYWARN also uses an app and phone calls to get reports. Those who complete a training class receive their own observer ID and certification, which lasts for four years.

Here’s why SKYWARN exists and how you can join.

SKYWARN provides the “precious gift of time” during severe weather

The National Weather Service launched the SKYWARN program in the 1970s, and the national program now has 350,000 to 400,000 volunteers.

“Because radar systems have blind spots, volunteers on the ground can provide real-time information that radar sometimes misses,” the National Weather Service said on its SKYWARN web page, giving people “the precious gift of time — minutes that can help save lives.” Spirits”…

The SKYWARN network is activated by the National Weather Service or by local emergency management authorities when a severe thunderstorm warning or tornado watch is issued.

This does not mean that its observers are storm chasers. In fact, spotters are specially trained on how to stay safe during severe weather events, and that often means staying out of tornadoes.

The Morristown office hosts free watchdog training classes in counties across its warning area each year. The next date will be December 7 at the McMinn County Courthouse in Athens, Tennessee.

As severe weather gathers in the spring in East Tennessee, so do observer training classes. The last meeting held in Knox County was in March at the Public Works Service Center on Morris Street.

In addition to in-person classes, the National Weather Service offers virtual training that can be attended at any time and includes an exam.

SKYWARN educates the public on how to accurately detect severe weather conditions

Community service is a key role of the SKYWARN program, but it also allows meteorologists to educate thousands of people about severe weather, something most people are at least tangentially interested in.

Russ Gobble has been part of the SKYWARN program since he retired as CIO for Procter and Gamble in Cincinnati in 2012. He is now the coordinator of the entire program across the 40 counties in the Morristown Warning District.

When a severe thunderstorm or tornado heads into the area, Gobble goes to the Morristown office and coordinates all the reports from spotters, delivering them to meteorologists.

SKYWARN relies on amateur radio operators, also known as ham radio operators. Although this hobby is becoming less popular, it is considered safe in emergency situations when the Internet goes out.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize exactly what we do, because in real emergencies, sometimes ham radio is all you have,” Goebel said.

However, the program increasingly uses an app, phone calls and an online reporting form to obtain information from its monitors. Goebel has encouraged his eight grandchildren to learn more about severe weather monitoring, a tool to keep them and their community safe.

In rare events like the Aug. 7 tornado in Knox County, where a short-lived but powerful funnel evaded warning systems but caused no fatalities, spotters can play an especially important role. The National Weather Service is exploring ways to prevent a similar event in the future.

“We’ve worked with forecasters on several weather event simulators to be able to pick out those tornadic structures in those lines of thunderstorms, to be able to differentiate where a tornado might develop,” Cavallucci said.

The National Weather Service will host SKYWARN Appreciation Day

To show how important SKYWARN observers are to its mission, the National Weather Service hosts an annual appreciation day on the first Friday and Saturday of December.

From 7pm on December 1st until 7pm on December 2nd, the Morristown office will be open for proctors to network and learn about their work from the past year. They can check in and see themselves on a live online map. Last year, more than 4,500 observers participated.

Gobble said the day represents a “perfect” opportunity for those who want to meet the observers and learn more about how to join.

Daniel Dassault is a growth and development reporter focusing on technology and energy. Phone 423-637-0878. Email

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