The BergenSkywarn Website

SKYWARN FAQ's



 Q. What is SKYWARN?

A. SKYWARN is a nationwide program, sponsored by the National Weather Service, which consists of over 250,000 volunteers (over 300 of whom are in Bergen and Passaic Counties), and all are specifically trained by the NWS to observe and report on developing or occurring severe weather.

 

Q. Are all SKYWARN Spotters Amateur Radio Operators?

A. No, while many SKYWARN Spotters are Amateur Radio Operators, there is no requirement for a Spotter to be an Amateur Radio Operator. In the New Jersey Counties of Bergen and Passaic, there are over 300 NWS Trained SKYWARN Spotters. Close to 40% of these Spotters are also licensed Amateur Radio Operators.

 

Q. How exactly does Amateur Radio and SKYWARN work together?

A. The NWS recognizes the valuable resources that groups such as Amateur Radio Operators can bring to the table. Being skilled in communications technologies and having the ability to communicate, even when services such as phone lines and Internet connections are inoperable, means that time critical reports can be sent directly to local NWS offices even under less than ideal situations. There is also a Memorandum of Understanding between the NWS and the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) that formalizes the relationship between these organizations.

 

Q. Are there Amateur Radio Stations at the NWS?

A. Yes, many local NWS Forecast Offices ( WX2OKX - The Amateur Radio Station at the NWS Upton, NY) and National Forecast Centers (WX4NHC The Amateur Radio Station at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, FL) have Amateur Radio equipment installed and ready to operate at a moments notice. In some cases, there are also staff meteorologists available who are licensed Amateur Radio Operators. Additionally, in the event of a wide-scale severe weather event (a prolonged Winter Storm, Hurricane, major Severe Thunderstorm or Tornado outbreak, etc), there are additional Amateur Radio operators on stand-by, who would respond to the NWS offices and come on the air as Regional SKYWARN Net Control Operators.

 

Q. Who or what activates SKYWARN?

A. SKYWARN Activation can only be done by the NWS. This is done whenever certain specific criteria have been met (The NWS Upton, NY Warm Season SKYWARN Activation Criteria and Cool Season SKYWARN Activation Criteria). In the area covered by the NWS Upton, NY Forecast Office (which includes Bergen County), these include, but are not limited to: Tornado Watches, Tornado Warnings, Severe Thunderstorm Watches, Severe Thunderstorm Warnings, Flood Watches, Flood Warnings, Blizzard Warnings, Winter Storm Warnings and High Wind Warnings. Of note is that SKYWARN is not activated for every thunderstorm as only a small percentage of thunderstorms have the potential to reach severe levels. Some of the criteria that identifies a particular thunderstorm as being potentially Severe, is when there is the potential for Hail measuring over 0.75”, and/or Winds exceeding 58 MPH. Of important note is that lightning alone, in any intensity, is not a criteria for a Severe Thunderstorm as the presence of lightning is inherent to all thunderstorms.

 

Q. How is SKYWARN activated?

A. SKYWARN is automatically activated for Severe Weather events by Toned Alerts sent out over NOAA Weather Radio (162.550 Mhz for the greater NY Metropolitan area). Many Spotters also receive Severe Weather Alerts and SKYWARN Activation notifications on their Pagers, via Email or over the EMWIN (Emergency Managers Weather Information Network) datastream.

 

Q. What is the difference between a Severe Weather Watch and a Severe Weather Warning?

A. Watches are issued when there is a potential for severe weather in a specific area. Many times (although not always) these are issued with several hours lead-time. A Warning is only issued when there is actual severe weather occurring. Occurring Severe Weather is determined using several methods including specific Doppler Radar signatures and ‘ground truth’ observations by SKYWARN Spotters. Of note is that while Doppler Radar can indicate rotation within a thunderstorm, only direct observation can confirm if the rotation is a Funnel Cloud or a Tornado. (FYI…a Tornado is a Funnel Cloud that has made contact with the ground). Complete NWS definitions of Severe Weather can be found in the NWS Comprehensive Glossary Of Weather Terms for Storm Spotters.

 

Q. Will there be a SKYWARN Net on local Amateur Radio Repeaters whenever SKYWARN is activated?

A. There is no set rule as to when a SKYWARN Net will be called on Amateur Radio Repeaters. However, you can expect to hear a Bergen County NJ SKYWARN Net whenever the NWS issues a Severe Weather Warning for Bergen and/or Passaic Counties. In Bergen County the SKYWARN Coordinators working closely with the NWS determine when to call a formal and directed SKYWARN Net. Whenever there is a severe weather potential for the Bergen County area, (such as when the NWS issues a Severe Weather Watch for Bergen County), normal procedures would be that the SKYWARN Coordinators, as well as SKYWARN Spotters, would be monitoring not only the weather, but also the W2PQG 2 Meter Amateur Radio Repeater operating on a frequency of 146.700 Mhz.

 

Q. Are Amateur Radio Repeaters used for Weather Reporting other than for Severe Weather?

A. In Bergen County the SKYWARN Coordinators might use local Amateur Radio Repeaters to collect weather data outside of an actual SKYWARN activation. An example would be instances such as when the NWS requests the collection of specific information (such as Temperatures, Rain or Snow Storm Totals, etc) from its SKYWARN Spotters. Also, the SKYWARN Coordinators could be on the air to take Spotter Reports of developing severe weather prior to an actual SKYWARN Activation. Of note is that on several occasions, Spotter Reports, taken by the SKYWARN Coordinators on local Repeaters, have been the impetus for the NWS to issue Severe Weather Warnings.

 

Q. What happens if there isn’t a SKYWARN Net on an Amateur Radio Repeater, but there is Severe Weather?

A. All SKYWARN Spotters are able to communicate directly with the NWS. As part of their training they are taught not only how to recognize specific types of developing or occurring severe weather, they are also given information on how to communicate their observations. This includes using special NWS Hot-Line phone numbers to talk directly with an on-duty NWS Staff Meteorologist.

 

Q. If SKYWARN Spotters can directly call the NWS on a phone, then why have SKYWARN Nets on Repeaters?

A. A Directed SKYWARN Net gives several distinct advantages. Among these are that it allows for the consolidation of many Reports in a quick and efficient manner and in the event landline communications are adversely affected by the event, reports can still be collected and directly communicated with the NWS using Amateur Radio.

 

Q. Where can I find out more information on SKYWARN?

A. A good place to start is the BergenSkywarn Website at: www.bergenskywarn.org or by using one of the other resources listed below:


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