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Become a Weather Spotter

Updated on January 26, 2013
One of the conditions Wweather Spotters are trained to report is flash flooding.
One of the conditions Wweather Spotters are trained to report is flash flooding. | Source
Weather Spotters are also trained to look for changes in the wind speed, wind direction, and sound.
Weather Spotters are also trained to look for changes in the wind speed, wind direction, and sound. | Source

By Joan Whetzel

Airports and pilots depend on accurate and up-to-date weather information. In fact, most major airports have been known to employ a staff of weather observers, though much of their job nowadays has been taken over by computers. Even the military - in particular air force and navy pilots - rely on weather observers. These observers not only look for current weather conditions, but any approaching severe weather. Since severe weather can happen anywhere, at any time of day or night, having a few extra pairs of eyes in the form of weather observers, or weather spotters, can help weather forecasters collect the necessary data to make future forecasts more accurate.

What Is a Weather Spotter?

Weather Spotters insure the flow of accurate information coming to and from the weather forecasters. Storm Spotter training for the general public isoffered annuallyby the Forecast Office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Weather Service (NWS). Weather Spotters work on a volunteer basis around the US. Once trained, they receive a special weather spotter equipment including a phone number, internet outlet, or amateur radio frequency to be used for the sole purpose of relaying severe weather information such as tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and flash floods. The advantage of having trained weather spotters is that they provide precise, first-hand data about the conditions on the ground in the spotter's location through the use of remote sensing technology. Weather Spotters are responsible for observation of local weather conditions for the primary purpose of reporting it to a larger organization like the National Weather Service or the local, network-affiliated TV station.

Thunderstorm and Tornado Spotting Training

Local National Weather Service stations provide training for severe weather spotting with their SKYWARN program. The training is free of charge to participants with the understanding that when they encounter severe weather, that they report their observations to the National Weather Service. The training includes over 100 slides to help identify weather conditions indicative of an impending storm. They cover topics including:

1. Cloud Color

2. Sound of the Wind - including the freight train sound of tornadoes.

3. Swirling Debris

4. Shelf Clouds and Roll Clouds - an indicator of rain-cooled air flowing out of a thunderstorm which form gust fronts.

5. Mammatus (Mamma) Clouds - clouds that hang down from the anvil portion of a thunderstorm.

6. Rotating Thunderstorms

7. Rotating Wall Cloud

8. Funnel Clouds or Tornadoes

9. Squall Lines

Job Qualifications - and Pay?

The NWS employs a network of 11,000 volunteers (yes, volunteer means no pay) to document official weather observations around the country, from multiple geographic and topographic regions, usually organized at the county level. The data is uploaded to the National Climatic Data Center, becoming part of the official records. Some Weather Spotters take on the extra duties of river and coastal watchers as well, and reporting rain gauge readings. To become a Storm Spotter or Weather Spotter, begin by taking the Storm Spotter training course offered by NOAA /NWS. Then begin reporting the weather conditions to the NWS, providing a complete picture of what's happening in your area, particularly during severe storms. The NWS emphasizes the need for data on tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. There are some paid emergency personnel who receive the same training as the volunteers. Check with the Network Affiliates near you to see if they make use of Weather Spotters, and if they pay.

For more information visit:


Wikipedia. Weather Spotting.

National Weather Service. Thunderstorm and Severe Weather Spotting

NOAA. 2012 Severe Weather Spotter Training Schedule.

Oblack, Rachelle. Online Severe Weather (Storm Spotting) Training.

Become a Trained Severe Weather Spotter

National Weather Service Spotter Training


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    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 5 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      This is very interesting. It had never occurred to me before that I could learn how to spot and relay weather information. Voted Up and Interesting.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      I believe it is an interesting job if you are bored by doing nothing and have a stable income like interests in the bank or shares... Otherwise you should be a real fan of this work :)