If you are a person who is interested in all types of weather, especially flooding and thunderstorms in West Virginia, as well as helping out your community, the National Weather Service (NWS) has a class for you to take – the SKYWARN Storm Spotter Program.

According to the NWS: thunderstorms, tornadoes, and lightning cause hundreds of injuries, in addition to hundreds of deaths and billions of dollars in property and crop damages. 

To obtain critical weather information, the NWS established SKYWARN with partner organizations.

SKYWARN is a volunteer program with 350,000 to 400,000 trained severe weather spotters.

The NWS usually holds these classes during the months of March and April. Usually, they are held in person, but due to COVID-19, they have been online. The classes teach you about weather and how to report it; they usually last 2 hours in length.

Fred McMullen, the Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the NWS office in Pittsburgh, said that “it’s a class that if you have an interest in weather, it’s a great class to kind of learn a little bit more without taking up a lot of your time and really help your community out. Storm spotting class gives people the ability to report severe weather to the National Weather Service for hail, strong winds, tornadoes, flash floods.”

Clarksburg during the Flood of 1985, Jeff Hanlin

McMullen’s counterpart in Charleston, Tony Edwards, added: “We talk about shelf clouds, wall clouds, these are all things spotters can look at and kind of get a good idea of what weather’s coming. Especially with wall clouds and funnel clouds and tornadoes, those are things we need to know about. But there’s a lot of look-alikes as well, some scary-looking clouds that people may think is a funnel cloud or tornado, so we go over that.”

Although this class gives people the ability to properly identify and report weather events – the number one priority is to be able to report these things while being safe at the same time.

“If it takes 10 minutes to get a report of a tornado because the person is getting to a safe place, that’s fine with us,” said Edwards. 

It is not recommended to chase storms in West Virginia due to the mountainous terrain hindering visibility. 

“Storm spotting can be dangerous. We don’t encourage storm chasing, we just tell people how to report safely to the National Weather Service. Their safety is first and foremost,” McMullen added.

Even if you are not a certified SKYWARN spotter, it is important to report what you are seeing weatherwise to the NWS to help issues warnings; spotters may report: hail size, snow reports, wind gusts, etc.

“We have all this technology at the National Weather Service but really nothing beats boots on the ground,” said McMullen.

You can also issue reports to the NWS through social media, most popular through Facebook and Twitter or they have an app or web form. Reporting what you are seeing ultimately can save lives.

You can also report severe weather to the StormTracker 12 weather team through the StormTracker 12 app on your Android or Apple device

“We rely on radar essentially for warning for severe weather, but especially, farther away from our radar, like northern West Virginia, really in between the radars, we rely on spotters to really tell us the ground truth information,” said Edwards.

For more information about SKYWARN Spotter classes, you can visit this website, or reach out to your local NWS office in Charleston, Pittsburgh, or Sterling, Va

To view the 2021 StormTracker 12 Severe Weather Special in its entirety, please click here.