Running an Effective SKYWARN net

I’ve been a severe weather spotter for close to fifteen years. I’ve had my share of close calls, and even more so, I’ve experienced plenty of boredom. Being out in the field often is long stretches of nothing peppered with bits of extreme excitement.

But for the last few years, my storm spotter experience has moved inside as being net control. Now instead of worrying about just my safety, I have to be concerned about every spotter in the field. That’s why as net control I strive to run a disciplined net that keeps traffic to to minimum and reports structured and precise.

So what goes into running a good severe weather net? Here’s a video taken during a recent SKYWARN drill. You’ll get to see my station and operating position, and watch over my shoulder as I run the drill net.

Two things mentioned in the net are the TLCS reporting format and the Reportable Criteria. Both are critical for running an effective net, so I’ll elaborate on them here:

TLCS Reporting Format

Accurate weather reports from the field are crucial. When giving a report to net control, missing a key point can cause the net control station to ask for a repeat or additional information. This slows down the net, and hinders the timely reporting of events to the National Weather Service office. That’s why as net control I’ve adopted the TLCS format of reporting weather conditions and train the net participants in its proper use.

I can’t take credit for this report format, I learned about it from the Sullivan, WI Weather Committee. But like any great idea, this one deserves to be shared.

“The acronym (TLCS), stands for Time, Location, Condition, and Source”

The TLCS format is simple. The acronym (TLCS), stands for Time, Location, Condition, and Source. Presenting your information to net control in a recognized and repeatable format aids in comprehension by the net control and with practice will speed up your net.

Here’s TLCS broken down:

  • Time: This is the time of the event (not the time of the report)
  • Location: Location that the weather event was observed. Give your location by intersection and estimated distance and direction of the event.
  • Condition: The severe weather event itself. Use the reportable criteria unless requested by net control to give a general observation.
  • Source: Your callsign. Don’t report second hand reports. If you didn’t observe it, refrain from sending it in.

Putting this all together, a TLCS formatted report would go like this:

You: Net control, WX9XYZ
NCS: XYZ go ahead
You: At 4:30pm, Looking west at one mile from the intersection of County Rd X and Pine Tree Lane, I observed a rotating wall cloud. WX9XYZ.
NCS: Copy at 4:30pm rotating wall cloud one mile west from the intersection of County Road X and Pine Tree Lane. Liaison did you copy that report?
Liaison: Copied direct, will relay to the weather service.

A great net excels in its brevity. Using a standardized format by net control and the reporting station reinforces that brevity.

Reporting Criteria

Each weather service office will have their own particular criteria for reporting weather events. Some offices may want every observation imaginable, and others will be very particular. Often the weather office will give you a cue or indication of what they are looking for at the start of their regional net.

In our area, and much of the upper midwest, this is the criteria that our served weather offices would like for the reports received. If they are looking for something different, they will tell us.

Reportable Criteria (listed in order of importance)

  • Tornado
  • Funnel Cloud Aloft
  • Wall Clouds (indicate rotating or not)
  • Winds greater than 50mph (state if measured or estimated wind speed)
  • Flooding or Flash Flooding
  • Hail (size of the largest stone, how deep, and duration)
  • Storm Damage

Conclusion

Running an efficient net boils down to two things: proper technique and control. Things can get pretty crazy in the field and observers will get excited. Don’t wait for the heat of the action to implement these procedures, but instead practice them on your weekly drill nets. With practice and a bit of coaching by the control, you’ll soon be running a disciplined net.

Are you a SKYWARN net control? Do you participate in severe weather nets? Feel free to leave a comment below on any tips you’ve found to make the nets run better.

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Running an effective SKYWARN severe weather net
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Running an effective SKYWARN severe weather net
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So what goes into running a good severe weather net? As net control I have to be concerned about every spotter in the field. That’s why I strive to run a disciplined net that keeps traffic to to minimum and reports structured and precise.
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