SKYWARN Severe Weather Net Criteria and Report Format

Early spring through late summer are the the peak season for severe weather in the US. But our climate is quite varied and severe weather can happen at any time and anywhere. Here in Wisconsin, I’ve seen thunderstorms in January and snow in June. So being an active participant with your local storm spotter group is an important component to keeping our communities safe.

Locally, in either late March or Early April, our area National Weather Service office holds its annual storm spotter training. We recently had ours, and I was really impressed by the record size turnout for this event. Even if you don’t plan of heading out and making storm reports, the information presented will help you understand the dangers of severe weather and make you better prepared when storms advance.

I’ve been a severe weather spotter for about as long as I’ve been an amateur radio operator. I’ve been out in the field and also served as the net control station. With that being said, I’ve got a pretty good idea of how to keep net operation efficient and orderly.

So if you took the training and are ready to hit the road for the next storm spotter net, you’ll need to be familiar with the severe weather criteria and reporting format. All severe weather nets, whether on ham radio or via another network of operation will have their own base level of criteria. The criteria I’m describing is what our local weather office is looking for and you will find it similar in most regions and nets.

So, as a storm spotter, what are we looking for? The reporting criteria, in the level of severity, from highest to lowest, is:

  • Tornados
  • Funnel clouds
  • Wall clouds, rotating or not
  • Hail
  • Winds in excess of 45 miles per hour
  • Rain in excess of one inch per hour
  • Localized flooding

If you experience any of these events, or anything else the weather service is looking for, you’ll need to give a storm report to the net control station. In doing so, use a consistent format of Who, What, When, and Where.

Let’s break it down:

Who are you? are you a trained spotter, since you are on a severe weather net, just use your callsign

What occurred? Remember the criteria, that’s the information the weather service is looking for. Be as specific as you can. If you are reporting wind speed, rainfall, or hail size, tell us if it is a estimate or an actual measurement.

When was it? If you observed the event 5 minutes ago, give the time of observation, not the current time. For wind and hail, record the event duration too.

Where was it? Be descriptive, use an intersection, address or fire number. If not sure, give miles and direction from the closest city. Latitude and longitude can also be used.

That’s it. Be precise, be brief, don’t try to fill up time or add speculation. The net control station will repeat your report back to you or ask for additional information or clarifications. Make any corrections if necessary. I find it helpful to carry a little notebook with you. Then you can record your observations and if there is any questions later, you have an accurate record of what transpired.

Finally, lets talk a bit about damage reports. Damage reports will often be taken at the discretion of the the net control station. The weather event may have passed your location, but there could be active weather still affecting another part of the net region. So if you have damage to report, unless it is pertinent to the net and involve the safety of others, its best to hold the damage report to be passed at a later time. As a storm spotter net, our primary concern is the active weather net, and damage is secondary.

That, in a nutshell, is how to make a severe weather storm report. Are you involved with a severe weather spotter group? Please leave your advice or any questions in the comments below. I love hearing how other groups run their nets.