Spring 2016  Skywarn Classes

Sterling  http://www.weather.gov/lwx/skywarn

Blacksburg  http://www.weather.gov/rnk/skywarn



Skywarn in Virgina

National Weather Service Offices Serving Virginia

Skywarn logoSKYWARN is a National Weather Service program, involving amateur radio operators (among others), who are trained to report severe weather back to the NWS. Sometimes this occurs as part of an area net, and sometimes the amateur calls the NWS directly with his/her SKYWARN Spotter Number and the severe weather report. SKYWARN should be an integral part of your emergency communications and preparedness program.

The Virginia Section is serviced by five National Weather Service offices: Blacksburg, Sterling, and Wakefield, VA, as well as Charleston, WV, and Morristown, TN. Each of these offices manages a SKYWARN program for their forecast area. All amateurs are encouraged to complete the training and become SKYWARN spotters.

Please follow these links to your local NWS offices SKYWARN training webpage and follow the instructions to apply for the training.

Blacksburg Sterling Wakefield Charleston, WV Morristown, TN

For all VA watches or warnings, click here

These reporting guidelines are based on the NWS Basic Spotters Field Guide

  • From radio or cellular phone-equipped vehicles, report severe weather observations to a central collection point and request them to relay the report to the National Weather Service.
  • When the telephone is your only communications method, call your primary or alternate contact, and ask him or her to relay your report to the National Weather Service.
  • Check your local NWS website for availability of a toll-free number for reporting, if needed.
  • Report promptly and briefly as the storm may interrupt communications.
  • What you have seen: tornado, funnel cloud, wall cloud, waterspout, flash flooding, etc. Other criteria as defined by your local NWS office.
  • Where you saw it: the direction and distance from a known location, i.e., 3 miles south of Beltsville. To avoid confusion, make sure you report the event location and not your location.
  •  When you saw it: make sure you note the time of your observation.
  • What it was doing: describe the storms direction and speed of travel, size and intensity, and destructiveness. Include any amount of uncertainty as needed, i.e., funnel cloud; no debris visible at the surface, but too far away to be certain it is not on the ground.
  • Identify yourself and your location. Give spotter code number if you have one.
  • Report hail occurrences when the hailstones have a diameter of 1/2 inch, and report wind gusts when their speed reaches 50 miles an hour. See the tables below for estimations of hail size and wind speed. Obviously, tornadoes and funnel clouds should be reported. A funnel cloud is defined as a violently rotating column of air which is not in contact with the ground. It is usually marked by a funnelshaped cloud extending downward from the cloud base (hence its name). If the violently rotating air column reaches the ground, it is called a tornado. An important point to note is that the visible funnel DOES NOT have to extend to the ground for a tornado to be present. Instead, look for a rotating cloud of dust and debris underneath a funnel cloud as evidence that the tornados circulation has reached the ground.
  • Hail Size Estimates in Inches

Pea - 0.25

Penny - 0.75

Quarter - 1.00

Half Dollar - 1.25

Golf ball - 1.75

Tennis Ball - 2.50

Baseball - 2.75

Grapefruit - 4.00

  • Wind Speed Estimates in MPH and Effects

25-31 mph - Large branches in motion; whistling in telephone wires

32-38 mph - Whole trees in motion

39-54 mph - Twigs break off of trees; wind impedes walking

55-72 mph - Damage to chimneys and TV antennas; pushes over shallow rooted trees

73-112 mph - Peels surface off roofs; windows broken; trailer houses overturned

113+ mph - Roofs torn off houses; weak buildings and trailer houses destroyed; large trees uprooted


  • Flash flooding should be reported, but the reporting criteria are not as well defined as with severe weather events. A flash flood is defined as a rapid rise in water usually during or after a period of heavy rain. Variations in soil type, terrain, and urbanization result in a wide variation in the amount of runoff which will occur during and after a given amount of rain. Consult your local NWS office regarding flash flood reporting procedures in your area.


1. It is not the job of the spotter to inform NWS personnel as to what to do at any time. The spotter should relay exactly what they observe in accordance with local NWS guidelines.

2. Do not report observations being made based on electronic media nor internet sites. NWS has all of this information before the spotter has it.