Help spot severe storms with SKYWARN

Hurricane Harvey

HOLMES BEACH – The National Weather Service’s Tampa Bay office is looking for some volunteers to help make their forecasts and severe weather warnings more accurate.

More than a dozen community members came out to Holmes Beach City Hall Aug. 15 to learn about the SKYWARN volunteer program and receive training from two National Weather Service representatives – Daniel Noah, a warning coordination meteorologist and Austen Flannery, a pathways meteorologist.

Help spot severe storms with SKYWARN
Daniel Noah, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service, discusses different types of clouds and severe rainstorms begin Aug. 15 during a SKYWARN training session at Holmes Beach City Hall. – Kristin Swain | Sun

Noah said that volunteers with the SKYWARN program are the eyes of the National Weather Service on the ground. With radar, he said it’s possible to see storms that are far away but that locally, radar has a few blind spots, particularly within the first 20 miles around the radar tower, and it’s not always accurate. That’s where SKYWARN volunteers come in. Volunteers are asked to report any severe weather that they view, whether it’s more than an inch of rainfall over the course of an hour, flooding in areas that don’t ordinarily flood or waterspouts near the coast.

Meteorologists at the local Tampa Bay branch of the National Weather Service in Ruskin are tasked with determining when severe weather warnings and watches need to go out across television stations, radio airwaves and to cellphones located within the area. By having volunteers who can report what’s happening on the ground, Noah said the National Weather Service can make a more accurate determination when issuing a watch or warning to local inhabitants.

During the Aug. 15 presentation, Flannery and Noah discussed what types of weather volunteers should look out for and report, how to report the information and how to estimate wind speed or determine if a funnel cloud is really a tornado or if it’s just a cloud in a funny shape. Volunteers also were educated on basic storm safety, including preparing for the aftermath of a hurricane.

Flannery said that Sept. 10 is the peak of hurricane season for Florida with a secondary peak in mid-October. Though he said everyone should prepare for at least one storm each year by gathering supplies and making an evacuation plan, he said there’s a one in 200 chance of Anna Maria Island taking a hit from a hurricane similar to the damage that Hurricane Michael brought to Mexico Beach.

He suggested planning more for after the storm than during it by having a seven to 10 day supply of food and water available, stocking up on cleaning supplies and evacuating tens of miles instead of hundreds of miles if you need to leave your home before the storm so that it’s easier to get back and begin cleanup once the storm passes.

Anyone age 18 or older can volunteer as a SKYWARN spotter. Volunteers are required to complete either an in-person training session or a webinar training session to be certified. Certification must be renewed every three years.

For more information or to sign up as a volunteer, visit