The BergenSkywarn Website
Q. What is SKYWARN?
SKYWARN is a nationwide program, sponsored by the National Weather Service,
which consists of over 250,000 volunteers (over 300 of whom are in Bergen and
Passaic Counties), and all are specifically trained by the
NWS to observe and report on developing or occurring severe weather.
No, while many SKYWARN Spotters are Amateur Radio Operators, there is no
requirement for a Spotter to be an Amateur Radio Operator. In the New Jersey
Counties of Bergen and Passaic, there are over 300 NWS Trained SKYWARN Spotters.
Close to 40% of these Spotters are also licensed Amateur Radio Operators.
The NWS recognizes the valuable resources that groups such as Amateur Radio
Operators can bring to the table. Being skilled in communications technologies
and having the ability to communicate, even when services such as phone lines
and Internet connections are inoperable, means that time critical reports can be
sent directly to local NWS offices even under less than ideal situations. There
is also a Memorandum
of Understanding between the NWS and the Amateur Radio Relay League
(ARRL) that formalizes the relationship between these organizations.
Yes, many local NWS Forecast Offices (
WX2OKX - The Amateur
Radio Station at the NWS Upton, NY) and National Forecast Centers (WX4NHC
Radio Station at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, FL) have
Amateur Radio equipment installed and ready to operate at a moments notice. In
some cases, there are also staff meteorologists available who are licensed
Amateur Radio Operators. Additionally, in the event of
a wide-scale severe weather event (a prolonged Winter Storm, Hurricane, major
Severe Thunderstorm or Tornado outbreak, etc), there are additional Amateur
Radio operators on stand-by, who would respond to the NWS offices and come on
the air as Regional SKYWARN Net Control Operators.
SKYWARN Activation can only be done by the NWS. This is done whenever certain
specific criteria have been met (The NWS Upton, NY Warm
Season SKYWARN Activation Criteria and Cool
Season SKYWARN Activation Criteria). In the area
covered by the NWS Upton, NY Forecast Office (which includes Bergen County), these include, but are not limited to: Tornado Watches,
Tornado Warnings, Severe Thunderstorm Watches, Severe Thunderstorm Warnings,
Flood Watches, Flood Warnings, Blizzard Warnings, Winter Storm Warnings and High
Wind Warnings. Of note is that SKYWARN is not activated for every thunderstorm
as only a small percentage of thunderstorms have the potential to reach severe
levels. Some of the criteria that identifies a particular thunderstorm as being
potentially Severe, is when there is the potential for Hail measuring over
0.75”, and/or Winds exceeding 58 MPH. Of important note is that lightning
alone, in any intensity, is not a criteria for a Severe Thunderstorm as the
presence of lightning is inherent to all thunderstorms.
A. SKYWARN is automatically activated for Severe Weather events by Toned Alerts sent out over NOAA Weather Radio (162.550 Mhz for the greater NY Metropolitan area). Many Spotters also receive Severe Weather Alerts and SKYWARN Activation notifications on their Pagers, via Email or over the EMWIN (Emergency Managers Weather Information Network) datastream.
Watches are issued when there is a potential for severe weather in a specific
area. Many times (although not always) these are issued with several hours
lead-time. A Warning is only issued when there is actual severe weather
occurring. Occurring Severe Weather is determined using several methods
including specific Doppler Radar signatures and ‘ground truth’ observations
by SKYWARN Spotters. Of note is that while Doppler Radar can indicate rotation
within a thunderstorm, only direct observation can confirm if the rotation is a
Funnel Cloud or a Tornado. (FYI…a Tornado is a Funnel Cloud that has made
contact with the ground). Complete NWS definitions of Severe Weather can be
found in the NWS
Comprehensive Glossary Of Weather Terms for Storm Spotters.
There is no set rule as to when a SKYWARN Net will be called on Amateur Radio
Repeaters. However, you can expect to hear a Bergen
County NJ SKYWARN Net whenever the NWS issues a Severe Weather
Warning for Bergen and/or Passaic Counties. In Bergen
County the SKYWARN Coordinators working closely with the NWS
determine when to call a formal and directed SKYWARN Net. Whenever there is a
severe weather potential for the Bergen County area, (such as when the
NWS issues a Severe Weather Watch for Bergen County), normal
procedures would be that the SKYWARN Coordinators, as well as SKYWARN Spotters,
would be monitoring not only the weather, but also the W2PQG 2 Meter Amateur
Radio Repeater operating on a frequency of 146.700 Mhz.
In Bergen County the SKYWARN
Coordinators might use local
Amateur Radio Repeaters to collect weather data outside of an actual
SKYWARN activation. An example would be instances such as when the NWS requests
the collection of specific information (such as Temperatures, Rain or Snow Storm
Totals, etc) from its SKYWARN Spotters. Also, the SKYWARN Coordinators could be
on the air to take Spotter Reports of developing severe weather prior to an
actual SKYWARN Activation. Of note is that on several occasions, Spotter
Reports, taken by the SKYWARN Coordinators on local Repeaters, have been the
impetus for the NWS to issue Severe Weather Warnings.
All SKYWARN Spotters are able to communicate directly with the NWS. As part of
their training they are taught not only how to recognize specific types of
developing or occurring severe weather, they are also given information on how
to communicate their observations. This includes using special NWS Hot-Line
phone numbers to talk directly with an on-duty NWS Staff Meteorologist.
A Directed SKYWARN Net gives several distinct advantages. Among these are that
it allows for the consolidation of many Reports in a quick and efficient manner
and in the event landline communications are adversely affected by the event,
reports can still be collected and directly communicated with the NWS using
A. A good place to start is the BergenSkywarn Website at: www.bergenskywarn.org or by using one of the other resources listed below:
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