Skywarn spotters help make decisions in severe weather


The National Weather Service is looking for volunteer observers who can report dangerous weather conditions, like thunderstorms, and provide real-time observations that can save lives.

The agency’s San Diego office, which covers much of Southern California, including southwestern San Bernardino County, will host training webinars later this month.

The online sessions are part of Skywarn, a volunteer organization that helps the Service protect people and property by providing the most accurate weather information.

“OK, I know what you’re thinking: the weather in Southern California is beautiful most of the time and there’s often very little to report,” NWS meteorologist Alex Tardy said in a training video. “But aside from the good reasons for our great weather to live in Southern California, we have significant weather that is, on occasion, high impact.”

Bad weather kills hundreds of people in the United States every year. Excessive heat caused the most deaths on average from 1991 to 2020 with 143 fatalities.

In 2021, the country experienced 20 separate weather and climate disasters that each caused more than $1 billion in damage and killed a total of at least 688 people, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Bianca Kulback, 57, walks through the flooded road near her home during a rainstorm in Silverado Canyon on Monday, March 28, 2022.

Last year was also the fourth hottest year on record, according to the agency. Rising temperatures caused by global warming have been associated with more frequent and intense weather events.

In California, severe weather killed 46 people in 2020, injured 253, and caused approximately $41 million in property damage.

The NWS Skywarn program began in the 1970s and is said to have over 350,000 volunteers nationwide. During severe weather, the agency will contact observers in certain problem areas and ask them to report their sightings.

While there are a wide range of tools available to government meteorologists to track and predict weather conditions such as balloons, radar and satellite data, volunteers “act as the eyes and ears of the Weather Service national,” the agency said.

Sometimes weather tools are unreliable, according to Tardy, and someone trained to monitor potentially damaging weather can be invaluable.

This is especially true when alerts are sent to authorities and emergency personnel and the most up-to-date information is needed during life-threatening events such as flash floods and tornadoes.

California is not immune to the violent columns of rotating air more commonly seen in the central United States

On this Thursday, May 22, 2008, file photo, a tornado hits Riverside.

More than 460 tornadoes have struck the state since 1950 and caused more than $134 million in damage, according to NOAA data.

One of the most devastating tornadoes in recent history swept a 3.5 mile path through the Coachella Valley in August 2015, toppling hundreds of utility poles and causing $18 million in damage.

To become a Skywarn observer, one must attend or watch a training session – videos are available online – and apply to the NWS. Weather reports can be made by telephone, the Internet, or even an amateur radio if a person has one available.

For more information on becoming a spotter with the San Diego Forecast Office, go to

The webinars will take place from 7-8 p.m. on June 14 and 21. These links are available here and here.

Daily Press journalist Martin Estacio can be reached at 760-955-5358 or ME [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @DP_mestacio.


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