Q: Storm Spotter

Chris T.

EF0
Dec 27, 2018
11
10
1
London UK
www.clthomas.co.uk
Hey guys,

Happy new year to you all!

I have a bit of a basic question about storm spotting (sorry in advance)

Q: When chasing as a weather spotter and radioing/phoning in the storm's activity. Who exactly would one be contacting?
I'm sure it ranges but just curious to know what the more general communication would be.

To contextualise my question, I'm currently writing a short film and just want to make sure it's authentic in the field, so in the future, I can show you the film without getting any stick 😅

Hope this message finds you all well.

Best,

Chris
 
If calling in a report via ham radio, generally you'll be calling into a net control, who usually is operating under the call sign of that repeater/club. For example, the Norman, OK VHF repeater is W5NOR. During a Skywarn net, the net controller is operating under that callsign, rather than his own. Calling in via phone, I'm under the assumption that someone is dedicated at each office to man the phone for that purpose, but it almost certainly won't be the WCM or lead forecaster of the office; they have enough on their plate as it is. Hope that helps. I've never called in a report via phone, but I have done so via ham radio a number of times.
 

Warren Faidley

Supporter
May 7, 2006
1,802
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Mos Isley Space Port
www.stormchaser.com
Ham radio is tricky because some networks will not allow you to simply "just join." You must also have a ham radio, license, know the lingo, and know what frequencies to use. Then again, if you come across something life-threatening, like a serious accident, anyone can use the radio. There are not a lot of ham radio frequencies used now days for weather spotting -- or not as many as there used to be. Mobile phones and Internet reporting are the preferred methods. You might make a list of NWS offices in the regions you are chasing. Most have special numbers to call in reports. You can also list the numbers in your contacts for fast reference or voice command calling. MOST IMPORTANTLY.... You must know what you are reporting with a level of accuracy to avoid false alarms. Regardless, thanks for offering to help.
 

Randy Jennings

Supporter
May 18, 2013
489
439
11
Each NWS Weather Forecast Office (WFO) has their preferred methods and ways of doing things. Having said that, almost every WCM (Warning Coordination Meteorologist - the person who manages the Skywarn program at each WFO in addition to other duties) will tell you that the important thing is that you report regardless of how you do it. Here are common ways reports are made:

Ham Radio - One office that is really big into this method is Fort Worth (which handles most of north and even some of central Texas). They have a team of volunteers from WX5FWD that come into the office and sit directly across from the forecasters and the WX5FWD team communicate directly with nets in impacted counties. Each county has a repeater they use and those nets are managed by a local group in a given county (see CWA Local SKYWARN Frequencies Map | WX5FWD SKYWARN® Team). These are typically ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) or RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service groups. Most (but not all) ARES groups will allow any ham to make reports that meet a given criteria and report style. RACES nets are restricted and only hams appointed by local governments can participate in the net except in some very limited exceptions. Other WFOs have different ham setups. Kansas is one big linked statewide net. Some offices don't use ham radio. Typically reports are made to a net control station who then relays the message to the NWS WFO either via radio or NWS Chat. The big problem for a chaser is 1) finding the correct frequency (although hamchaser.org can help out) and 2) having your report be accepted by the local group that runs the net.

Spotter network - This is the way most chasers report. It is quick, easy, and goes straight to NWS Chat. Some WFOs use NWS Chat a lot and other not so much.

Phone - All NWS offices have a phone number you can call to report. Finding the correct number can be hard. The office number is typically not answered, but is often a machine that answers and the forecasters can hear your report as you leave a message.

Social Media - In the past, WCMs would tell you to never report an event in real time via social media, as no one was watching it in real time. That has changed in recent years. Many offices either try to have extra staff or volunteers on hand to check social media directed at them or use what are called a VOST (Virtual Operations Support Team) who searches social media for storm reports. The NWS Austin/San Antonio office is very active in this area. The even encourage folks to use the hashtag #eWXSpotter. Social media reports allow you to send pics, which the NWS offices love, because the can see what someone is reporting. Twitter is better for reports than Facebook as Facebook forces an algorithm timeline instead of letting you see things chronologically. Every time in 2019 that I made a report via Twitter I got an almost immediate like or response from the NWS WFO account. I will note that this method of reporting is highly dependent on WFO office staffing at the given time.
 
Jan 16, 2009
639
631
21
Kansas City
I just use the spotter network to send reports. They can see my location (and information) and many times call me during the chase to ask about what I am seeing in real time.
 
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Jeff Duda

Resident meteorological expert
Staff member
Supporter
Oct 7, 2008
3,320
2,063
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Broomfield, CO
www.meteor.iastate.edu
Use Twitter or Facebook to the NWS office's account, preferably with an attached photo showing the severe weather element you are reporting (if reasonable). Those will DEFINITELY get the attention at most offices. Although, as Randy said, each office has a different list of preferences for how to receive the information. I just find that reporting using the more archaic means is much more complicated and not easy to do while on the road, so I have moved over to the easier options.
 
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May 31, 2019
22
25
1
55
Sudbury, Massachusetts
I do most of my reporting via Twitter (since my local Skywarn coordinator monitors his account along with ham radio). Most of my reports are just precipitation totals/changeovers anyway and are not urgent. If I see an immediately life-threatening situation I call in to my local NWS office because I'd like to be able to talk to a person in real time rather than be limited to 280 characters. I've only had to do that once (to report a wall cloud).
 
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Chris T.

EF0
Dec 27, 2018
11
10
1
London UK
www.clthomas.co.uk
Hey guys!

Thanks very much for your answers. Incredibly helpful.
The reason I'm leaning towards a ham radio is it's visually more pleasing. Certainly for filming/writing anyways.

Following up on your answers, I have another Q if that's okay -

As it stands, the main protagonist (spotter) has got to know the person on the other line at his local NWS office. This is from years of spotting and communication through the ham radio. Is this realistic in any way? or would you throw popcorn at the screen?

Cheers all.

Chris
 

Lou Ruh

EF2
May 17, 2007
189
40
11
SE PA
Sure. I, for one, have a very good relationship with my local office (including assisting with damage surveys). None of the employees at the local office do much of anything with the amateur radio side of things, but, other offices have a more integrated environment (subject to FCC rules, of course).
 
Oct 17, 2013
13
5
1
Warsaw, Indiana
Spotter Network requires you take a course on their website before you are allowed to report in order to maintain the quality of the reports. The NWS also takes reports via Twitter. You can also call the NWS office direct if you have the number for the Spotter Line.