The National Weather Service is looking for people to help them observe and report local conditions this winter as part of its SKYWARN network. This Thursday, meteorologists will host a training session for those interested in becoming a spotter.
The National Weather Service accesses Doppler radar, satellites and other technology to help track storm systems. But since 1965, it has also received a lot of help from spotters who have provided more localized information that, meteorologists say, helps further the agency's mission to protect lives and property. These spotters are participants in a program known as SKYWARN.
"SKYWARN is a national program that the National Weather Service started many decades ago to train volunteer weather spotters to report severe weather to the National Weather service in its attempt to better warn the public," said Jon Hitchcock, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Buffalo.
SKYWARN's main focus, according to Hitchcock, is thunderstorms and all the hazards that go along with them. Training sessions are held in the spring to ready spotters for thunderstorms but in the northern part of the U.S., some National Weather Service stations also prepare spotters for winter conditions and assisting meteorologists with information about them.
It's not just about the snow in the winter, Hitchcock told WBFO.
"We have hazards such as flooding in the winter, if we do get a warmup with snowmelts," he said. "We can have ice dam flooding, strong wind events that can knock out power for several days. There's a lot more than just snow that goes into it."
Having spotters at the neighborhood level reporting local conditions has, according to National Weather Service officials, saved lives.
Thursday, beginning at 7 p.m. inside the Erie County Fire Training Academy at 3359 Broadway Avenue in Cheektowaga, a training session will be held for interested spotters. The training is free and is expected to take approximately two hours. An online session will be held in December for those unable to attend Thursday's session.
Hitchcock says the earliest participants in SKYWARN were amateur radio operators but with the rise of cell phones, many more people can - and have - joined the ranks of spotters.
Just who has trained in the past to become a spotter?
"Many of them are associated with county emergency management," Hitchcock replied. "They may be volunteers who work with the county and towns during severe weather to report to the National Weather Service. It's mainly folks who are interested in weather who come to these trainings."