So often we hear local amateur radio EmComm leader’s state that they cannot get a local EMA on board to use amateur radio for emergency communications or that it is difficult to get Hams involved with the non-profit disaster relief organizations such as the American Red Cross or the Salvation Army.

One often overlooked organization that is just waiting for a group to step forward and assist in times of need is the National Weather Service through the SKYWARN program.

The National Weather Service relies heavily upon the boots on the ground storm spotters to provide accurate, real time information during severe weather events.  These local reports help the local NWS offices to confirm what they see on their radar is what is actually happening on the ground.

One misconception in the amateur radio community is that you have to be affiliated with some other organization to participate in SKYWARN such as a local emergency management agency, AUXCOMM or ARES/RACES. While the NWS will accept local storm reports from anyone, they do ask that if a group is organized within a county or region that during severe weather reports are funneled to them from a single point. In the case of amateur radio that would be an amateur radio Net Control Operator.

A case in point of how an amateur radio SKYWARN team was established where its primary customer is the National Weather Service is that of the Central Illinois SKYWARN Team.

Back in 2015 the local Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) team ceased SKYWARN operations. The local amateur radio club had no interest in performing these activities so Central Illinois SKYWARN was formed. Initially the area of operation was a single county and now with over 30 trained storm spotters they operate in 2 additional counties.

Over time Central Illinois SKYWARN has expanded its operations to include Debris Assessment and at the present time is the only amateur radio, non-governmental organization providing debris assessment reports to the Central Illinois NWS Office.

Chris Miller (Warning Coordination Meteorologist) from NWS-ILX even stated at a meeting that during the Tornado outbreak on December 1, 2018. After the tornadoes rolled through Taylorville, Illinois the only debris information they were receiving was coming from the Central Illinois SKYWARN Team.  The primary reason for this is for the fact that the local police, fire and EMA were concentrating on life-saving operations which was their priority at the time. It should be noted that the NWS office in Lincoln sent several requests to Central Illinois SKYWARN to check for damage in specific areas of the storm path which resulted in several team members being dispatched to facilitate those requests.

The information provided by the Central Illinois SKYWARN team helped provide the NWS to better warn other communities who were in the path of the approaching storms and the extent of damage that could be expected.

So the moral of this story is: If your EmComm team is looking for a mission or an agency to serve. Looked to the National Weather Service and their SKYWARN program.

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