Spotter Training and Certification Process



  1. Becoming An NWS SKYWARN Storm Spotter
  2. The Basic Spotter Training Session
  3. The Advanced Spotter Training Session
  4. Handling of Out-Of-County-Resident Training
  5. NWS Spotter Training Class Schedules

NOTE: As of 2005, NWS-JAX no longer hands out spotter ID cards or any printed Advanced Certificates (as described below). However, class completion certificates can be printed on your own printer after accessing a special page at the JAX web site after completion of a spotter training class. All that is required is to enter a special code, handed out at the class. We decided to leave this page as-is to show spotters what they USED to get before the 2008 crash and the resulting budget crunches.

Becoming An NWS SKYWARN Storm Spotter

The primary responsibility of a SKYWARN spotter is to identify and describe severe local storms.

To become a SKYWARN severe weather spotter, you have to have some training, first. The Jacksonville Office of the National Weather Service offers severe weather spotter training sessions to the public.

There are two levels of classes offered by NWS-JAX. The first is Basic Spotter Training. The second is Advanced Spotter Training. (Some Field Offices in other parts of the U.S. offer a third Intermediate Spotter Training course, but this course is not offered by NWS-JAX.)

For either the Basic or the Advanced Spotter Training sessions, the individual instructor may remove or add instructional items as he or she personally feels necessary.

Basic Spotter Training

The Basic Spotter Training session lasts about 2 hours. Here, spotters learn (outlining the Basic Spotter's Field Guide, which is handed to each trainee):

  1. Basic Definitions and Terminology
  2. Severe Weather Reporting Criteria
  3. Receiving Hazardous Weather Information
  4. Thunderstorm Hazards and Safety Tips
    1. Flash Floods
    2. Lightning
    3. Hail
    4. Downbursts and Outflow Winds
    5. Tornadoes
    6. Safe Viewing Tips
  5. Thunderstorm Life Cycle
  6. Visual Indications of Updraft Strength and Organization
  7. Non-Tornadic Severe Weather Events
  8. Supercell Structure and Appearance
  9. Typical Tornado Life Cycle
  10. Tornado Classification
  11. Tornado Look-Alikes
  12. Supercell Variations and Unusual Situations

The Instructor may then issue an open-book test, or go through a review with the trainees of what was covered.

At the conclusion of the training session, the Instructor will hand out Spotter ID cards to everyone, and have them fill out thier personal information on a form. Each spotter ID card will have its own spotter ID number in the upper right-hand corner, beginning with "ALA," followed by a dash, and a two or three-digit number. (For example, "ALA-001.") When a spotter makes a report to NWS-JAX, this number will be used to identify himself/herself. On the face of the card is a special, private 800-number with which to call NWS-JAX and make a severe weather report. The number to the local Office of Emergency Management is also included. NWS-JAX prefers that spotters make thier reports to thier local Emergency Management agency (and the EMA will further the report to NWS-JAX). However, spotters may do it either way.

The spotter ID cards are not intended as a replacement for other IDs, and is not intended as a means of gaining anyone any special access to any emergency events or the like. It is simply something to keep in your wallet to use in the event it becomes necessary to make a spotter report.

Here is what the Spotter ID Card looks like:

[ New Spotter ID Card - Front ] [ New Spotter ID Card - Back ]

NOTE: This version of the Spotter ID Card is new (as of SEP 99). Previous versions of the ID card entailed placing each spotter's name (and callsign, if applicable) upon the face of the card. This was a rather expensive method and involved much effort on the part of the Instructor, in that he or she had to manually type in each name, print each card out separately, place it in an envelope, affix a stamp, and then drop it in the mailbox. Repeat as necessary for each spotter in the class. The new cards do not have a spotter's name on them, but instead, have just a spotter ID number in the upper right. But they contain the same telephone numbers on the front, and the same reporting instructions on the back. Now all the Instructor has to do is print the cards out in bulk in one printing, take them to the class, hand them out right there, and have each spotter fill out a line on a form. A much simpler way of doing things. ALL SPOTTERS WHO HAVE THE OLDER VERSIONS OF THE CARDS SHOULD COME TO THE NEXT AVAILABLE TRAINING SESSION AND OBTAIN THESE NEW CARDS TO OBTAIN A SPOTTER IDENTIFICATION NUMBER.

Advanced Spotter Training

You MUST first take (and pass) the Basic Spotter Training course before you can take the Advanced course! Well, you can ATTEND, but without first taking the Basic course, what you learn here DOES NOT COUNT towards any spotter training credit.

The Advanced Spotter Training session gets a little more technical. It also lasts a little longer than the Basic Spotter Training session - about 3+ hours. Here, spotters learn (outlining the Advanced Spotter's Field Guide, which is handed to each trainee):

  1. Reporting Procedures
    1. Primary and Secondary Contacts
    2. Spotter Coordination
    3. Reporting Criteria
  2. Safety Tips
  3. The Thunderstorm
    1. Atmospheric Conditions for Thunderstorm Development
    2. The Thunderstorm Life Cycle
    3. Convective Variables
  4. Thunderstorm Types
    1. The Single Cell Storm
    2. The Multicell Cluster Storm
    3. The Multicell Line Storm
    4. The Supercell Storm
  5. Visual Aspects of Severe Thunderstorms
    1. Upper-Level Features
    2. Mid-Level Features
    3. Low-Level Features
  6. Wall Clouds and Other Lowerings
    1. Wall Clouds
    2. Shelf Clouds and Roll Clouds
    3. Shelf Clouds vs. Wall Clouds
  7. Non-Tornadic Severe Weather Phenomena
    1. Downbursts
    2. Flash Floods
  8. The Tornado
    1. Life Cycle
    2. Tornado Variations
    3. Tornado Classification
    4. Tornado/Funnel Cloud Look-Alikes
  9. Supercell Variations
    1. Low-Precipitation (LP) Supercells
    2. High-Precipitation (HP) Supercells
    3. Hybrid Storms

At the end of the class, the Instructor will issue an open-book test. The trainees will hand their answer sheets back to the Instructor, and the Instructor will then take these back to NWS-JAX and grade them. Those trainees who successfully pass the test will be mailed a handsome grey folder with the NOAA logo embossed in silver upon the face, containing:

  1. A letter of Congratulations
  2. Thier graded test and score
  3. An Answer Key
  4. A SKYWARN "What To Report" informational sheet
  5. A handsome Advanced Certificate of Training, suitable for framing, dated and personalized, and signed by the Meteorologist-In-Charge at NWS-JAX

Here is an example of what the Advanced Certificate looks like:

[Advanced Spotter Training Certificate]

Handling of Out-Of-County-Resident Training

Alachua County SKYWARN recognizes the fact that many north Florida counties do not yet have thier own SKYWARN program or any severe weather spotter training classes available. So in order to get such training, those spotter candidates usually have to go to counties which do (Alachua, Columbia, Flagler, and Marion, for some examples). Therefore, we also welcome out-of-county residents to our spotter training classes here in Alachua County. However, there are some things that we have to handle a little differently with you in order to avoid confusing the records at NWS-JAX...

You can take your training here, but your spotter ID card must have a spotter ID number for your particular county. You cannot simply use an ID card for Alachua County. therefore, please do not grab an Alachua County Spotter ID card from the class.

If you're from outside of Alachua County, and your county is within the NWS-JAX County Warning Area (CWA), and your county has it's own SKYWARN program (Marion, Columbia), then training taken here still counts for the NWS-JAX CWA, because the session was offered by that Office. BUT, you must be sure to ask the Instructor for a spotter ID card for your own county. That is, you cannot hold a card that starts with "ALA-". For example, if you're from Columbia County, you need a card with an ID that starts with "COL-", instead. If you're from Marion County, then you need a card with an ID that starts with "MAR-". The Instructor should have some of these spare. If not, then he will have to mail you one personally, later. You will also need to advise your County SKYWARN Coordinator that you have taken a spotter training class here so that your Coordinator can update his own records. He/she may also be able to give you a spotter ID card if the Instructor does not have any with him. (See list of surrounding Fla. CWA's, below, to see within which CWA you reside.)

If you're from outside Alachua County, and your county is within the NWS-JAX CWA, and your county does not have it's own SKYWARN program, then training taken here still counts for the NWS-JAX CWA, because the session was offered by that Office. But you still need to obtain a card for your own county from the Instructor. If he does not have one available at the session, then he'll have to mail you one personally. (See list of surrounding Fla. CWA's, below, to see within which CWA you reside.)

If you're from a neighboring county that is outside of the NWS-JAX CWA (for example, LEVY County - which is actually part of the NWS-Tampa/Ruskin CWA; or DIXIE County- which is part of the NWS-Tallahassee CWA), then this gets a little tougher. Technically, your spotter training does not count for Ruskin or Tallahassee, because you took it in the NWS-JAX CWA. But it counts for the NWS-JAX CWA. However, technically, you should be reporting to the NWS office in the CWA within which you reside. HOWEVER, if you are in Levy County, you're bordering Alachua County, and you're so close to us that you may participate in either spotter arena. We'll accept your reports in our spotter nets, and issue you a card for Alachua County. But remember that if you wish to participate in nets or make reports in your own CWA, then you must take and pass a spotter training session offered by the NWS in your own CWA. (See list of surrounding Fla. CWA's, below, to see within which CWA you reside.)





Alachua County SKYWARN
Account Created: November 14, 1997.
Last Updated: May 26, 2011.
Author/Webmaster: Todd L. Sherman / KB4MHH.

Copyright © 1999- by Alachua County SKYWARN. All Rights Reserved.

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