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The National Weather Service (NWS) has a number of devices for detecting severe thunderstorms. Included in these are radar, satellite, and lightning detection networks. However, the most important tool for observing thunderstorms is the trained eye of the storm spotter. While radar is used quite often in severe storm warnings, conventional weather radar will only indicate areas and intensities of precipitation and larger scale wind fields. It does not give any indications of cloud formations associated with a storm. Doppler radar, which is used across the country, gives some indication of air motions inside a storm. Doppler radar, though, will not give these indications down to the ground level. It is impossible for any radar to detect every severe weather event in its coverage area, and radar occasionally suggests severe weather, when in fact, none is present.
Satellite and lightning detection networks provide general thunderstorm locations and are extremely valuable in data-sparse regions (such as over mountainous terrain or bodies of water). They help to identify persistent thunderstorm areas and can be of aid in flash flooding forecasting. These systems provide little in the way of quantitative real-time information, though, and are not especially helpful during times of fast-breaking severe weather.
As a trained spotter, you perform an invaluable service for the NWS. Your real-time observations of tornadoes, hail, wind, and significant cloud formations provide a truly reliable information base for severe weather detection and verification. By providing observations, you are assisting NWS staff members in their warning decisions and enabling the NWS to fulfill its mission of protecting life and property. You are helping to provide the citizens of your community with potentially life saving information.
The ADVANCED SKYWARN session lasts approximately 3 hours, and builds upon principles taught in the BASIC session. Attendance at an NWS Wakefield Basic SKYWARN session is recommended before attending a basic SKYWARN session. You should be comfortable with the basic concepts of storm structure and storm spotting.