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Tornado Lookouts

Meteorologists use radar to help forecast where tornadoes might form. But, the radar isn't sensitive enough to detect actual tornadoes. People are needed to do that.

The National Weather Service can't rely on reports from any old person off the street. These people don't have any training so they may not actually see what6 they think they see. Instead, the Weather Service offers classes that anyone can take to become part of SKYWARN, a network of trained volunteer spotters. Meteorologists can trust the accuracy of the trained spotter reports. If a tornado is spotted, they can issue a tornado warning with a good degree of confidence.

Storm spotting is different than storm chasing. Spotters work in organized networks to observe, detect, and verify severe weather events for the NWS and for local emergency managers. Local SKYWARN organizations are run on a county level, so spotters usually stay within or near their county.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF