While movies and documentaries often focus on "storm chasers" who
roam the plains in search of tornadic storms for research data
collecting, video taping or, yes, thrill seeking, a more direct
service to the public is provided by the "storm spotter". The
storm spotter serves a community by participating in an organized
effort to watch for storms approaching the community and warn of the
formation of tornadoes or other threatening severe weather. Even
with the use of Doppler radar there is a need for spotters in
the field. The radar can only detect the parent circulation that
spawns tornadoes, information is needed about whether tornadoes are
actually being produced and their precise location. Also, certain
types of tornadoes can form before a Doppler radar signature is detected.
Organization of Spotters
The organization of spotters varies across the country, but is
typically done at the county level. The county Emergency
Management Agency (EMA, often formerly known as Civil Defense or ESDA),
is typically the focal point for organizing the spotting activities.
Spotting may be done by paid public emergency personnel, such as sherrif's
deputies, police and/or firefighters. Often coverage is provided
by volunteer amateur radio operators (commonly known as "hams"), who are
organized in spotter networks. These networks use amateur radio repeaters that
can provide communication over a radius of 30 miles or more from the
repeater site. Our spotter network has an Emergency Operations Center
(EOC) which controls the exchange of information by polling the spotters,
providing weather information to all stations and dispatching spotters
to key lookout sites in the county. We also interact with the National Weather Service
in an exchange of vital information that both agencies need to protect not only the
residents of Vermilion County, but also surrounding counties.
Your first contact might be with your county's EMA Severe Weather Manager.
The EMA Severe Weather Manager can describe how storm spotting and disaster
assistance is organized in your area. If services are provided by
amateur radio operators he/she can direct you to the ham in charge
of organizing the volunteer spotters or to the local ham radio club.
The National Weather Service, local Emergency Managememt officials
and the local ham radio group organize training sessions for storm
spotters. An NWS meteorologist will visit and use nationally-
prepared slide and film materials to help the spotters learn what
to look for and how to remain safe in their operation. Local officials
will use this session to explain specific operating procedures,
call-out methods, etc. Such sessions are often held a month or
two before the most active severe weather season for our area
(typically February-May). We currently have a class scheduled for Vermilion County.
Date and time is on the main Spotters page.
Becoming a Licensed Amateur Radio Operator
Amateur radio operators are licensed by the FCC. There are various
classes of amateur radio licenses, which allow increasing operating
privileges (more bands and operating modes) as the amateur
demonstrates his/her knowledge and skill in increasingly difficult
tests of radio theory, rules and regulations and Morse code skill.
Licensing is done through an organization of ham "volunteer examiners" and
your local ham club can inform you of the schedule of tests and
introductory classes in your area. Generally you'll
find hams quite helpful in getting you started and underway in
This weather site is privately owned and operated and is not affiliated with either the Vermilion County Governing Body, or the Vermilion County Emergency Management Agency (EMA). We merely have agreed to display their weather data in our format.