Severe Weather Spotter Training – A Free and Simple Way to Save Lives

Guest Blog by Jacob Terrell, Safe Havens International Intern

So many times these days, school safety measures and equipment can be a financial burden on schools and school districts.  There are however, a number of FREE resources available to help make our schools safer.  One such opportunity available to school personnel is called “Skywarn Storm Spotter Training.” I became a Skywarn spotter about four years ago and feel that this has been a valuable experience.

Each year every National Weather Service or “NWS” office conducts a number of storm spotter training sessions for the counties/parishes in their forecast territory right around the time of the peak of severe weather activity for their region. A handful of NWS offices in the southern/southeast states also conduct some training sessions in the early-mid fall timeframe for the fall severe weather season.

School administrators and personnel who attend training sessions will learn about the fundamentals of severe thunderstorms, different types of severe weather, and cloud features that could signal a developing tornado. This could be an excellent opportunity to increase safety in our schools. Having school staff members trained on what to look for during severe weather can play a vital role in keeping students, staff, and other members of the community safe. For example, if there is no tornado warning in effect for the area of the school district, but a staff member returning from lunch who is a trained storm spotter happens to spot a thunderstorm with a rotating wall cloud that could spawn a tornado at any time, that staff member could provide a warning to school administrators and then report the observation to the National Weather Service.

By doing this, a staff member could not only possibly save the lives of hundreds of students, but would also provide severe weather conformation to general public, as well as aide the NWS office in the overall warning decision-making process. After all, Doppler radar can detect severe weather but unlike humans it cannot visually see severe weather situations in progress the way a trained spotter can.

Another way that having trained storm spotters on hand could prove beneficial is when a tornado watch is issued.  By having certified storm spotters at a school who take up a position to look for indications of a developing tornado, precious minutes could be saved should a tornado develop in the area.  This step can be taken not only for tornado watches but is a practical approach for severe weather watches related to thunderstorms as well since conditions for the formation of tornadoes can be increased at these times and other dangers such as large hail can be an issue.  Care should be taken not to expose spotters to danger from lightning or high winds when this approach is utilized.

Storm spotter training is a free and excellent opportunity for school personnel; check with your local NWS office for more information on spotter training. There is no quiz required; however, you might want to consider bringing along a laptop to take notes with as the training covers a considerable amount of information to take in all at once.

There are other great resources out there for school officials concerned with severe weather. There is even an online training module for storm spotting.  However, you must attend and complete a live training session in order to become officially certified as a storm spotter.  Taking the time to have school employees certified as storm spotters could save lives.

About the author:

A recent high school graduate, Jacob Terrell is an intern with Safe Havens International. Jacob has completed multiple FEMA online courses relating to school safety and is a Skywarn severe weather spotter. Jacob hopes to pursue a career in the field of school safety. During his internship, Jacob has been conducting research on active shooter situations, school tornado preparedness, school fire prevention and all-hazards school crisis planning. While a student, Jacob experienced two school fires and desires to make schools safer for students and staff. Jacob welcomes reader questions, comments or concerns at



About Michael Dorn

Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit school safety center. The author of 27 books on school safety, Michael’s campus safety work has taken him to 11 countries over the past 34 years.