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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


Severe Weather: Warnings, Reporting, Spotting and Chasing

I'd like to report a severe weather event. How do I do that?

First, determine which office serves the area where the event occurred, by finding the location on a map of forecast/warning areas. For our forecast area, you can submit a report using this form. For other offices, visit their website and look for a link to submit a storm report. You can also try phoning the office, but most offices stop answering the public telephone in the evening. If you cannot contact the NWS directly, you may contact your local law-enforcement agency and ask them to relay the report to the National Weather Service. For other after-the-fact reports, you can e-mail the Webmaster of that office's Web site with the following information:

  • What happened. We're mainly concerned with:
    • Tornadoes and funnel clouds
    • Hail at least 1 inch (25 mm) in diameter
    • Wind damage or wind gusts measured at 50 knots (58 mph, 93 km/h, or 26 m/s) or more
    • Significant flooding (roads closed, houses flooded, etc.)
    • Weather-related injuries or fatalities
  • The exact location of the storm or damage (your best guess, if necessary), including the county name
  • The time the event occurred, to the nearest five minutes or less, if possible
  • Your name and training level, if any

How do I become a storm spotter?

Storm spotters are a vital link in the NWS warning process. Dr. Keith Brewster (University of Oklahoma) has written a paper: "Getting Started in Tornado and Thunderstorm Spotting." The NWS Office in Norman offers spotter training at various locations around Oklahoma and the western part of north Texas in the late winter and early spring. A list of dates for these meetings will be posted on our home page as plans are finalized. If you do not live in our office's forecast area, other NWS offices also offer spotter training. Check with the NWS office nearest you. On-line spotter training is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to attending a class. On-line classes are often included among the entries in the spotter training schedules.

I want to be a storm chaser! How do I get a job doing that?

From the Storm Prediction Center's FAQ: "Very few people make a living as storm chasers. The vast majority of people who chase storms do so as a hobby in their spare time, often at a cost of hundreds or thousands of dollars a year. To become a professional storm chaser, you must be able to consistently acquire and successfully market your storm photographs and video. You may also develop enough skill to have others pay to ride along with you on chases. However, it takes many years to become a safe and successful storm chaser, and the market for storm chase pictures/video and tours is quite competitive. The best way to approach storm chasing is to ride along with more experienced chasers for a few years, and practice severe storm forecasting at every opportunity."

The NWS does not encourage "pursuit" of potentially lethal weather since its mission is the protection of life and property. However, researchers at the National Severe Storms Laboratory occasionally send storm chasers into the field in an organized, scientific effort to study severe thunderstorms and tornadoes (like VORTEX2). Chasers involved in these projects are NSSL employees, University of Oklahoma students, or collaborating scientists. Nearly all of the meteorologists at NSSL have advanced scientific degrees. The NSSL cannot accept volunteers to participate in their field projects due to government regulations and legal liability issues.

The best source of additional information on storm chasing is the Storm Track web page. Their FAQ has more information on safety, financial concerns, chase tours, ethics, strategies, etc.

Who offers storm chasing tours?

The NWS does not encourage anyone to pursue dangerous storms for any reason other than promoting public safety (spotting) and official research. However, joining one of the professional tour groups is probably safer than going out yourself without appropriate training. A good place to find information on storm chasing is the Storm Track website.

Can I have warnings e-mailed to me?

The NWS does not currently provide e-mailed warnings, mostly due to problems with timeliness. We prefer that you use NOAA Weather Radio instead. If you really want e-mailed warnings, you can check with the various private weather companies and media outlets. If you are interested in warnings in other parts of the country, you can see the NWS's current map (which auto-updates periodically), and you can obtain a text list (which also auto-updates) from the College of DuPage.

Can I receive a text message or similar alert when a warning is issued?

The National Weather Service does not offer such services directly at this time, but there are many sources that can provide you with a variety of weather information via your phone or smart phone. Note that this field is evolving rapidly, so rapid changes in the availability of various alert services are likely in the near future.

Where can I find daily severe weather reports? Can they be e-mailed to me every day?

We have recent reports for the NWSFO Norman forecast area, and the SPC has a nationwide listing, complete with color maps. The NWS does not provide a personal e-mail service for severe weather reports. You may want to check with one of the many private services to see if they do.

Are county maps available to help identify which locations are in warnings?

Counties are outlined in many map publications, such as road atlases, state highway maps, etc. The free maps provided by the state travel information centers are especially good, since those are often the maps used by the NWS when issuing warnings. For the Norman office, at least, references to cities not on the Oklahoma or Texas state highway maps are very rare, and counties are reasonably well-marked on both state maps. Also, we have a less-detailed map of our warning area.  A few retail stores sell inexpensive magetized county-outline maps that can be attached to a refrigerator or other large metal appliance.

Do you have a list of scanner frequencies that spotters use?

Please see the amateur radio page in our SKYWARN section of our Web site for the ham radio network in our forecast area.

Where can I find information on wall clouds, or other supercell features?

We have a Storm Spotter Resource Center available on our Web site. There are links from it to other resources, too. If you are serious about becoming a spotter, please check out the "How do I become a storm spotter?" question in this section.


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