FORT SMITH, Ark. (KFSM) — The National Weather Service has a volunteer program full of storm spotters called the NWS SKYWARN program.
These storm spotters identify and describe severe storms in their area and relay that information to the National Weather Service in Tulsa.
There are a few SKYWARN volunteers in the River Valley that work out of the Sebastian County Emergency Management building in Fort Smith every time a threat of severe weather rolls around.
As we head into the weekend with an eye on the weather the SKYWARN volunteers are preparing to track the storms and come into the office if needed.
The volunteers can watch the weather on radar and chat with other storm spotters stationed across Arkansas and Oklahoma. They communicate with each other about what they are seeing by using chat rooms and say in addition to the radar it helps them know what the storm is actually producing before it gets to Sebastian County.
The volunteers can relay any vital information to local crews such as fire, EMS, and emergency management teams.
"We go to a chat to get information to the NWS and they do likewise. If they see something unusual on the chatroom they let us know through that," said NWS SKYWARN volunteer Wayne Johnson. "If that don't work, we have a repeater on top of Cavanaugh Mountain in Poteau Oklahoma. That is how we coordinate our weather net. We form a weather net and HAM operators from a 80 to 90-mile circumference of that repeater site can check into our weather net and report severe weather to us."
If a disaster were to strike, knocking out internet, telephones and radio communications, the volunteers who are also HAM radio operators could help build a new communication line.
"We would step in with amateur radio operators to provide that communication so that the emergency people would have communication back and forth," said David McDonald, Sebastian County's Emergency Coordinator for Communications.