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RIC Weather Spotters Have Their Eyes Toward the Skies

Stephanie Dunten of the National Weather Service office in Taunton educates would-be weather spotters about the SKYWARN program.

Stephanie Dunten of the National Weather Service office in Taunton educates would-be weather spotters about the SKYWARN program.


Southeastern New England now has a new group of sharp-eyed citizens to monitor and report its wild weather.

Approximately 40 students in Adjunct Professor Jennifer Bonin's disaster management class completed National Weather Service (NWS) training on campus, preparing them to become certified SKYWARN weather spotters. Weather spotters are trained volunteers who identify severe weather conditions, such as flash flooding, tornadoes, wind and hail, and report their findings to NWS’s forecast office. These real-time reports are then integrated with Doppler radar readings and allow weather analysts to give more accurate severe weather warnings to protect life and property. 

Bonin, who teaches geography at RIC, is an expert cartographer skilled in GIS (Geographic Information Systems), a mapping technology that allows the user to create and interact with a variety of maps and data sources. Following Hurricane Katrina, she was deployed to New Orleans to conduct GIS on-site mobile mapping. She has also created GIS databases and custom map work for the Providence Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) and is a member of PEMA’s Emergency Response Team.

Bonin said, “SKYWARN spotters are critical in alerting the public to severe weather conditions and can help save lives and property. Although weather analysts can tell by radar or satellite where a tornado or straight-line winds or hail may occur on a general scale, eyewitnesses on the ground who can actually see the weather as it is happening and who can give us an accurate report – including longitude and latitude points – are an important element to real-time weather reporting. From these reports, we can create a more accurate map of the area and the conditions.”

SKYWARN was formed in the early 1970s as a nationwide program after major tornado outbreaks ravaged many areas. In Southern New England, approximately 2,500 spotters have become official spotters for the NWS Forecast Office located in Taunton, Mass. The Taunton office is responsible for issuing severe weather warnings for all of Massachusetts except Berkshire County (Albany NWS); all of Rhode Island; Hartford, Windham and Tolland Counties in Connecticut; and Cheshire and Hillsborough Counties in New Hampshire.