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Skywarn the Eyes and Ears of the Weather

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Volunteers ride around storm areas and radio in their observations.
RALEIGH — When bad weather approaches, getting the word out quickly is key to saving lives. WRAL works with the National Weather Service to get warnings to you. But sometimes the best information comes from inside the storm.

When there's the potential for the skies to open up, ham radio operators head out.

Thomas Babb is one of hundreds of amateur ham radio operators who participate in the Raleigh Skywarn program. In the event of severe weather, he and a team of trained volunteer spotters mobilize to become the eyes and ears of the national weather service.

"We have hundreds of eyes and ears out here on the highways and byways," Babb explains, "and we're able to send stuff to the national weather service via ham radio, information they wouldn't normally be able to get."

Skywarn weather spotters were able to provide that information when tornados touched in Garner and Holly Springs two weeks ago. It only took 10 minutes from the time they were alerted to watch from the Harnett to Wake County line, that a tornado was on the ground.

Meteorologists say Skywarn provides a crucial complement to Doppler radar for forecasting severe weather.

"I don't think there's any substitute for two human eyes seeing something," says WRAL's Chief Meteorologist, Greg Fishel. "Sometimes you'll see things on radar that don't show up on the ground, or vice-versa, so it's really helpful to get that confirmed by someone who's actually seeing it."

None of the amateur ham radio operators are paid for their weather spotting. They are all volunteers. They say their reward is saving lives.