NWS Wakefield SKYWARN
Amateur Radio Support Team
WX4AKQ Wakefield, VA
This page attempts to answer many of the frequently asked questions about our team and the SKYWARN program. If there's something you'd like to know that's not listed here, take a look at our Other Q&A Topics, check the SKYWARN Operations Manual, SKYWARN Training Portal, or send us an e-mail.
What's the difference between a Primary Net and a Subnet?
The Primary SKYWARN net in each Area operates on the main SKYWARN repeater serving that Area, and is generally going to be active for almost all SKYWARN activations in that Area.
Some areas have one or more Subnets, which are local nets running on repeaters with more limited coverage. Subnets are used to reinforce the coverage of the Primary net. However, Subnets are not always active.
Our priority is always to staff the Primary SKYWARN net first. If sufficient Net Control volunteers are available we will then fill in staffing on the Subnet(s). One exception would be particularly localized severe weather threats which exist only within the confines of a Subnet's coverage area. In this instance, we may choose to only activate the Subnet.
I live in one Area but the net isn't active here. Can I call in a report to another Area's net?
Absolutely. You may call in your report to any Wakefield SKYWARN net. However, you should only call your report in to one net. Filing multiple reports will only clog up our reporting network with unnecessary traffic and will add additional work for NWS employees receiving your duplicate report.
I live outside the Wakefield office's territory but I have a report. Can you take it?
Yes. Our Net Control Operators can accept reports from anyone in the Wakefield County Warning Area, which includes 66 counties and independent cities in central, southern, and southeast Virginia, northeast North Carolina, and the Maryland eastern shore. Additionally, we can accept reports from anyone served by the five surrounding NWS offices: Newport/Morehead City, Raleigh, Blacksburg, Sterling, and Mt. Holly.
It will be very helpful if you can let our Net Control Operator know which office serves your area so we can route your report to the appropriate WFO.
Do I need to be a Trained Spotter to call in a report?
Nope! All amateur radio operators, regardless of SKYWARN training status, are welcome to participate! Our Net Control Operators will ask if you are a trained Spotter, but answering "no" does not alter the importance of your report.
Why can't/won't Net Control answer my questions about what's on radar?
Our Net Control Operators are tasked with collecting reports from Spotters and relaying those reports to the National Weather Service. We are not in the business of distributing weather information, though we do provide periodic recaps of current watches, warnings, and advisories (WWA) for the Area as part of our net scripts.
Some of our Net Control Operators have significant experience with reading and interpreting radar data. Some even have formal training. Those Net Control Operators who are comfortable reading the radar and matching up a Spotter's location to provide personalized weather information are welcome to do so, as long as it does not interfere with the primary function of the net: collection of Spotter reports.
Net Control Operators who lack the experience and training to reliably interpret radar data are discouraged from attempting to provide this information, and will instead defer to official NWS forecast products and WWA.
Do you take reports via APRS or packet?
We have retired our packet station at the Wakefield WFO but maintain a TNC and compatible software for APRS messaging, though this is not in use full-time and requires that we take one of our two VHF radios out of voice service. We've experimented with APRS reporting and messaging in the past and the volume of reports received via these systems did not justify dedicating equipment to this purpose.
VHF packet has proven to be too slow and unreliable for the type of near real-time messaging we need for reporting during SKYWARN activities.
There are no plans to re-evaluate either technology or further expand on VHF/UHF AX.25-based messaging capabilities, and as existing packet equipment fails it will not be replaced.
Do you use Echolink or IRLP?
We have adopted IRLP as our preferred Internet-based repeater linking technology. IRLP is supported in our Richmond, Williamsburg, Smithfield, and Southern Virginia Areas, and we link via the Raleigh reflector, node 9211.
Several years ago we conducted extensive experimentation with Echolink for repeater linking and reporting. The very loose technical standards of Echolink made it extremely challenging to link multiple repeaters in an ad-hoc form. We even made our case for an exception to Echolink's strict "no new conferences" policy and were able to put our own conference server online, giving us more fine-grained control over the behavior of the links. It just didn't work.
Some of our repeaters in southeast Virginia and northeast North Carolina are available via Echolink, but we don't routinely use it or advertise it as a SKYWARN function.
What if I can't reach the net, or the net isn't on the air?
If you cannot reach a SKYWARN net, please use the routine reporting methods available to all Spotters: telephone, e-mail, e-Spotter, Twitter, or social media.
Can I hear a stream of SKYWARN nets online?
We do not provide a stream of any of our nets and are not aware of anyone who does.
Seems like you guys have a lot of fancy technology. What do you do when power/Internet/etc. are down?
All SKYWARN Net Control Operators receive training in manual logging and relaying processes and are encouraged to keep printed copies of our team roster, net scripts, NWS contact information, and manual log sheets on hand at each location where they may need to serve as Net Control.