Skywarn is a National Weather Service program developed in the 1960s to provide eyes and ears on the field when there's severe weather. The volunteers include concerned citizens, pilots, public service officials, emergency management personnel, mariners — and amateur radio operators like Steve Hester with the Clear Lake Amateur Radio Club. Ham operators gathered last week at a community building on NASA Parkway for their annual Skywarn training.
"Because we have ham radio operators that are out driving around and out in the community. It's a way for us to connect with the Weather Service, to provide them extra information that they wouldn't normally have, and we use our radio systems to contact them so it kinda fits in with what we do."
They heard from Dan Reilly with the National Weather Service.
"My title is 'warning coordination meteorologist.' One thing I do with that job is go out and recruit storm spotters to help us with out warning program."
And Reilly came to the right place. About 50 amateur radio enthusiasts were there to volunteer their time and shortwave radio equipment to become weather spotters over the coming year.
"Amateur radio folks — they're great partners for us and they're very active in this Skywarn program, as are volunteer fire departments, law enforcement and, really, just interested citizens. You know, so we have a good core of spotters -- we have over 1,000 spotters in the Greater Houston area."
Steve Hester got the radio bug early in life.
"Well actually, I remember as a kid my dad was an amateur radio operator. He had a novice license for a while and during the Alaska earthquake, he had his radio on and we were listening to them, you know, and that was the first line of communication out of the disaster, was amateur radio."
And Hester says they create new hams through training, mentoring, classes and exams.
"And Morse Code is not required, all the way up through Extra Class, so you know, it kind of removes one of the inhibitions that, now they don't have to have code, they just have to go learn the theory and the rules and regs."
Ed: "How are younger kids taking to this? You know, they've grown up in a world in internet and computer and do you find younger people interested in this kid of older hobby?"
"We have a couple of people that volunteer in one of the local junior high schools and offer a radio class. And we have licensed quite a few junior high school students to become amateur radio operators!"
According to the FCC, the number of people with amateur radio licenses has grown by 60 percent since 1981 to about around 678,000 today. Many of them are the eyes and ears of Skywarn.