This will be my 3rd year as an official weather spotter for the National Weather Service. Skywarn is the volunteer organization that coordinates and trains us weather spotters. Here is a snippet from Metro Skywarn's web site here in Minnesota:
SKYWARN is the NWS program of trained volunteer severe weather spotters. SKYWARN Spotters support their local community and government by providing the NWS and their local emergency managers with timely and accurate severe weather reports. These reports, when integrated with modern NWS technology, are used to inform communities of the proper actions to take as severe weather threatens.
There is a lot of information on their site about amateur radio operators. They prefer spotters with radios so they can report directly to the "net" but that is not a requirement. I do not do radio and I was welcomed just fine. Here is a snippet about what you will learn:
Spotters are trained about basic storm structure and the sequence of events of an approaching severe storm , to place themselves safely near severe weather and how to report into the net. Special emphasis is placed on training the spotter how to differentiate severe weather from weather easily confused with severe weather with a specially prepared video and slide presentation.
Ever two years they ask that you take the spotter training course. It's free and very interesting. You'll learn the difference between dangerous clouds and scary looking clouds. You'll be able tell when severe weather should be reported to 911 and when it shouldn't be reported. I suspect that the law enforcement in your area wouldn't have a problem if you called 911 to report a rotating wall cloud, funnel or a tornado. Your fellow Skywarn members will tell you how to report these things in your area. As an added bonus, you'll be better equipt to rip the movie Twister for it's science inaccuracies, if you like.
There is a multiple choice test at the end of the 3-4 hour session. If you pass, you will get a nifty card with your own unique identifying number. You will also be admitted to the E-Spotter Program, an exclusive NOAA/NWS website where you can report non-life threatening storm information. I got to report the 2" hail that filled my yard a couple years ago.
For those of you in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, go here for the times and dates for 2009 classes. Join up and help your neighbors.