RALEIGH, N.C. — You can find serious weather events of all kinds in this state, and people like Bob Woodson are a key part of alerting the public through a National Weather Service program called Skywarn.

It relies on trained volunteer severe weather spotters.


What You Need To Know

  • Skywarn is a National Weather Service program comprised of trained volunteers
  • Bob Woodson is one of six net operators for the Central Carolina Skywarn program
  • The Raleigh NWS hub relies on storm spotters for ground truth, which is the identification of damage or debris by storm spotters


Woodson is the assistant emergency coordinator for the Central Carolina Skywarn program. 

“I don’t know just the science. Tornado. Severe weather. North Carolina has a lot of unique weather,” Woodson said as he talked about his love of weather.

For his role in the program, he is known as a net operator. This special volunteer shares the worth of filtering valuable communication from the eyes and ears of storm spotters on the frontlines. He is one of six net operators and is the go-between for Skywarn. 

“It does take some experience,” Woodson said.

Because there can be gaps of time between severe weather events, the net operators practice their radio calls every Tuesday night at 9:15 p.m.

It may look like this 72-year-old man is standing in a garage listening to a radio for the heck of it, but there’s more to it than that.

Woodson picks up the radio microphone as he waits to check in. “This is WX4MMM Bob A-E-C Central Carolina Skywarn up in Wake County,” he said.

These Tuesday night meetings are a rehearsal for severe weather.

“If you don’t talk on the radio, you will get kind of sloppy sometimes when you’re speaking on it. These nets keep us in the groove a little bit,” Woodson said.

A quick review of recent and upcoming weather patterns is also typical during these rehearsals.

As a net operator, he is screening calls from storm spotters. The weather wiz checks to see if information about damage meets certain criteria.

“It’s good practice. We may go through a month of nothing going on weather-wise, but we still need to be sharp and ready,” he said.

If it does, he then passes it on to the NWS meteorologists at the Raleigh hub.

Woodson said the local NWS hub issues either a severe thunderstorm or tornado watch or a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning to activate the Central Carolina Skywarn system.

Storm spotters cover 18 counties to provide ground truth in the field.

“Ground truth is what we’re after," Woodson said.

Woodson describes ground truth as the verification of damage or debris in a specific area relative to a thunderstorm or tornado.

The reports have to meet specific criteria that includes, for example:

  • Hail damage a quarter size or more in diameter
  • Significant property damage
  • Uprooted trees and downed powerlines
  • Flooding in areas where it doesn’t normally occur
  • Measured wind speeds of 58 mph or higher

“I think gathering severe weather reports is critical for both the weather service and protecting lives in the Central Carolina area,” Woodson said.

Locations such as streets, cross streets, the city and county where destruction is happening must go in the spotter’s report.

“We’re the go-between. Well, we’re the communicator,” Woodson said.

Nick Petro is the warning coordination meteorologist at the Raleigh hub. Petro said Skywarn is a lifesaving endeavor.

“The radar tells us what’s in the sky. People tell us what’s on the ground,” Petro said as he referred to the storm spotters.

“When it comes to weather, every second counts. We try to minimize the amount of time it takes to get our information to those who need it,” Petro said.

Petro says they can’t do that without people like Woodson. 

The public servant said his interest in weather events began as a child.

“When I was young, I experienced a hurricane," Woodson said.

Woodson was around three years old when Hurricane Hazel hit North Carolina's coastline in 1954. The only Category 4 hurricane to ever make landfall in North Carolina.

“That got my initial interest when I was a baby almost,” Woodson said.

These days the former senior vice president of payroll for the State Employees’ Credit Union is retired. His time and energy volunteering benefit the public. Woodson says it’s one of the best things he’s ever done for the last twenty years of his life.

“Why do people volunteer their time for other items? I think it’s a worthwhile item for people to volunteer their time," Woodson said.