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Old 21-09-2005, 04:42   #1
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HAMs Report Hurricane Conditions

Ham Radio Operators Still Important to Hurricane Prediction ~ by Adrian Sainz
Associated Press Article - July 14, 2003

MIAMI (AP) - Max Mayfield and his team of hurricane forecasters were poised to downgrade Hurricane Michelle to a tropical storm when they got the call from a ham radio operator.

A sailboat near the Bahamas was reporting 100 mph winds, directly contradicting satellite reports showing Michelle was losing steam and becoming disorganized.

Michelle had already killed 17 people as it blasted through Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua and Jamaica. With the Bahamas in its path, forecasters had to decide whether to believe the satellite or the ham radio.

They chose the report from the ham radio, scrapping plans to downgrade Michelle and keeping Hurricane warnings for the Bahamas. Parts of the island grouping took a direct hit from the storm.

"The surface winds from the ham report really helped us immensely," said Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Despite sophisticated technology that has made hurricane forecasting more accurate, ham radio operators remain a critical component, sometimes providing more reliable information than satellites and hurricane hunter aircraft to forecasters whose job it is to track the storms and warn people out of harm's way.

During the Atlantic hurricane season, radio operators in the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America team up to provide data to forecasters. And when the power is out, ham radio operators with battery power or electric generators are sometimes the only source of information from a storm-stricken region.

"No matter what the satellite says, no matter what the airplanes say, it's what's on the ground that counts," said Ham operator John McHugh.

McHugh helps organize a group of 40 ham volunteers in Miami who are activated yearly on June 1 for the start of the Atlantic hurricane season.

When a storm is 300 miles away from any land, they come in three-hour shifts to the center and field reports from other dedicated amateur radio hounds on reserved long-range radio frequencies. Ham operators transmit and receive valuable hurricane data such as wind speeds, pressure and rain amounts.

The data bounces to Miami, where it is digested by forecasters.

Surface information ahead of a storm leads to the most accurate predictions for where a hurricane is going and how strong it is. Ground data from ham radio operators reporting from the middle of the storm can verify maximum winds and pressure readings. After a hurricane, amateur radio provides damage reports and rain totals.

From his "fort-like" home in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, John Ellis has an elaborate setup complete with transceivers, antennas and weather gauges he uses to measure weather conditions and communicate with the hurricane center.

Ellis, 59, has been through major hurricanes Hugo in 1989 and Georges in 1998, along with several other hurricanes and tropical storms. He's been in amateur radio for 48 years, starting off by helping civil defense officials track tornadoes in Johnson County, Kansas.

Many ham operators, like Ellis, can transmit when power and telephones don't work by using portable electric generators. Ellis has antennas that can lie flat on the ground outside - allowing him to transmit in the face of a hurricane's strong winds.

"The thrust is to give the hurricane center as much notice as possible so they can get their warnings out as accurately as possible," Ellis said in a telephone interview.

He and his wife have a set routine he describes as automatic - put up shutters, gas up the car, bring in the lawn furniture and ride out the storm. They can file reports with the hurricane center or relay reports from other ham operators.

"The house is very unpleasant when all the shutters go up," Ellis said. "It's dark and it's dreary and not a fun place to be in. It's a fort."

Ellis said the arrival of e-mail and the Internet in the 1990s has kept ham operators relevant to hurricane forecasting. The World Wide Web and 24-hour cable news stations have heightened the need for instant news, putting the onus on amateur radio for real-time reports when the power is usually out.

"During those first few hours, the ham radio is as important as it ever was, perhaps a little bit more so because of the need for news and the expectation of knowing what's going on right now," Ellis said.

The $20,000 setup at the hurricane center includes not only radios but also computers and fax machines that get data to forecasters. Most of the equipment is donated.

Hams are keeping up with technology in several ways. An instant Internet-based method of reporting hurricane data [ON-NHC] is being used by 200 to 300 people who don't own ham radios but live within 50 miles of the U.S. coast, have working weather stations in their homes and want to help the center's hurricane coverage.

They just fill out a form and e-mail it to the volunteers at the center.

Another program [CWOP] allows the National Weather Service to get instant year-round feeds from hundreds of computers connected to home weather stations which automatically communicate wind speed and direction, temperature and pressure every 15 minutes.

But it's during hurricane season when hams and other reporters of weather data are most prized by Mayfield and hurricane specialists.

"We're the ones who are actually there, in the middle of it," Ellis said.

On the Net:
National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov
NHC Amateur Radio Station: http://www.wx4nhc.org
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Old 21-09-2005, 07:30   #2
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Hi Gord, I enjoyed and learned a good bit about Ham organizations from your post and the informative article. Not being a Ham myself (just recently acquirred a marine SSB and hope to eventually get a Ham license), there is more I don't know than know but am gradually learning. BTW, how did you dig up this old AP article that is so relevant to current events? I continue to be amazed at your ability to contribute pertinent information from such a tremendous variety of sources.
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Old 21-09-2005, 18:53   #3
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It is interesting, we, HAMs, always get good press during an emergency, but I have heard very little about HAMs during Katrina. I may not be as in touch as I usually am during this one, but I have not heard word one about HAMs providing communications on this one. Am I just missing it?
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Old 21-09-2005, 21:34   #4
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Ham

Many years ago a British comedian named Tony Hancock
( Hancock's Half Hour ) did a skit on ham operators. It involved a boat at sea issuing a mayday and Tony after years of listening was the one who picked up the call. If you can find a copy it is worth listening to and quite funny. I am guessing it came out in the late fifties.
Michael
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Old 21-09-2005, 21:46   #5
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Looks like a popular character. I have not found the transcript of that show yet, but it looks like it is available.
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Old 21-09-2005, 22:24   #6
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Just did a search using Tony Hancock mayday. Found
www.towerbridge.force9.co.uk/tony.html
A guy found a CD titled The Blood Donor and The Radio Ham.
he posted short bits from each of these shows. There are 9 shows about the ham radio. The one I am refferring to is " You want me to drown " You need real player to be able to listen to them.
Amazed myself about how good my memory was on this.
Michael.
PS Kai Nui just spotted a photo of you under the Captain title, good to see you are living up to your name.
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Old 21-09-2005, 23:16   #7
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ARRRR
Thanks for the link. I do not have sound on this machine, but will try it on my other computer.
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Old 03-10-2005, 17:14   #8
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More 'Cains Comin'

2005 Hurricane Season - It Ainít Over 'Til Itís Over ~ http://www.ato.faa.gov

September 29/05: Itís a quiet day in the Western Atlantic and Caribbean. No hurricanes, no named tropical storms, not even an active cyclone. After the havoc caused by Katrina and Rita in rapid succession, nature is giving us a needed break. The 2005 hurricane season has been an active one: eighteen named storms, nine of which became hurricanes. That substantially outpaces the seasonal average of ten storms and six hurricanes. Worse yet, itís not over.

The official hurricane season for the Atlantic Basin (which includes the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico) is from June 1 to November 30. Over the past one hundred years the earliest date a hurricane has struck the United States was June 9 in 1966, and the latest was November 30 in 1925. They have been observed as early as March 7 and as late as December 31. The peak of the season, however, is from mid-August to late October.

The season got off to a fast start when Tropical Storms Arlene and Bret formed during the month of June. There have been only twelve previous years since 1851 in which two or more storms formed in that month. In July, the Atlantic Basin saw unprecedented cyclone activity with the development of five named storms, breaking the previous record of four. The two major hurricanes that developed that month tied a record set in 1916. The combined total of seven storms for the two-month period established a record level of activity to begin the season.

The month of August was merely above average with the development of five tropical storms and two hurricanes. Unfortunately, one of those was Katrina. It is expected that Katrina will be recorded as the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States. It became a Category 5 storm on August 28. At that time it was located 250 miles south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and had peak winds of 175 mph. The hurricane came ashore near Plaquemines, Louisiana, early on August 29 as a Category 4 storm with winds of 140 mph. The full extent of its destruction is yet to be estimated.

The final tally for September will include at least five additional hurricanes, most of which remained in the Atlantic. Rita, the exception, was the seventeenth named storm of the season and the ninth hurricane. It reached Category 5 status on September 21, setting a record based on achieving a minimum central pressure of 897 millibars. With Katrina fresh in memory, widespread evacuations took place in coastal sections of southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana. Only three Category 5 hurricanes have made recorded landfall in the United States, one of those being Hurricane Andrew which brought widespread destruction to southeast Florida and southeast Louisiana in 1992. As luck would have it, Rita came ashore near Sabine Pass, Texas, as a Category 3 storm. As bad as it was for those living in the affected area and in recovering New Orleans, it could have been far worse.


What will October bring? If it were simply an average year, we would still have cause for concern through late October. Texas and Louisiana, states that suffer an equally high level of threat from major hurricanes in August and September, might start to relax a little. Florida, on the other hand, is most likely to see a major hurricane in October.

In spite of the improving outlook for the month of October, in most areas other than Florida, the risk this year remains elevated beyond the norm. William Gray and Philip Klotzbach of the Colorado State University Department of Atmospheric Science note that the current hurricane season is the most active since 1933. That year there were 21 tropical storms, five of which became major hurricanes. With two months left in this season, Gray and Klotzbach predict three more named tropical storms in October alone, two of which are expected to become hurricanes and one of which may be a major hurricane.

The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season is already one for the record books. Most powerful storms donít form until mid-August, with September 10 usually considered the peak. This year five hurricanes formed in July. Two of them, Dennis and Emily, became the most powerful hurricanes on record for that month. Gray and Klotzbach expect that by the time the 2005 hurricane season is over, we will have witnessed tropical cyclone activity at near-record levels.

Throughout most of October the likelihood of hurricanes remains high, but, given the extraordinary year to date, we need to remember that the season doesnít officially end until November 30.
http://www.ato.faa.gov
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Old 03-10-2005, 17:47   #9
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The Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) ~ http://www.hwn.org/
and
WX4NHC - National Hurricane Center Amateur Radio Station ~ http://www.wx4nhc.org/

The Hurricane Watch Net, and the operation at WX4NHC at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, are manned entirely by volunteers. We activate whenever a system has achieved hurricane status and is within 300 miles of populated land mass or at the request of the National Hurricane Center.

Net operations are conducted on 14.325 MHz

The Hurricane Watch Net serves two purposes:

1. To disseminate the latest National Weather Service advisories on active hurricanes in both the Atlantic and Pacific side of the Americas. This includes transmissions to any maritime amateur radio operators that may be in the affected area.
2. To gather real-time ground level weather conditions from amateurs in the affected areas and to get these reports to the National Hurricane Center via WX4NHC in a timely and accurate fashion.

Along with these weather reports, often come reports on damaged roads power outages, structural damage, phone and communications links, and of course reports on injuries and deaths. These non-weather report items are usually relayed to other nets in operation on 20, 40, and 80 who are focusing on Health & Welfare, or by the crew at WX4NHC to the appropriate agencies that stay in touch with the National Hurricane Center.
Do not transmit on 14.325 unless asked to do so by the net control.

The Hurricane Watch Net activates on 14.325.00 MHz whenever a hurricane is within 300 miles of projected landfall or becomes a serious threat to a populated area.

and

The Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) http://www.arrl.org/FandES/field/pscm/sec1-ch1.html

The Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) consists of licensed amateurs who have voluntarily registered their qualifications and equipment for communications duty in the public service when disaster strikes. Every licensed amateur, regardless of membership in ARRL or any other local or national organization, is eligible for membership in the ARES. The only qualification, other than possession of an Amateur Radio license, is a sincere desire to serve. Because ARES is an amateur service, only amateurs are eligible for membership.
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