Associated Churches Active in Disaster Prepares for National Responses

Associated Churches Active in Disaster logo

A Fort Wayne-based Christian disaster ministry will be able to send volunteers to out-of-town disasters, thanks to a new relationship with a national Christian organization. Associated Churches Active in Disaster (ACAD) — the disaster ministry of Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County — announced that it will coordinate such responses with Operation Blessing International, a non-profit humanitarian organization based in Virginia.

“Christians are usually among the first to arrive at a disaster scene and the last to leave,” said Roger Reece, Executive Pastor of Associated Churches. “But well-meaning believers can actually hinder aid by arriving on their own, without coordination. Our relationship with Operation Blessing provides a way for local Christians to pitch in without unintentionally causing problems.”

Read more…

Public safety officials in Goshen sound tornado false alarm

Whatever agency has responsibility for activating tornado sirens in Goshen essentially sounded a false alarm yesterday.

According to a report in the Goshen News, tornado sirens sounded after Goshen Police received reports of a funnel cloud. The Goshen News report does not say who reported the funnel cloud to police, so we don’t know from that story if any of the calls came from normally credible sources or if they came only from untrained members of the general public. We can assume, however, that the people who reported a funnel cloud to police were probably looking at the cloud shown in the photo below.

Photo of beaver tail cloud near Gosen
Photo of “beaver tail” cloud near Goshen, from NWS website.

As well-trained SKYWARN storm spotters know, “funnel cloud” has a specific definition in meteorology: It’s a rotating cloud that often exists before or after a tornado. Not every funnel-shaped cloud is a funnel cloud and not every rotating funnel cloud becomes a tornado.

Unfortunately for those in charge of Goshen’s tornado sirens, the cloud that appeared near Goshen was not a rotating funnel cloud and the city was not in danger of a tornado.

National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologists later confirmed that the cloud was a formation known colloquially as a “beaver tail,” which is formed as air cools while being sucked into a thunderstorm, thus allowing water vapor in that air to condense into a cloud. These clouds are normally mostly horizontal. When viewed from a certain angle, however, they can appear to be reaching toward the ground. The northern Indiana NWS office posted an excellent explanation on its website. Their article includes a helpful pair of photos of the same beaver tail taken from two different locations, demonstrating the illusion that can occur.

So, how are people supposed to know the difference? A true funnel cloud rotates. A beaver tail doesn’t. “If it doesn’t spin, don’t call it in,” is a mnemonic I learned in spotter training.

Members of the general public who have never taken SKYWARN training have little way of knowing this. So what’s a public safety agency to do when it gets reports of a funnel cloud from the general public? Here’s my opinion:

  1. Train public safety dispatchers to be aware that some funnel-shaped clouds that might prompt citizens to call 911 are not actual funnel clouds and therefore represent no danger to the community. This knowledge will help dispatches treat funnel cloud reports with a healthy amount of skepticism.
  2. Before sounding tornado sirens, seek confirmation from trained field personnel (e.g. nearby fire fighters, law enforcement officers, EMA volunteers and/or others known to have received SKYWARN training).
  3. Before sounding tornado sirens, place a quick call to the NWS. Ask if atmospheric conditions are right for the formation of tornadoes and whether NWS radar indicates any sign of rotation where the funnel cloud was reported. The NWS office can also tell the local public safety agency whether the NWS office has received any reports from trained spotters that would confirm or contradict public funnel cloud reports.

At the very least, any time a local public safety agency activates tornado sirens on its own (e.g. without an NWS warning), that agency should immediately notify the NWS that it has done so, and why. Why? Because without that notification, nobody who depends on NOAA weather radio or broadcast media for their warnings will know what’s going on!

Not everyone can hear tornado sirens where they live and work. Activating tornado sirens without contacting NWS to activate the entire warning system fails to protect those citizens who are beyond the range of sirens.

What do you think? Please add your comments below. And by the way, please understand that this post represents my personal view, not necessarily the views of any agency or organization.

Severe potential less clear

The National Weather Service did not issue a weather watch for northern Indiana despite an 8:52 a.m. mesoscale discussion that indicated NWS would soon issue a watch. In addition, the potential for severe weather today in northeastern Indiana and northwestern Ohio has become less clear, according to the updated Day 1 Convective Outlook that the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center issued at 12:27 p.m.

Forecasters kept the area of slight risk and probabilities the same as in the previous outlook. But forecasters wrote that trends in general were weakening and that except for eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, “the potential for substantive additional strong/severe storm development across the remainder of the adjacent lower Great Lakes region is becoming more unclear.”

Weather radio test postponed

908 AM EDT WED AUG 7 2013 /808 AM CDT WED AUG 7 2013/





Slight risk of severe weather today

1300Z Day 1 convective outlook map

Update: Severe potential less clear. Read more.

SKYWARN storm spotters in northeastern Indiana, northern Ohio and southeastern lower Michigan might need to activate late this morning and/or this afternoon, due to a slight risk of clusters of severe thunderstorms with damaging straight-line winds and large hail. Among other areas, the slight risk area includes the entire eastern half of the area served by the northern Indiana National Weather Service (NWS) office (IMO SKYWARN quadrants one and two). In addition to severe wind and hail, locally heavy rain is possible.

Within the slight risk area, there is a 15 percent probability of damaging thunderstorm winds or wind gusts of 50 knots (58 mph) or higher and hail of one inch diameter or larger within 25 miles of a point and a two percent probability of a tornado, according to the Day 1 Convective Outlook that the NWS Storm Prediction Center issued at 8:57 a.m. EDT. Read more about outlook probabilities.

In addition, SPC issued a mesoscale discussion at 8:52 a.m. EDT in which forecasters indicated that they would very likely issue a watch for northern Indiana and northwestern Ohio shortly.

Map from mesoscale discussion 1654

Now for some meteorology: A cold front will move east-southeastward into the area today. Meanwhile, forecasters expect a corridor of moderate to strong atmospheric instability to form this afternoon across portions of Illinois, Indiana, lower Michigan and Ohio ahead of the front. These factors could combine with strong changes in wind speed with altitude to allow thunderstorms to develop near the cold front, with isolated severe wind and/or hail. The number and severity of storms depend somewhat on the amount of sunshine we get this morning. Heavy cloud cover would limit the atmospheric destabilization that severe storms require. Read more in an Area Forecast Discussion from the northern Indiana NWS office.

As always make sure you’ll be aware of any watches or warnings that NWS might issue today and remember, the Fort Wayne NOAA Weather Radio transmitter remains weak, so depending on your location, you might need another way to get watches and warnings.

Slight risk of severe weather tomorrow (Wednesday)

Map from 0600Z day 2 convective outlook

Update: The 1:20 p.m. EDT update to the Day 2 Convective Outlook looks pretty much the same as this morning’s version. Our next look at tomorrow’s severe weather risk comes at about 2 a.m. tomorrow, when the first Day 1 Convective Outlook of the day comes out.

A slight risk of severe weather exists throughout much of Indiana and Ohio between 8 a.m. EDT Wednesday, August 7 and 8 a.m. EDT Thursday, August 8, according to the Day 2 Convective Outlook that the National Weather Service (NWS) Storm Prediction Center (SPC) issued at 2 a.m. EDT today. The slight risk area includes all of IMO SKYWARN quadrant two.

The outlook indicates a 15 percent probability of severe weather within 25 miles of any point in the slight risk area. The greatest risks are straight-line winds and possibly some hail. Read more about outlook probabilities.

The storms are most likely in the afternoon tomorrow, according to the Hazardous Weather Outlook that the norther Indiana NWS office issued at 5:11 a.m. EDT. That outlook also indicates that SKYWARN spotter activation might be needed tomorrow afternoon.

We get our next look at tomorrow’s weather situation when the SPC issues an updated Day 2 Convective Outlook at approximately 1:30 p.m. EDT today.

Newspaper article examines lack of Peru tornado warning

The National Weather Service (NWS) never issued a tornado warning for Peru July 10, where a brief EF-1 tornado did significant structural damage. In a recent article in the Kokomo Tribune, NWS warning coordination meteorologist Michael Lewis explains the two reasons the Northern Indiana office didn’t issue a tornado warning:

First, he said, weather radars didn’t clearly indicate there was tornado activity in the area. Second, there were no reliable reports of a tornado from trained spotters on the ground.

Lewis reminded Tribune readers, however, that the NWS had issued a severe thunderstorm warning and that people should not ignore such warnings.

“… a severe thunderstorm warning issued, which means there was the potential for life-threatening conditions,” he said. “You don’t have to have a tornado to get tornado-like damage. High winds can be just as bad.”

Tribune reporter Carson Gerber did a pretty good job on the story. Check it out.

Traffic handling: The value of VOX

Photo of VOX control on a transciever

It’s a very good idea to use the voice-operated relay (VOX) function of your transceiver when sending traffic on SSB. If you use VOX, your rig will automatically stop transmitting between words. This will enable you to hear the receiving station, should that operator need to interrupt you for any reason.

I recently heard a real-life example of why this is important. During a section-level NTS SSB net, a net control station (NCS) was sending a radiogram to another net member. The NCS was not using VOX. His transmitter was therefore on continuously for the entire preamble and address block, until he finally transmitted the “break” between the address block and text. Then and only then did the NCS stop transmitting so he could hear a response from the receiving station.

Unfortunately on this day, the receiving station was having a problem with intermittent high noise levels in his receiver. The NCS had only transmitted for a couple of seconds when the noise popped up at the receiving end, making it impossible for the receiving station to copy the NCS. The receiving station tried to interrupt the NCS and let him know that radiogram reception was no longer possible, but to no avail. He had to wait and wait and wait until the “break” finally came.

Because the NCS was not using VOX, a considerable amount of net time was wasted. Fortunately, this is not a major issue during normal times of low traffic volume. But during a period of high volume, such as after a disaster, every second of net time counts.

You might think, “I’ll remember to turn on VOX during high traffic volumes.” But the fact is, as any musician knows, we perform as we practice.

Using VOX during the transmission of all radiograms is a best practice that all net control stations and other experienced operators should model for the newer traffic handlers among us.

Spotters protect quadrant during July storms

A line of severe thunderstorms came through northeastern Indiana and northwestern Ohio July 10. When the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm watch at 12:31 p.m. EDT, IMO SKYWARN went into standby mode on the 146.88 MHz ACARTS repeater. By the time the operation ended at 3:28 p.m., 35 stations had participated in the operation, representing the following counties: Allen (Ind.), Allen (Ohio), Blackford, Huntington, Noble, Whitley and Van Wert. IMO SKYWARN received 12 reports, which were relayed via telephone to the National Weather Service office in North Webster.

In quadrant two, the system dropped some hail and did straight-line wind damage, including blowing down trees and power lines. Most of those reports came from Blackford, Jay and Van Wert Counties.

This is the same storm system that briefly dropped an EF1 tornado on Peru, which is in IMO SKYWARN quadrant three. What happened in Peru emphasized the value of the 35 stations who were involved in the quadrant two operation. The National Weather Service did not receive any reports of the Peru storm damage until hours after it occurred – and well after the same storm system had passed through quadrant two. With 35 stations available during a weekday, I’m confident that the NWS would have heard about such damage much sooner, had it been on our area. Keep up the good work!

Online training still available

Photo of a funnel cloud look alike over the Fort Wayne area in March, 2013.
This funnel cloud look-alike appeared over Fort Wayne in March, 2013. Training helps spotters tell the difference between rain shafts like this and true funnel clouds.

While we can be proud that so many hams show up and are ready to report when severe weather threatens, some of those well-meaning hams might not have recently received National Weather Service spotter training. Training is important for many reasons. It helps you know what to look for and how not to be fooled by “look-alike” phenomena that doesn’t represent danger. Most importantly, it helps you know how to remain safe while serving as a storm spotter.

Online independent study storm spotter training became available this year. It’s easy to use and very informative. In July, the National Weather Service informed me that 32 Allen County (Ind.) residents have completed the online training. Of those, 12 are licensed ham radio operators: K9JDF, KB9WWN, KA9IPA, KB9WWM, KC9CGN, KC9EZP, KC9HIY, KC9MUT, N9MEL, N9UKE, W9GGA and W9LW. If you’ve completed the online training but aren’t on that list, contact me at and I’ll put you in touch with the appropriate person at the National Weather Service. If you’re one of the hams who participate in SKYWARN operations but have not taken the new online spotter training course, I strongly urge you to complete the training. You can find it at this URL:

SKYWARN hams program weather radios

Photo of N9TB and KC9MUT programming weather radios at a Walgreens store
Tom Baker, N9TB (left) and Charles Ward, KC9MUT, help visitors to a Walgreens store program their new weather radio.

In my June and July columns for Allen County HamNews, I forgot to mention that several local hams provided a valuable public service in late May, by helping people program the Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) decoders on their NOAA Weather Radios. Properly configured radios reduce the incentive to turn off weather radios that would otherwise activate for warnings affecting distant areas. Several organizations hosted the weather radio programming events, including Walgreens, Kroger, WANE-TV and the Allen County Department of Homeland Security. One event occurred at a Walgreens on West Jefferson Blvd and the other happened a few days later at the Kroger on Dupont Road. The following hams volunteered their time at one or both of the events: Tom Baker, N9TB; Jim Moehring, KB9WWM; Joseph Lawrence, K9RFZ; Tom Rupp, KU8T; Charles Ward, KC9MUT; and Jay Farlow, W9LW. Together they programmed a total of more than 100 weather radios.