Outsiders not welcome on Texas ham radio storm spotter net

Members only sign handing on door knobUpdate: Texas ARES official bans closed nets

Trained storm spotters in the National Weather Service (NWS) SKYWARN program who are also licensed amateur (ham) radio operators should not assume they’ll be welcome on SKYWARN nets while traveling.

A Wichita Falls, Texas newspaper article republished this week on the “Emergency Management” magazine website reports that a local official of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) is concerned that hams who are not members of the Wichita County ARES – especially hams who are storm chasers – try to check into the group’s SKYWARN net. The “Times Record News” report called such hams “intruders” who net control stations must “shoo” from their “closed radio frequency.” Such hams “are told they are welcome to listen — but not to talk,” the newspaper reports.

Here’s an audio recording of the exchange that prompted the newspaper story:

ARES is a program of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the national organization of ham radio operators. Regional, elected ARRL section managers appoint ARES leaders within their sections, including district emergency coordinators, who lead the program at a multi-county level.

The newspaper article quotes ARES district emergency coordinator Charlie Byars, W5GPO. This blog contacted Byars via email for more information about the situation in northern Texas. He confirms that during severe weather events, the W5US repeater system on which the local SKYWARN net operates becomes closed.

A repeater is a system commonly used by ham radio operators that receives a signal and re-transmits it, usually with higher power and from a better location, to provide greater communication range. Such equipment is often owned by clubs and sometimes by individuals. While the radio frequencies that repeaters use belong to the public, federal regulation 47 CFR 97.205(e) explicitly permits the owner of any repeater to limit its use to certain stations.

Byars explains that the W5US repeater is normally open to all hams, but its owners invoke 47 CFR 97.205(e) and close it to unauthorized users during severe weather events. But, Byars adds, that doesn’t prevent any ham from reporting severe weather. “We will take an emergency report from anyone, and refer the information to the NWS office,” he explains.

Beyond the transmission of an emergency report, however, the owners of the W5US repeater prohibit any use of the repeater during SKYWARN operations by anyone who is not a member of the local ARES group.

This blog contacted ARRL staff via email to learn whether the national organization offers guidance to leaders of its ARES program regarding the use of closed nets. The League’s April 23 reply appears in a separate post.

Fortunately for people like the Australian radio amateur who attempted to check into the Texas ARES net, the NWS office in Norman, Okla. – which serves that part of Texas. – welcomes “spotters, chasers and anyone else” to “submit storm reports at any time,” writes Rick Smith, KI5GT, the office’s warning coordination meteorologist. In an email to this blog, Smith suggests the following alternatives to ham radio, in order of office preference: Telephone, SpotterNetwork.org, a form on the office’s website and Twitter.

Find more details about various ways to participate in the SKYWARN program while traveling, in my March 6 post to this blog.

Is your local SKYWARN net closed to outsiders? Do you have any opinions on the practice? Leave a comment to let us know.

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