Tag Archives: skywarn

135 Attend Ft. Wayne SKYWARN storm spotter training

135 people attend SKYWARN storm spotter training presented Feb. 21, 2017 by meteorologists from the Northern Indiana National Weather Service office at the Public Safety Academy in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

This is a “reprint” of an article I submitted to the March issue of Allen County HamNews, the monthly newsletter of all three Fort Wayne-based ham radio clubs.

An unusually large crowd of 135 people attended SKYWARN storm spotter training at the Public Safety Academy on the south side of Fort Wayne Feb. 21. That compares to 87 in 2016 and 91 in 2015.

This year’s presentation included video and images from the Aug. 24, 2016 tornado outbreak. Some interesting tidbits from the presentation included:

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Indiana ham radio SKYWARN net changes name, scope

Allen County, Indiana SKYWARN net operations manual cover thumbnailThe amateur radio SKYWARN net based in Fort Wayne will undergo slight changes, effective Feb 1, 2017. Formerly known as the IMO SKYWARN Quadrant Two Net, it will now be referred to as the Allen County SKYWARN Net. The net will continue, however, to accept and relay reports from spotters outside Allen County, including stations in places like DeKalb and Defiance County, which were not officially part of the former quadrant net’s responsibility. Continue reading

How new friends changed my attitude about storm chasers

Storm chasers on a storm
Photo by Michael Enfield, used with permission

For some time, I’ve looked at amateur storm chasers with some disdain. I believed that too many were putting themselves into too much danger, just to see, photograph and/or video record tornados. I doubted that many chasers were truly motivated by improving public safety and even fewer were doing real science, no matter what they said. I was concerned that many chasers set poor examples for the general public and that their “antics” encouraged lesser informed people to take uneducated and unwise risks.

I’ve been a SKYWARN storm spotter for more than a quarter century. When talking to friends, family members and even journalists about my volunteer service to the National Weather Service (NWS), I was careful to make sure they understood that I’m not a chaser, like the people they’ve seen on TV or on the Web. My ultimate goal, I’d explain, isn’t to see tornadoes, it’s to help protect my community from possible storms by staying close to home and relaying valuable information to the NWS.

So it was with some trepidation that I attended an event in November, 2015 called INChaserCon, a one-day convention in the Indianapolis area for storm chasers. I’m glad I went. Some of the people I met there subsequently changed my thinking. They are admittedly driven by a desire to see tornadoes. But my subsequent experience with them demonstrated that they’re also very passionate about getting reports to the NWS.

After the chasers learned that I have access to NWSChat – a private, internet-based text chatroom run by the NWS – they invited me to join them on Zello, a smartphone app with which they communicate with each other—so I could relay their reports to the NWS via NWSChat.

That’s exactly what happened during the August, 2016 tornado outbreak in Indiana and Ohio. As a tornadic storm moved east from Kokomo into the county warning area of my local NWS office, storm chasers John Tinney, Eric Lawson and David Buell reported wall clouds, funnel clouds, etc. via Zello. I relayed those reports via NWSChat.

Then, a storm over my own home in Fort Wayne, Indiana received a tornado warning. Storm chaser Michael Enfield immediately headed toward that storm. Via Zello, he promptly reported a wall cloud, then funnel clouds and then a tornado for me to relay via NWSChat. The NWS survey report recorded the time of the tornado’s initial touchdown as 5:27 p.m. – the same time as Enfield’s report, confirming that he saw and reported the tornado when it first touched down. That storm eventually did EF-3 damage to a rural part of Allen County, Indiana.

Throughout the event, any time the chasers had something to report, if I wasn’t immediately available on Zello, they’d keep trying until I acknowledged their reports. Getting reports through to the NWS was clearly very important to them. By the end of the event, I had typed 50 reports into NWSchat. All but about 15 of those came from storm chasers on Zello. The rest came from storm spotters via ham radio.

By aggressively chasing storms, my new friends put themselves in positions to immediately report weather that was not near any traditional SKYWARN spotters at the time. By religiously reporting, they played significant roles in protecting people in the paths of the storms.

A Facebook post by Lawson sums up pretty well how this particular group of storm chasers sees things:

“I noticed a developing supercell heading towards Kokomo was looking really strong and rushed out the door. By the time I was on interstate 69 southbound the strong EF3 was already in progress and heading towards the town in which I have spent many days of my youth, and is home to many great friends and their families. Hearing reports of the devastation in progress on the radio made my heart sink. I was rushing south in horror wondering if anyone I knew had been hurt. This is the moment that things really changed for me, I felt less excited about seeing tornadoes, and much more concerned with providing accurate information to keep people informed.”

I have no doubt there are other storm chasers out there who rarely report their observations to the NWS. There are likely some that don’t care about anything but the excitement of seeing a tornado.

But I’m convinced that the storm chasers I know are not among these. They’ve changed my attitude about chasers.

Half of Indiana has marginal risk of severe storms today

Indiana map showing (Left) Risk of severe weather between 9 a.m. EDT today and 8 a.m. EDT tomorrow. Dark green shading: Marginal risk. Light green: thunderstorms possible but none expected to be severe. (Center) Probability of damaging straight-line thunderstorm winds of 58 mph or stronger within 25 miles of any point. Brown: 5% (marginal risk). Unshaded: Less than 5%. (Right) Probability of hail of one inch diameter or larger within 25 miles of any point. Brown: 5% (marginal risk). Unshaded: Less than 5%. Source: SPC "Day 1 Convective Outlook" issued at 8:52 a.m. EDT.
(Left) Risk of severe weather between 9 a.m. EDT today and 8 a.m. EDT tomorrow. Dark green shading: Marginal risk. Light green: thunderstorms possible but none expected to be severe. (Center) Probability of damaging straight-line thunderstorm winds of 58 mph or stronger within 25 miles of any point. Brown: 5% (marginal risk). Unshaded: Less than 5%. (Right) Probability of hail of one inch or more in diameter within 25 miles of any point. Brown: 5% (marginal risk). Unshaded: Less than 5%. Source: SPC “Day 1 Convective Outlook” issued at 8:52 a.m. EDT. Click the image for a larger version.

Half of Indiana (shaded in dark green on the map, above-left) has a marginal risk of severe thunderstorms between 9 a.m. EDT today and 8 a.m. EDT tomorrow, according to the “Day 1 Convective Outlook” that the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center (SPC) issued at 8:52 a.m.

The primary risks are damaging straight-line thunderstorm winds of 58 mph or stronger and hail of one inch or more in diameter. The probability of either occurring within 25 miles of any point in the slight risk area is five percent.

The normal wind probability for any May 12 is about two percent, according to climatology data from the National Severe Storms Laboratory. Today’s probability, therefore, is roughly twice the normal probability for this date.

The normal hail probability for any May 12 is about one percent, so today’s probability is roughly five times normal.

There’s no reason to be alarmed by a marginal risk, but if you live in that half of Indiana, it’s wise to remain weather-aware today, especially if you’ll be involved in any outdoor activities (e.g. baseball games, etc.). Remember that all thunderstorms, severe or not, bring lightning, which kills people who are outdoors.

The SPC plans to update its outlook for today by 12:30 p.m. EDT.

Slight risk of severe storms in Southern Indiana Tues. May 10

National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center Day 2 Convective Outlook Mapy for Indiana issued May 9, 2016 shows a slight risk of severe storms in extreme southern Indiana between 8 a.m. EDT May 10 and 8 a.m. EDT May 11, 2016Extreme southern Indiana (shaded in yellow on the map above) has a slight risk of severe storms tomorrow, according to the “Day 2 Convective Outlook” that the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center issued early this morning. The slight risk area includes Vincennes, Jasper, Corydon and Evansville, among other communities.

A slight risk on a day-two outlook means a 15 percent probability of any one or more of the following types of severe weather occurring within 25 miles of any point between 8 a.m. EDT tomorrow and 8 a.m. EDT Wednesday:

  • Tornado
  • Damaging straight-line severe thunderstorm winds of 58 mph or stronger.
  • Large hail of one inch or more in diameter.

The normal probability of one or more of the above on May 10 is approximately three percent, according to climatology data from the National Severe Storms Laboratory. That means tomorrow’s probabilities in the slight risk area of Indiana are approximately three times what’s normal on May 10.

The SPC plans to update its outlook for tomorrow by 1:30 p.m. EDT.

ARRL HQ: No guidance on closed ARES nets

ARRL logoA staff member of the American Radio Relay League, the United States’ largest organization of amateur (ham) radio operators, says he is not aware of any “ARRL guidance to restrict participation in a net.”

Sean Kutzko, KX9X, media and public relations manager, responded April 23 to an inquiry this blog made of the League’s emergency preparedness manager April 12. I asked the questions below after learning of a newspaper article about a Texas Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) net turning away a licensed amateur. ARES is a program of the ARRL.

  • Does the ARRL provide guidance to its ARES leaders regarding the restriction of participation in ARES nets (i.e. the operation of “closed” nets during which only certain amateurs are permitted to transmit)?
  • If so, what guidance does the ARRL provide on this matter?
  • Under what circumstances (if any) should a local ARES net be closed to all outsiders?
  • What legal authority (if any) does an ARES net control station have to bar any licensed amateur from checking in and/or participating?
  • By barring certain amateurs from participating, does an ARES net risk interfering with a licensed amateur’s ability to transmit an emergency message in violation of 97.101(c)?

Below is the verbatim response from the League’s PR guy:

“One of the cardinal rules of all facets of Amateur Radio is “listen, listen, listen.” If Amateurs can provide data of _legitimate_ value to a weather net that is responding to a weather situation, they should be able to do so.  That said, if an Amateur has nothing to contribute to such a net, the Amateur should remain silent to allow legitimate traffic to be passed.

“I’m not of aware of any ARRL guidance to restrict participation in a net. Amateurs should listen to the net control station for guidance on what information is needed, and remain silent if they cannot provide information that fulfills the requested need. Net control stations should listen to the request being made of participating stations, as bona fide emergency traffic takes priority and can come from anyone.”

Texas ARES official bans closed nets

North Texas ARRL section Twitter logoA high-level Texas official of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) has created a policy that bars ARES groups under his purview from prohibiting the participation of any licensed amateur radio operator in their ARES nets.

As this blog explained in an earlier post, 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 section emergency coordinators (SEC), who lead the program at a section level and district emergency coordinators (DEC), who lead it at a multi-county level.

Matthew Morris, K5ICR is SEC for the ARRL North Texas section, which is made up of dozens of counties, including Wichita County. As SEC, Morris has authority to create policy for all ARES organizations in his section.

When contacted by this blog via email, Morris wrote, “I’m not sure it was so much a revision of policy but just that we codified into policy what’s been a long-standing best practice for ARES.”

The newly codified policy includes two parts; a definitions section and the section below:

Section 1.02 Closed Nets Prohibited

(a) All ARES nets shall be open for participation by any licensed amateur. No net control station or ARES leadership acting in an official capacity shall prohibit the good faith participation of any licensed amateur.

(b) Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the establishment of minimum reporting criteria by a net control station or ARES leadership as appropriate to the situation at hand, so long as these criteria are not established intentionally or knowingly to prevent the participation of an amateur or group of amateurs.

Morris promulgated the policy after an article in a Texas newspaper described the Wichita County ARES net shooing off an amateur radio operator who attempted to check into the group’s severe weather net. On an audio recording of the net, one can hear net controller Jerry R. Stanford, KD5INN tell Australian storm chaser Daniel Shaw, VK2FSRV, “I do not want to hear you transmit on this frequency. We have a closed net.”

In a subsequent email to this blog, Charlie Byars, the DEC responsible for Wichita County (who the newspaper article quoted), confirmed that the Wichita County ARES did not permit outsiders to participate in its net, except to transmit emergency reports. It accomplished this by declaring the W5US repeater — on which the net operates — to be closed, with the blessing of the repeater’s owners. A closed repeater is one that only stations authorized by the repeater owner may use.

The North Texas section’s new policy prohibits the practice of conducting an ARES net on a closed repeater. The SEC has no authority, however, over storm spotter nets that are not affiliated with the ARES.

This blog sent email April 19 to the trustee of the Wichita Falls repeater that the Wichita County storm spotters use to ask, “Will the W5US repeater comply during future severe weather nets and end its policy of becoming a closed repeater during such nets?” If the trustee responds, I’ll update this article accordingly.

It is interesting to note that one day after Morris issued the section’s new ARES net policy, the Facebook page of the Wichita County ARES changed. The page title changed to “Wichita County SKYWARN” and the profile picture changed from the ARES logo to the SKYWARN logo. That same day, Justin Reed, NV8Q reported on a storm chaser Web forum that “As of today the Wichita County ARES group has renamed themselves to Wichita County Skywarn in order to get around the ‘open net’ requirement. So nothing has really changed here.”

Today, this blog reached out again to Byars via email, who replied, “As far as I know we are still ARES, and will stay that way.” Later the same day, the group’s Facebook page changed again. Its title became “Wichita County ARES / Skywarn” and its profile picture became the the ARES and SKYWARN logos side-by-side.

This blog congratulates Morris on his prompt action to implement best practices in section policy and encourages all ARRL sections to enact similar policies, if they do not already exist.

The editor of this blog leads a SKYWARN ham radio net in Indiana. A future post will discuss how that net operates and why all licensed radio amateurs are welcome and encouraged to participate fully in it.

Audio: Texas ARES NCS rejects Australian storm chaser

Yaesu FT-8900 dual-band amateur radio transceiver tuned to 146.94 MHz and 147.255 MHzIn an earlier blog post, I reported that the owners of a Texas ham radio repeater prohibit use of the system by licensed amateur radio operators who are not members of the local Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) group when an ARES storm spotter net is in session.

My blog post was based on a newspaper article about the net shooing off a ham who wanted to check in.

Below is an audio clip of an exchange between Australian storm chaser Daniel Shaw, VK2FSRV and net control station operator Jerry R. Stanford, KD5INN. Listen and decide for yourself what you think of this exchange. I welcome your comments, especially regarding whether your local SKYWARN net prohibits check-ins by outsiders and why or why not.

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.

Some highlights of the 2016 DuPage County Advanced Severe Weather Seminar

The DuPage County (Illinois) Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management hosts an annual severe weather seminar in Chicago’s western suburbs to provide advanced training to SKYWARN storm spotters. This year’s 25th-annual event was March 12 at Wheaton College and was attended by approximately 500 people. Here are a few tidbits that I took from the seminar.

Spotters continue to be essential

“A dead spotter does no good for anybody,” said National Weather Service (NWS) Storm Prediction Center lead forecaster Roger Edwards. He reassured spotters that they continue to be important, even in this high-tech age, but that it’s better to miss seeing something than to risk getting hurt.

Edwards suggested that spotters plan spotting locations in advance, so they’ll know where to go for the best safety as well as the best views. He also provided a list of questions spotters should ask themselves on a severe weather day, such as what types of storms to expect, how to expect them to move, etc.

A slide from a presentation SPC lead forecaster Roger Edwards provided during the 2016 DuPage County Advanced Severe Weather Seminar
A slide from a presentation SPC lead forecaster Roger Edwards provided during the 2016 DuPage County Advanced Severe Weather Seminar

Edwards instructed spotters that if they can hear a tornado, it’s too close and they should be in shelter. He also pointed out that even the inflow from a big tornado can damage or roll a vehicle.

Spotters can help protect others by sharing preparedness info

Warning coordination meteorologist Mike Bardou of the Chicago NWS office spoke about severe weather preparedness. He described a preparedness framework based on four verbs: Plan, Practice, Monitor and Act.

A slide from a presentation that NWS meteorologist Mike Bardou provided at the 2016 DuPage County Severe Weather Seminar: Plan, Practice, Monitor, Act
A slide from a presentation that NWS meteorologist Mike Bardou provided at the 2016 DuPage County Severe Weather Seminar: Plan, Practice, Monitor, Act.

He encouraged spotters to spread the word and help others prepare, especially employers, fellow employees, families, neighbors and friends. As I have written in this blog, it’s often the case that such people don’t know anyone else who knows as much about weather as do spotters. If spotters are passionate enough about weather safety to spend hours watching storms, they should be equally motivated to help others learn how to protect themselves from severe weather. That, in fact, is one of the main reasons I created this blog.

Busy interstate highways are a major concern

During a presentation on storm structure, NWS Chicago meteorologist Ben Deubelbeiss spoke on the danger of getting trapped by a tornado on a busy interstate highway. Imagine what any of Chicagoland’s busy interstates would be like if a tornado hit it during the afternoon rush hour! Deubelbeiss said many people have no idea what to do in that situation. He reminded the audience that crouching under an overpass is the worst thing to do, because the Venturi effect increases the speed of the wind as it blows through. This often leaves no option but to get as low as possible in a ditch while remaining mindful of the possibility of a flash flood during a high-precipitation storm.

Deubelbeiss encouraged spotters to always call in reports, even if the NWS has already issued warnings for the area. The NWS might have no other way to know about the tornado or other phenomena spotters see.

A slide from a presentation that NWS meteorologist Ben Deubelbeiss provided during the 2016 DuPage County Advanced Severe Weather Seminar depicting the
A slide from a presentation that NWS meteorologist Ben Deubelbeiss provided during the 2016 DuPage County Advanced Severe Weather Seminar depicting the “right-hand” rule for spotting supercell thunderstorms.

And when spotting typical supercells, Deubelbeiss reminded spotters that they should follow the “right-hand rule”; positioning themselves with the storm’s heavy rain and hail to their right and updraft to the left.

Time-lapse storm photography aids education

College of DuPage meteorology professor Victor Gensini demonstrated how time-lapse photography of storms facilitates identifying features. Here’s an example:

Gensini uses a digital SLR but he said that even a smartphone on a cheap tripod can suffice.

Gensini also spoke about his recently published research on forecasting tornado activity weeks in advance. A recent interview of Gensini in “Forbes” provides a good explanation.