When some modern communications systems were knocked out recently by storms, local officials had no way of calling for help or reporting damage. That’s where amateur radio, or “HAM” operators stepped-in.
Tom Reis, SKYWARN Coordinator for the Des Moines National Weather Service Office, says HAM operators reported storm observations just before an EF-2 tornado hit Creston, causing severe damage to the hospital and other structures. Reis says they’re a valuable asset to discerning information that could help save lives.
“The National Weather Service recognizes the importance of ground truth information and a variety of methods to get the information to them at the Weather Service office,” Reis says. “And one of those methods is via amateur radio. The Weather Service has a quite extensive amateur radio station that they then staff when the time arises, when the need arises.”
When severe weather is imminent, the National Weather Service office in Des Moines calls in one of four trained operators to come out and coordinate HAM communications. When the storms hit April 14th, Reis, who lives nearby, was called into action.
Reis says the radar signature for the tornado was very brief , and almost imperceptible. He says by the time they could “pull the trigger” on warning residents, the twister had left the Creston area. After the storm passed, HAM operators began to provide communications support to local officials.
“We started getting backfill of information that there had been damage in Creston, and we know that some of the conventional communications lines for the county and for the city were compromised, and so the amateur radio operators were able to give us some intel to help the Weather Service to then know that we’ve got storms capable of producing this stuff, which helps further warnings,” Reis says.
The Weather Service learned from the radio op’s the hospital had been hit and there were injuries. That information Reis says, was very valuable, and enabled officials to direct state resources to the area. He says the day following the storm, officials discovered that the local school district lost the 80 foot tower that is used for the school bus repeater.
The Creston Amateur Radio Club offered their antenna, coax and space on their 200-foot tower to the school. Reis says it shows how the amateur radio operators provide a community service and provide for their community in a variety of different ways. Reis says it doesn’t take much to become an amateur radio operator, and people of all ages enjoy the hobby.
For more information, go to: www.dmraa.com. He also recommends everyone attend a free spotter training course, and purchase a NOAA Weather radio. The six-digit codes can be programmed with assistance from your local emergency management office, or by finding your county and surrounding county codes at www.nws.noaa.gov/nwr/nwrrcvr.htm.
By Ric Hanson, KJAN,Atlantic