Hams Help East Coast Weather the Storm
September 21, 1999
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Ham radio volunteers along the East Coast from Florida through the New England States put their personal lives on hold for several days this week to volunteer for Hurricane Floyd duty. The huge storm, which sparked the largest mass evacuation in US history, caused a cascading series of Amateur Radio Emergency Service and Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service activations, starting in Florida and moving steadily northward. After sweeping ashore early Thursday, the by then fast-moving storm pushed past New Jersey and New York into New England and began to dissipate. The storm cleanup and recovery have begun.
The Hurricane Watch Net on 14.325 MHz was activated last weekend and remained on the air much of the week, gathering storm-related weather data as the storm passed over the Bahamas and made its way to the US shoreline. Information gathered on the net is funneled to forecasters via W4EHW at the National Hurricane Center. Net participants also were among the first to alert the rest of the world to initial damage reports from the battered islands. Many SKYWARN nets also tracked the storm's progress for regional forecasters and kept an eye out for possible tornado activity.
The Bahamas may have borne the brunt of Hurricane Floyd. Marty Brown, KF4TRG/C6A in Green Turtle Cay described extensive property damage to the Hurricane Watch Net. Operating from batteries Wednesday, she said there was significant tree damage in many areas, as well as roofs blown off, boat docks severely damaged, and power and telephone lines down. Brown collected reports from other hams via marine radio nets in the islands, including a report from Man o' War Cay that some two dozen vessels were aground there. Road damage--some severe--also was reported. Damage in the Abacos islands was said to be substantial.
"Oh, man, what a day!" Brown said as she took a moment to catch her breath.
Hurricane Watch Net participants and controllers were hampered by less than ideal propagation. Several other Bahamian stations also passed along damage reports. Nets in the Bahamas were handling emergency and health-and-welfare traffic on 40 meters. A health-and-welfare net has been established on 14.262 MHz as well.
In Florida and Georgia, many of the ARES members activated were assigned to handle communication duties at shelters housing the thousands of evacuees ordered out of coastal counties deemed most likely to be affected by Floyd. Dozens of ARES and RACES teams throughout Florida and Georgia were pressed into service to provide shelter communications and to staff emergency operation centers and assist outside relief agencies such as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.
"Luckily, Hurricane Floyd realized Georgia was very well prepared for his arrival, [so he] turned and remained far enough offshore to cause no significant damage to Georgia," said Georgia SEC Tom Rogers, KR4OL.
As the storm progressed, ARES and RACES activated regional nets on HF and, in some cases, VHF. The FCC declared voluntary communications emergencies for HF and some VHF repeater frequencies in several East Coast states. A voluntary communications emergency remained in effect at week's end for 3923 and 7232 kHz, plus or minus 3 kHz, in North Carolina, which suffered a lot of flooding in the eastern one-third of the state. All other declared voluntary communications emergencies have been rescinded.
Georgia ARES not only made use of HF nets but of the Internet. "The Georgia ARES Reflector was a key tool in the dissemination of factual information and pre-planning instructions," said SEC Rogers. "Not every operator in the ARES program has HF capabilities."
North Carolina still is reeling from the storm's effects, and the state has been declared a disaster area. At week's end the Red Cross still had more than 200 shelters open in North Carolina. At one point, some 41,000 people took refuge in North Carolina shelters. More than 620,000 residents were without power. North Carolina Section Manager Reed Whitten, AB4W, said that he was glad that the storm did not plow further into North Carolina than it did. Fifty one counties had activated their local EOCs due to Hurricane Floyd.
Storm-related stories are likely to be the order of the day during the Virginia State Convention in Virginia Beach September 18 and 19. The hamfest will proceed as scheduled, despite flooding and wind damage, compliments of Hurricane Floyd. Virginia's Tidewater area already was a bit waterlogged from the effects of Hurricane Dennis earlier in the month. As did other states, Virginia suffered flooding and power outages, along with some downed trees. The City of Portsmouth was without water due to a pumping station failure in Suffolk, where the reservoir is located. Virginia SM Lynn Gahagan, AF4CD, repots the water outage caused the failure of a water-cooled generator at the Portsmouth EOC, which took down communication there. Some parts of Virginia experienced 100 MPH winds.
Downgraded Thursday to a tropical storm, Floyd continued to move rapidly toward the northeast. High winds, heavy surf and higher-than-normal tides were reported along the coastline from New York's Long Island and northward into Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Heavy rain generated by the storm caused some local flooding. Downed trees and tree limbs and some power outages were reported in New England. Among other activities, hams in New England staffed weather-spotting nets on VHF to keep abreast of the storm's progress and any substantial damage or difficulties.
Hurricane Gert, still in the Atlantic, was not believed to pose a threat to the US, but could be a potential threat to Bermuda.
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