November 2019

November 2019

DEC Bulletin

Last month I talked about what SKYWARN Spotters should do when we get the SKYWARN activation order. This month I have some after thoughts about things weather spotters should do. Then talk about some tool’s spotters should have in their Go-Bags while out spotting storms.

But first, we are called spotters because that is what the NWS (National Weather Service™) wants us to do. Spot and report back what we see. Their mission is the safety of lives and property in their County Warning Area (CWA). We provide their early warning defense.

Safety is of course first and foremost in weather spotting. Always pick a vantage point where you are not in the path of the storm. Keep a safe distance from the storm. Have a map of the area to determine the best escape route in case the storm changes course. The best vantage point is on the right flank of the storm. From this vantage point the spotter can see what is coming behind the storm.

Form a team of two people. One is the driver and concentrates only on driving and the road conditions. The other person is the navigator, spotter and radio operator. The radio operator should always be in contact with the net control station if a net is in progress. Otherwise, it would be a good idea to have a fixed station on frequency that is aware you are in the field and near the storm. The net control station or fixed station should also have a radar image available and can warn the mobile spotters in the field of possible storms coming up behind them.

Our station out at the El Paso NWS can handle HF, UHF/VHF FM or UHF/VHF digital (D-Star) reports. The D-Star mode brings some capabilities that are unique to the nets. We can use the same radio to communicate with and run D-RATS to send/receive low speed data spotter report forms with attached photos. D-Star also has its own form of APRS called D-PRS so we can follow the spotters in the field on the Internet. A word of advice when using D-PRS set the radio to beacon position information only when the PTT is depressed. We will see the bread crumb droppings as you key the radio and report while in route. We can determine your path and have your back. D-Star does not necessarily have to have the Internet present. It also works great on simplex frequencies or over a local D-Star repeater. However, with Internet and reflectors D-Star can be used to quickly setup a wide-area network. This would be especially effective in situations such as tornados where getting reports back to the state capital would be important. If you have an external GPS and tell D-RATS that it is attached to the computer then this eliminates the guess work as to exactly where you really are. It will read the coordinates from the GPS and insert them in the spotter report form for you.

Spotters should have navigational aids such as a Magellan or Garmin GPS unit for the vehicle, and a current paper map as a backup. City and county maps will assist in finding escape routes. Topographical maps provide contour lines and elevation that can assist in determining a suitable location to spot from. Google Earth and Open Street maps are current maps for the laptops.

Having Cell phones for text messaging is also a good idea. The NWS is using social media now so having a Twitter account allows for notifying the NWS directly. Cell phones can keep spotters aware of the latest watches and warnings put out by the NWS. Having an app on the phone such as Weather Bug will also give the spotter a radar image to look at. It can also tell the spotter what towns or cities might be in the storm’s path. The cell phone can also double as a still photo camera or can be used as a video camera. Pictures speak a thousand words as they say.

Having a handheld anemometer will come in real handy for taking wind speed readings. The handheld units also provide much more information as well. Plus, some of them will upload the data to a laptop now and sending this information as an attachment using D-RATS to the NWS is simple.

Go-Kits…just the same as in EMCOMM weather spotters should have a go-kit that is taken every time a spotter goes mobile. Plan from a few hours up to a few days just in case. This go-kit is especially built for storm spotting. I would recommend looking at the ARRL Operating Manual in the Emergency Communication Chapter for a list on items to have in the Go-Kit but, tailor it for storm spotting. Just as with EMCOMM there should be personal items, medications, blankets, water, first aid kits, items for the vehicle, flashlight (with spare batteries) and a copy of the Basic and/or Advanced Spotters Guide. Keep the vehicle ready for emergencies. Have a set of jumper cables and a shovel on board. If a handheld radio is taken have spare dry cell batteries on hand. Purchase the dry cell battery pack for the radio. When the rechargeable batteries go dead in the field there isn’t anywhere to recharge them. Another good tool to have in the toolbox is a good strong pair of binoculars. They will help in viewing the cloud rotation or a better look at other parts of the cloud.

Questions and comments concerning this article are always welcome and encouraged. Send an email to the address shown below.

Lew Maxwell. KB5HPT 
Amateur Radio Emergency Service 
DEC, District 6, WTX Section