The North American Monsoon Season begins on June 15 and will run through September 30. This is when we in the desert southwest get most of our annual rainfall. I thought this would be an opportune time to talk about some of the things weather spotters should do and have in their possession while out spotting storms. As you found out the SKYWARN® training does not talk about amateur radio. I am going to list some equipment that could make spotting easier. I am in no way suggesting that you should rush out and purchase all the equipment.
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 available to determine the best escape route in case the storm changes course. The best vantage point is on the right rear flank of the storm. From this vantage point the spotter can see what is coming behind the current storm. Unfortunately, we in the desert southwest cannot always have this vantage point due to the border with Mexico.
Form a team of two people. One is the driver that 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 spotters 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.
The station out at the El Paso NWS can handle HF, UHF/VHF analog, or UHF/VHF DV (D-Star) reports.
Having an APRS tracker in the vehicle is another asset. This way operators at the NWS can track your location on APRS.FI while in the field.
The D-Star mode brings some capabilities that are unique to the nets. The same radio can be used to receive voice reports 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 the spotters can be followed in the field on the Internet. D-PRS tracks are also available on APRS.fi. A word of advice when using D-PRS set the radio to beacon position information only when the PTT is depressed. The location can be determined, and the NWS operator can have your back. D-Star does not necessarily need the Internet present. It also works great on simplex or over a local D-Star repeater. However, D-Star can be used to quickly set up a wide-area network with the use of the Internet and reflectors. This would be especially effective in situations such as tornados when getting reports back to the state capital would be important. D-RATS has a map which is provided by Thunderforest Maps. There are different overlays that can be displayed. One is the Landscape, and this overlay shows contour lines. Tell D-RATS that an external GPS receiver is attached eliminates the guess work as to exactly where you really are. It will read the coordinates from the GPS receiver and insert them in the report form for you.
Have navigational aids such as a Magellan or Garmin GPS unit for the vehicle, and an up-to-date paper map as a backup is a good idea. 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 maps are current maps for laptops.
This is part one of a three-part article. We will get into some of the items that will be needed and some nice to have items while out spotting for the NWS next month.
The SKYWARN® name and logo are trademarked: SKYWARN® is a registered trademark of NOAA’s National Weather Service and are used by permission.
Questions and comments are always welcome and encouraged concerning this article. Send questions and comments to the address shown below.
Lew Maxwell, KB5HPT
Amateur Radio Emergency Service
DEC, District 6, WTX Section
TX RACES: DRO-8A