What will you need or should do prior to an actual SKYWARN® Activation? There is more to spotting than just setting in that easy chair and responding to a net. SKYWARN® Spotters must be prepared for activation. SKYWARN® Spotting could require deployment to a field location where the vehicle is the only cover. Our job as spotters is to report information or confirm information that the National Weather Service (NWS) does not have. So, we may be required to go to a safe location where we can get a good look at the approaching storm and collect information.
There is a plan (SOP) in place for SKYWARN® Spotters in the El Paso area. The SKYWARN® Weather Spotter.pdf on http://www.hamradioelpaso.com/emergency-coordination. This is a copy of our SOP. Without a plan, any unprepared response to activations would certainly wind up being a disaster and an embarrassment.
There are some things that should become a daily routine. One thing is that visiting the NWS website https://www.weather.gov/epz/, and look at the seven-day forecasts. I might point out that long range forecasts are not set in stone. The further out the more unpredictable they could be. Changes will happen. At any rate, an idea of what to expect can be made. Will there be a possibility of an activation in the coming days?
The next item to check is the Hazardous Weather Outlook (HWO). This is more specific and more up to date forecasting. At the bottom of the report a Spotter Activation Statement is given. Pay attention to this statement. There is not a given time that the report must be put out so be sure to check back frequently to get todays statement.
Another tool is to look at the Storm Prediction Centers website http://www.spc.noaa.gov/. There are many different tools available on this website that could be beneficial to getting a better idea of the short-term predications.
Is the Go-Bag ready and loaded? Have the last-minute items been put in the bag? It would be a good idea to make a check list of items that should be in the Go-Bag. When the bag is loaded in the vehicle DO NOT put it in the trunk. It should be where it can be reached without getting out of the vehicle.
Batteries, batteries, batteries. It is important to remind everyone to take stock of the different types and number of spare batteries that will be used. Make sure they are charged, loaded and ready to go.
I have put a couple of pages of ideas of what should go into a Go-Bag on http://www.hamradioelpaso.com/emergency-coordination. The Disaster Supply Kit and Last-Minute Disaster Supply Kit Items. Just remember that the bags are geared mainly for weather spotting.
Paperwork is in everything that we do. Make a log and keep copies of reports called in to the NCS/NWS in case something comes into question later.
Next is the vehicle that is going to be used. Is it ready for deployment? Has the fuel tank been topped off? Is the vehicle maintenance up to date? Are the windshield wipers and tires in good shape? Has the Go-Bag been checked and loaded? Is it complete? It would be a good idea to create a To-Do-List so that everything can be listed and then checked off. That way nothing gets overlooked or forgotten.
Now a little bit about the nets. When the NWS issues an Advisory that severe weather is imminent spotters should start making plans for activation. In other words, start charging batteries. Start listening to the Amigo Link, but otherwise continue with the daily routine. It is business as usual. When a Warning is issued, we will convene a SKYWARN® Net on the Amigo Link. Continue to make ready for deployment. Load equipment. When a Watch is issued a deployment could be imminent. Be ready for deployment orders. If the WX5ELP station is going to be activated at the NWS, we will usually have plenty of notice. I will send out emails giving everyone advanced warning that WX5ELP is going to be on the air. I will also put out QST’s on the Amigo Link advising of the activation. If you are a trained SKYWARN® Spotter and are not on my email list, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will add you to the list.
Being a SKYWARN® Spotter is not a job that is taken lightly. This is not part of the hobby amateur radio. It is the service amateur radio which gives it a completely different meaning. Submitting accurate reports is why we take the spotter training. Accurate reporting is what make radio amateurs an asset in the reporting system. The NWS is responsible for saving lives and property. They depend on the spotters to give them accurate reports so that they can make the correct decisions. Knowingly submitting a false report to the NWS is in violation of the False Statements Accountability Act of 1996 (18 USC §1001). It carries a fine of up to $250,000 and/or up to five years in prison.
Questions and comments regarding the content of this article are welcome and encouraged. Send an email to the address shown below.
Lew Maxwell, KB5HPT
Amateur Radio Emergency Service
DEC, District 6, WTX Section