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Amateur Radio Gearing Up for Predicted “Above Average” Atlantic Hurricane Season


Extended-range forecasts for the 2020 Atlantic Basin hurricane season anticipate above-normal activity, although a low-pressure system now off the coast of Florida could get a jump on things and develop into a subtropical depression or storm this weekend. The Atlantic hurricane season doesn’t start until June 1 and extends until November 30. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) 2020 outlook calls for a season about 140% more active than average, with four Category 3 to Category 5 hurricanes. The 2019 season saw three major hurricanes (out of six).

“The above-average prediction is largely due to the hot Atlantic and Caribbean waters and lack of a substantial El Niño in the Pacific,” the NHC explained, noting that the combination of a busy hurricane season and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could create a nightmare scenario for affected areas. FEMA and local emergency management agencies are already issuing COVID-19 guidelines for hurricane shelters, which include face masks and social distancing.

The NHC Annual Station Test — to check readiness of amateur radio stations and operators — takes place on Saturday, May 30, 1300 – 2100 UTC. The NHC’s WX4NHC will be on the air, marking its 40th year of public service at the NHC. Julio Ripoll, WD4R, the Assistant Amateur Radio Coordinator at the NHC, said the event offers an opportunity for radio amateurs worldwide to exercise the sorts of communications available during severe weather. “We will be making brief contacts on many frequencies and modes, exchanging signal reports and basic weather data — sunny, rain, temperature, etc.) with any station in any location,” Ripoll said.

Operation will be on HF, VHF, UHF, APRS, and Winlink. WX4NHC will center its activity on the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) frequencies of 14.325 MHz and 7.268 MHz, depending on propagation, but will operate elsewhere as conditions dictate. WX4NHC will also operate on the VoIP Hurricane Net from 2000 until 2100 UTC.

“I must say, I’m not liking what I’m seeing.” — Hurricane Watch Net Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV

Dr. Philip J. Klotzbach et al of the Colorado State University (CSU) Department of Atmospheric Science cite a variety of factors that led them to conclude this hurricane season could get serious. Pointing to the “somewhat above normal” tropical Atlantic sea-surface temperatures, the scientists estimate “about eight hurricanes,” four of them major, during the 2020 season.

“We anticipate an above-average probability for major hurricanes making landfall along the continental United States coastline and in the Caribbean,” the CSU forecast states, reminding coastal residents that it only takes one hurricane making landfall to make it an active season for them. The CSU scientists set the probability of US major hurricane landfalls this year at about 130% of the long-period average.

“I must say, I’m not liking what I’m seeing,” reacted Hurricane Watch Net Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, pointing to additional extended forecasts posted by Tropical Storm Risk (TSR), the University of Arizona, and North Carolina State University. The TSR forecast calls for three major hurricanes, while the University of Arizona and North Carolina State predict between three and five major hurricanes.

“Since 2014, the Hurricane Watch Net has been very busy,” Graves told ARRL. “We’ve had 20 net activations for 19 hurricanes and one tropical storm. Since 2015, we’ve worked nine major land-falling hurricanes, including four land-falling Category 5 storms.” As examples, he ticked off some now-well-known hurricane names: Joaquin (2015); Matthew (2016); Harvey, Irma, and Maria (2017); Michael (2018), and Dorian (2019). Graves notes that the past three hurricane seasons saw at least one Category 5 hurricane make landfall.

In its report on Hurricane Dorian, the NHC noted, “Surface observations from the Caribbean weather stations and data received from ham radio operators and local observers were included in the analysis of Dorian.”

Graves pointed out that the past six hurricane seasons not only were busy and historic but very deadly, and he’s hoping the 2020 hurricane season will not turn in a repeat performance. 



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