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Amateurs Assist with Communications in Aftermath of Rare October Nor’easter

11/02/2011

A rare October nor’easter brought historic snowfall and widespread damage and power outages from the Mid-Atlantic into the Northeast United States. Up and down the Atlantic seaboard, radio amateurs provided various critical services to the National Weather Service through the SKYWARN weather spotter program, and provided communications support to local, state and federal emergency management and non-governmental organizations.

“Amateur Radio operations at the National Weather Service office in Taunton, Massachusetts were active on WX1BOX, the office’s Amateur Radio station,” Rob Macedo, KD1CY, told the ARRL. Macedo serves as the Eastern Massachusetts ARES® Section Emergency Coordinator and SKYWARN Coordinator for the NWS Taunton office. “Hams in Taunton were active for 21 hours supporting meteorological and damage data that was shared not only with the NWS, but also with the media and local, state and federal emergency management. This brought critical situational awareness and disaster intelligence information in near-real time with many agencies.”

In the ARRL Connecticut Section, Section leaders were conducting their Simulated Emergency Test (SET) when the storm hit. “Because of the storm, we truncated the SET operational period and braced for the unseasonable October snow,” explained ARRL Connecticut Section Emergency Coordinator Wayne Gronlund, N1CLV. “The planned hurricane/earthquake SET scenario was quickly displaced by a real nor'easter! SKYWARN operators across the Section were activated on Saturday afternoon, and nets went late into the evening gathering snow, rain and wind data for the National Weather Service.”

Macedo explained that many SKYWARN nets throughout the Connecticut, Western and Eastern Massachusetts and New Hampshire ARRL Sections activated every few hours to relay meteorological and damage reports: “We received several hundred reports of snowfall measurements, wind measurements and damage reports. Widespread snowfall of 6-12 inches fell over portions of Northern Connecticut, Western, Central and Northeast Massachusetts. In Southeast New Hampshire, they saw with snow amounts of 1-2 feet, with isolated snowfall amounts up to 32 inches in the mountainous parts of these areas. The snowfall -- coupled with foliage still on the trees -- brought the recipe for significant damage and widespread power loss.”

SKYWARN weather spotters reported that coastal flooding also affected some shore roads, with wind gusts reported as high as 69 miles per hour over Cape Cod and the Islands. The NWS Taunton Forecast Office issued Public Information Statements and Local Storm Reports detailing snowfall, wind measurement and damage reports.

“This was yet another widespread damage event for our region,” Macedo said. “The number of power outages and tree and power line damage rivaled, and in some cases eclipsed, the damage from Hurricane Irene this past August. Despite the loss of power and issues over the region, Amateur Radio SKYWARN spotters stayed in contact with us, utilizing battery powered Amateur Radio equipment to provide their data and information and several hundred reports were passed on to various agencies.”

The Clay Center Amateur Radio Club activated their Amateur Radio station, WX1CLA, at the Dexter-Southfield School in Brookline, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. They provided additional reports from various Amateur Radio repeaters and sources during the height of the storm’s impact in Southeast New Hampshire and Northeastern Massachusetts. ARES® District Emergency Coordinator Marek Kozubal, KB1NCG, along with Kate Murphy, KB1USO, and Kevin Riggle, KB1QEF, staffed the station for 14 hours.

Macedo said that Acting State RACES Radio Officer, Mike Neilsen, W1MPN, was active on WC1MA, the amateur station at the Massachusetts State Emergency Operations Center. The city of Worcester EOC Amateur Radio Station, WE1CT, was also staffed and was coordinating with the operations at the NWS’ Taunton office.

The Emergency Operations Center in the Town of Sandwich was active under call sign W1SEM during the overnight hours, monitoring coastal shore road flooding and high winds in their region. The town experienced shore road flooding as well as tree damage in their community. Cape Cod ARES® District Emergency Coordinator Frank O’Laughlin, WQ1O, provided reports into WX1BOX directly and through the Town of Acushnet’s Emergency Operations Center and through WA1EMA, the ARES® sub-regional command center.

At the end of the SKYWARN reporting phase of the operation, Eastern Massachusetts Assistant ARES® Section Emergency Coordinator and Assistant SKYWARN Coordinator for NWS Taunton, Carl Aveni, N1FY, who assisted Macedo with operations at Taunton, thanked all the Amateur Radio SKYWARN operators and non-amateur spotters for their support: “There was not a moment during the 21 hours of formal operations that we did not receive critical information from you folks. That information was of immeasurable value to all of our partners (such as the National Weather Service, the media, and local, state and federal emergency management, and all of our non-governmental organizations like the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, hospitals and the Medical Reserve Corps). It is gratifying to see how well the training we go through pays off. Thank you so much for the robust support!”

According to Macedo, communications infrastructure was stressed, with localized phone and communication outages, but they are now largely functional across most of the area. “The primary issue has been power loss affecting infrastructure and with fairly cold temperatures at night, many people are in shelters or hotels until power returns,” he explained. On October 29, Eastern Massachusetts ARES® was placed on standby, but continues to be on alert in case communications needs are required either within the Eastern Massachusetts Section or an ARES® Mutual Aid Team to a neighboring ARRL Section is required.

In Connecticut, ARES® groups have also been placed on standby, Gronlund said: “Amateur Radio operators have been assisting in various shelters and Emergency Operations Centers in the impacted areas. Several repeaters are operating on emergency power. Power outages are projected to last up to a week in some areas of the state.” As of 1:30 PM November 2, 43 percent of the state is still without power.

Terry Stader, KA8SCP, said that Westford, Massachusetts has a shelter open at the Blanchard Middle School and that it is being staffed by PART of Westford, members who are also part of Northern Middlesex County ARES®, working in conjunction with the Upper Merrimack Valley Medical Reserve Corps (MRC). “With almost 30 percent of the town still without power three days after the storm hit the region, the shelter will remain open for a number of days yet” he said. “The Cameron Senior Center is also open as a warm up center for residents, which is also staffed by ham radio operators.

The ARRL will update this information as we receive news from the affected areas.



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