ARES, SKYWARN Volunteers Respond to Heavy Rain, Flooding in Louisiana
Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and SKYWARN volunteers in Louisiana assisted the National Weather Service (NWS), as record-setting rainfall led to severe and widespread flooding. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has approved a disaster declaration for the state. Region 7 District Emergency Coordinator John Mark Robertson, K5JMR, in the Shreveport-Bossier City area, said Amateur Radio involvement began on March 8, when the NWS-Shreveport Office requested a SKYWARN activation during a tornado watch. For the next 17 hours, Robertson reported, a group of volunteers handled weather-spotting duties over linked repeaters, filing some 70 reports. Their coverage included parts of Texas and Arkansas. The severe weather included hail as well as major flooding that closed Interstate 20 in three Louisiana parishes and inundated entire neighborhoods. On March 10, the ARES team in Tangipahoa Parish in southeastern Louisiana was active for nearly 2 days in response to heavy rain and flooding.
“Local hams operating from their fixed stations in homes, on portable HTs, and mobile provided updates on local conditions and were able to offer road reports to travelers on the state highways and Interstate 12, which crosses all of the major rivers in our area,” ARES Region 9 DEC Bob Priez WB5FBS, told ARRL. He said the Tangipahoa, Tickfaw, Tchefuncte, and Bogue Falaya rivers, as well as numerous streams and waterways, were well above flood stage by the afternoon of March 11.
“We were able to receive and send weather bulletins and flood conditions to and from the NWS in Slidell, Louisiana, using our 147.000 repeater and the Slidell 147.270 repeater. The 147.000 repeater also provided communication with the EOC at Southeastern Louisiana University and Tangipahoa Parish EOC in Amite, Louisiana,” he said. Fixed stations used packet radio on VHF as well as conventional e-mail to relay NWS weather bulletins and to forward local reports to NWS.
Priez said the March activation was the third for his ARES crew since two events in February, when the area was hit with heavy rain and wind. He said that event gave the group the opportunity to test recently revised plans to interface directly with the NWS Office in Slidell via repeaters in Tangipahoa and St Tammany parishes and via packet. “This plan proved really effective in the February 23 event, which, in addition to rains and winds, also spawned numerous tornadoes across the southeast region,” Priez said. “Our widespread ham radio observers were able to send real-time reports of tornado activity in Livingston, Montpelier, and Convent, and from Washington and St John parishes in Louisiana, and also from southwestern Mississippi.” The group also kept in contact with the Southeastern Louisiana University EOC and the Tangipahoa Parish EOC via the local VHF repeater.
On March 13, the Robertson said three SKYWARN volunteers activated in the Shreveport-Bossier City area in response to severe weather, posting 25 messages dealing with tornado watches and warnings, reports of hail, and continued major flooding.
According to the National Weather Service, the highest reported rainfall total was southeast of Monroe — “a whopping 26.96 inches!” The NWS has posted rainfall totals for the March 8-12 period. The flooding has led to road closings over a wide area, including part of Interstate 10 in Texas, and law enforcement personnel have been using boats to reach and rescue stranded residents.