ARES, SKYWARN Volunteers Stand Down in Wake of Massive East Coast Winter Storm
[UPDATED 2015-01-29 [1848 UTC] Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES) teams and SKYWARN weather observers along the US Eastern Seaboard went on alert Monday, January 26, as a winter storm began working its way into the Northeast. The storm, which brought blizzard conditions to some areas, shut down transportation and kept residents at home in several states. Eastern Massachusetts and the City of Boston may have been hardest hit, with record or near-record snowfall amounts and storm surge flooding in some coastal communities. ARES units on Cape Cod deployed to staff six shelters and the Multi-Agency Coordination Center, which serves Barnstable County. A shelter was opened on Nantucket Island, after the entire island lost electrical power as well as most telecommunication services, and ham radio volunteers helped to fill the gap. Amateur Radio volunteers relayed this information to the National Weather Service (NWS) Taunton Office, home to WX1BOX, where operations kicked into high gear on Monday evening and continued for 27 hours. Hurricane-force wind gusts were recorded on Nantucket Island and on the western edge of Martha’s Vineyard.
“Amateur Radio operators across Southern New England checked into regular SKYWARN Nets and/or with WX1BOX throughout the storm, even during the overnight hours, providing tremendous situational awareness and disaster intelligence information for the National Weather Service, state emergency management, nongovernmental organizations, and the media,” Eastern Massachusetts Assistant Section Emergency Coordinator and SKYWARN Coordinator Rob Macedo, KD1CY, told ARRL. “Several hundred snowfall total and damage reports, including coastal flood reports, were fielded over a dozen SKYWARN nets across the NWS coverage area.”
Macedo said widespread snowfall totals of 15 to 30 inches — and up to 3 feet in some areas — occurred in Central and Eastern Massachusetts and parts of Rhode Island, while up to 2 feet of snow fell in Connecticut and Southwest Massachusetts. ARRL Headquarters announced on Monday that it would close on January 27 in anticipation of the severe weather.
Massachusetts’ South Shore experienced flooding, as a wind-driven tidal surge breached one seawall, flooding homes and businesses along the Brant Rock Esplanade. Flooding also was reported in Scituate, where streets filled with slushy seawater. Fierce winds have caused some minor structural damage. A few residents had to be evacuated.
Elsewhere, ARES and SKYWARN volunteers relayed ground-level weather conditions to NWS offices as the severe storm continued its northeasterly trek. The winter storm may not have lived up to its advance hype in some areas, leaving forecasters apologetic, but it was a significant weather event for Northern New England residents. While the worst of the storm missed New York City, extreme Long Island saw a couple of feet of snow. Eastern New York SEC David Galletly, KM2O, said ARES groups in his Section stood down at midday on January 27.
“The storm track was apparently 50 to 100 miles east of the original forecast with a very sharp snow boundary,” Galletly said. “This resulted in much less snow accumulation, especially in the Northern District counties.”
ARRL New York City-Long Island Section Manager Jim Mezey, W2KFV, said ARES teams in his Section spent Monday preparing for a storm that was anticipated to be of “historic proportions.” By midday, he said, ARES members were awaiting marching orders. The American Red Cross had identified three possible shelter locations in Nassau and Suffolk counties, where ARES might have supported communication.
“Winds were running at 25 MPH with higher gusts, creating whiteout conditions for most of the night and early morning,” Mezey said. He reported snowfall accumulations of from 5 to 8 inches in New York City, 13 to 20 inches in Nassau County, and more than 24 inches in Eastern Suffolk County. By noon on January 27, ARES teams stood down but continued to monitor the situation a while longer.
In Maine, where heavy snowfall and high winds battered eastern and coastal communities, ARES bumped up its alert status to Level 2 — standby. Scattered power outages were reported, mostly in southern Maine. Temperatures remained in the teens. Maine ARES Section Emergency Coordinator Phil Duggan, N1EP, activated ARES Weather and SKYWARN Net sessions on HF, but no served agencies requested ARES communication support.
More than 1 foot of snow fell along parts of the Maine coast, and stiff winds out of the northeast caused considerable blowing and drifting. At times, visibility was less than one-quarter mile. More snow is forecast for January 30.