As Storms Pummeled Northwestern States, Hams Responded to Local Needs
After another week of wild weather in Oregon and Washington, residents in those states are just beginning to see the Sun. With an onslaught of wind, snow and rain this winter season, hams in the affected areas have been called upon by local served agencies to lend a hand. From providing 911 support to helping out with communications in area shelters, Amateur Radio operators have assisted since the beginning of the storm events.
According to David Kidd, KA7OZO, District Emergency Coordinator for Oregon's District One, the storms moved into his area on Wednesday, January 7 and continued throughout the rest of the week. ARES® units in Clatsop, Columbia and Tillamook Counties were activated in advance of the storms that were expected to bring flooding, mud slides, blocked roadways from downed trees, as well as the potential loss of various utilities.
In Clatsop County, Kidd said that amateurs were assisting in the county's Emergency Operations Center, while in Columbia and Tillamook Counties, the County Emergency Coordinator activated their local ARES units for the duration of the storms. "Columbia County deployed radio teams to four areas where they anticipated getting severe floods," Kidd told the ARRL. "These places can flood at the blink of an eyelash, so they pre-deployed hams to these areas."
Luckily for Oregonians, the storm tracked through Washington. "We were spared somewhat when the storm stalled over Washington," Kidd said. "Granted, we got a lot of wind and rain, but not like they did north of us. All the counties here are watching their rivers go down and are in some level of recovery mode at this time."
In Lewis County, hams were prepared for the pending storms. On Wednesday, January 7, the Lewis County Board of County Commissioners declared the county a disaster area "due to exhausted resources and flood level predictions at or exceeding 1996, 2006, and 2007 flood levels." Ham radio operators with local ARES units were placed on standby by the Lewis County EOC.
According to Lewis County Emergency Management Deputy Director Ross McDowell, the unincorporated areas of Packwood and Randle had been without land-line telephone service since January 7. "Repairs cannot take place until the flood waters recede. This area is without 911 service due to all alternate facilities being under water. Ham operators/radios will be used in emergencies [to facilitate 911 services]."
On January 10, the Lewis County Department of Emergency Management expanded its use of RACES ham radio operators to stay in contact with the City of Centralia EOC and to continue communication with Morton, Randle and Packwood ham radio operators. RACES continued to provide support throughout the storm event.
The storm brought rain and high winds to Washington, causing widespread avalanches, mudslides, flooding and road closures, as the heavy snowfall that buried parts of the state began to rapidly melt. More than 30,000 people were told to leave their homes in flood-endangered areas across western Washington as authorities warned of heavy flooding.
Warmer temperatures and heavy rains were melting snow dumped on the mountains during a weekend storm, with 10 inches of snow melting in a 12 hour period at Snoqualmie Pass, about 50 miles east of Seattle. Throughout the state, about 60 highways were closed.
ARRL Eastern Washington Section Manager Mark Tharp, KB7HDX, reported that hams in Kittitas and Yakima Counties were on standby, but "Spokane is holding their own." ARRL Northwestern Division Director Jim Fenstermaker, K9JF, said, "So far, most of the problems are in Western Washington. We here in Seattle are cut off from the rest of the USA by landslides and avalanches to the east, and flooding to the south and north. All major highways are affected, as is all rail transportation. The only way out or in is via air. We had more unexpected rain on Thursday, but it should clear up by the weekend."
As of Monday, January 12, except for fog, the Oregon skies are clear, while there is still light rainfall over parts of Western Washington. Forecasts for the area call for clear skies for the rest of the week, with highs in the 40s and 50s.