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Cape Cod ARES and SKYWARN Provide Support in Rare Cape Cod Tornado Event


Cape Cod, Massachusetts, ARES, and SKYWARN Amateur Radio volunteers were promptly pressed into action as a storm system on July 23 produced severe thunderstorms that spawned three tornadoes over the Cape. Hurricane-force wind also resulted in significant tree and utility wire damage across Cape Cod, with particularly hard-hit communities including Hyannis, Yarmouth, and Chatham. Some pockets of wind damage also occurred in the northwest corner of Martha’s Vineyard.

Amateur Radio SKYWARN spotters were the first to provide critical ground truth information regarding the significant wind damage and tornadoes across Cape Cod. Under the direction of Cape Cod District Emergency Coordinator Frank O’Laughlin, WQ1O, and Eastern Massachusetts Section Emergency Coordinator Rob Macedo, KD1CY, a SKYWARN net ran for several hour on a Barnstable, Massachusetts, VHF repeater. Numerous damage reports were received during the net and for a couple hours after the storm had passed.

At that point, Amateur Radio operations shifted to an ARES net supporting communications between a shelter at the Dennis-Yarmouth School and the Barnstable County Emergency Operations Center, which serves as the Multiagency Coordination Center (MACC).

“Dozens of reports of trees and wires down and some structural damage reports were received during the SKYWARN net, and Amateur Radio operators supported initial damage assessment in the hardest hit areas and provided photos and videos that were shared via social media and other outlets,” Macedo said. “This provided critical situational awareness and disaster intelligence information to the National Weather Service (NWS), state emergency management, and local media outlets, and helped to diagnose the areas for NWS meteorologists to survey to determine whether a tornado or straight-line wind damage occurred.”

ARES support for the Dennis-Yarmouth shelter as well as Amateur Radio operations at the Barnstable County MACC continued around the clock, with six radio amateurs engaged in shelter and EOC communications over the course of about 2 days. The severe weather knocked out power for some 53,000 customers on Cape Cod, and it took utilities several days to repair the damage and restore service. 

“Traffic that was handled was on the logistics of taking care of people who stayed in the shelter until power restoration efforts were near completion,” O’Laughlin explained.

A NWS-Norton survey team consisting of several meteorologists surveyed the damage and confirmed three tornadoes on Cape Cod in addition to destructive straight-line winds. The three tornadoes hit in West Yarmouth, Yarmouth, and Harwich. Since tornado records have been kept, starting in 1950, only three tornadoes were recorded on Cape Cod up until last year, highlighting the rarity of the July 23 weather event. — Thanks to Rob Macedo, KD1CY 



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