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Central Massachusetts Experiences Rare Tornado, Area Hams Hasten to Help

06/02/2011

At least two tornadoes touched down in Central Massachusetts late in the afternoon on Wednesday, June 1. The storm pulverized or sheared off the tops of roofs on Main Street in Springfield, a city of more than 150,000, located about 90 miles west of Boston. A debris-filled funnel swept into downtown from the west, then swirled across the Connecticut River, which runs through the city. Like their counterparts in Alabama and Missouri who responded when storms hit those regions, hams in Western Massachusetts volunteered their time and radios to the American Red Cross and the National Weather Service.

According to ARRL Eastern Massachusetts Section Emergency Coordinator Rob Macedo, KD1CY, six hams from the Western Massachusetts ARES® group mobilized to support the American Red Cross in staffing shelters in Springfield, Monson and Brimfield, as well as the American Red Cross office in Springfield. “This part of the operation is winding down, and the Red Cross is looking to see what other tasks radio amateurs may be needed, which may include helping out with damage assessment,” Macedo said on Thursday morning.

Stefan Rodowicz, N1SR, reported that hams with RACES were already at the Emergency Operations Center in Worcester County and Springfield when the tornado touched down. Using the call WC1MAC (Region 3 RACES), they coordinated through the Mt Tom repeater and provided communications for the three shelters. Meanwhile, across town, ARES® District Emergency Coordinator Tom Doyle, N1MUV, was stationed at the American Red Cross in Springfield. At 9:30 PM. Doyle told the ARRL that there had apparently been several touchdowns in the region, and normal communications was “ragged, but coming back.” Much of the area was still without power or landline phones, as of the morning of Thursday, June 2.

Macedo said that as of Thursday, ARES® in Eastern Massachusetts has not received requests by the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, cities or towns for assistance. “The National Weather Service in Taunton, Massachusetts -- which serves most of Massachusetts, including Boston, as well as Rhode Island and most of Connecticut -- is working with Amateur Radio SKYWARN operators from Western Massachusetts,” Macedo explained. “Ray Weber, KA1JJM, and PJ Howe, N1PJ, are assisting the NWS with damage surveys, as is former ARRL Eastern Massachusetts Section Manager Mike Neilsen, W1MPN. Neilsen is a meteorologist and a Special Advisor to ARES®/SKYWARN.” Hams in Connecticut and Massachusetts conducted SKYWARN nets, providing timely reports to the National Weather Service offices in Taunton and Albany, New York. The Albany office covers Berkshire County in Massachusetts and Litchfield County in Connecticut.

Western Massachusetts ARES Section Emergency Coordinator John Ruggiero, N2YHK, ran net control for the Worcester County SKYWARN Net on the Paxton, Worcester and Marlboro repeater systems, with assistance from Kevin Paetzold, K1KWP. Steve Craven, N9SC, ran the SKYWARN Net on the Mt Tom Repeater.

The Amateur Radio Station at the Taunton NWS office, WX1BOX, was active from noon-11 PM, with SKYWARN self-activating that morning at 8:15. “This was in response to the warm front that produced large hail in advance of the cold front that spawned the severe weather and tornadoes over Northwestern Connecticut, Western, Central and Interior Northeast Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire,” Macedo explained.

Macedo said that the Western Massachusetts Section was severely impacted. “Homes and businesses in 19 communities sustained damage, and at least eight communities -- Westfield, Springfield, Agawam, Brimfield, Monson, Wilbraham and Sturbridge -- experienced severe damage, including homes that were destroyed,” he said. “Southbridge also appeared to be hit hard, as well.” The ARRL Western Massachusetts Section includes Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin and Berkshire Counties.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency and called up 1000 National Guardsmen after the storms. He said on Wednesday, June 1 that the death toll of four persons was preliminary and that police and firefighters were going door to door in Springfield to ensure that no one was trapped in damaged buildings.

According to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, Massachusetts hasn’t experienced a tornado since 2008. The last killer tornado in Massachusetts was on May 29, 1995, when three people died in Great Barrington, a town along the Massachusetts/New York state border. The state’s deadliest recorded tornado on June 9, 1953, killed 94 people in the Worcester area. Worcester is about 50 miles east of Springfield.



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