Hams Across New England and the Maritimes Respond to Blizzard
As a blizzard swept across New England February 9-10, SKYWARN was ready. The storm dumped heavy snowfall -- with some areas receiving upwards of 3 feet of snow -- as blizzard conditions brought hurricane force winds that created power outages and significant tree and power line damage over Southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. ARRL Eastern Massachusetts Section Emergency Coordinator Rob Macedo, KD1CY, helped lead operations at WX1BOX, the Amateur Radio station at the National Weather Service office in Taunton, Massachusetts, where hams were active for 28 continuous hours. Macedo also serves as the ARES SKYWARN Coordinator for the NWS office in Taunton.
“The Amateur Radio mission in our region has evolved into providing information on damage, power outages and meteorological surface observations in situations such as this blizzard,” Macedo told the ARRL. “But our hopes of escaping the winter of 2012-2013 with nothing more than routine winter storms ended when this blizzard came to New England. Eastern Massachusetts ARES was placed on stand-by on Friday, February 9 and that standby continued through Tuesday, February 12 for both Eastern Massachusetts ARES and those amateurs remaining active on Cape Cod who provided communications support for active shelters and for the Barnstable County Mutual Aid Coordination Center on Cape Cod.”
According to Macedo, WX1BOX Amateur Radio SKYWARN operations handled several hundred snowfall reports, as well as reports concerning wind, wet snow damage and coastal flooding. “We sent these reports to multiple agencies, including the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, the American Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations, as well as the media,” he explained. “These reports provided critical situational awareness and disaster intelligence information to all of these entities.”
Snowfall totals of around 12-32 inches were recorded across Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, with lesser amounts on Nantucket Island. “Boston’s Logan Airport recorded its 5th highest snowfall ever with this blizzard,” Macedo said. “In addition, we had reports of moderate to major coastal flooding, with the most significant coastal flooding damage to roads. There were reports of flooding damage to shore structures in the Massachusetts coastal towns of Hull, Scituate, Sandwich, Gloucester and Salisbury. Hurricane force wind gusts coupled with wet snow caused more than 410,000 homes to be without power in Southeastern Massachusetts, with more than 170,000 without power in Rhode Island.”
The New England Reflector System on EchoLink *NEW-ENG* node 9123/IRLP 9123 was active and, according to Macedo, at one time had more than 65 connections from stations within the blizzard’s area. The VoIP Hurricane Net system on *WX_TALK* node 7203/IRLP 9219 system was also utilized as a listen-only system for those amateurs who wanted to listen in on some of the blizzard operations. “Many local VHF and UHF repeaters were active with roll-call SKYWARN nets set up at two or three hour intervals on more than a dozen repeaters in Southern New England,” Macedo told the ARRL. “We heard from Hartford-Tolland County Connecticut SKYWARN Coordinator Roger Jeanfaivre, K1PAI, that their net alone had eight nets and 181 check-ins from those eight nets, including nets run during the overnight period.”
In Massachusetts, hams affiliated with RACES staffed Amateur Radio stations at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Regions 1 (WC1MAA) and 2 (WC1MAB). “Having Amateur Radio operators at these served agencies helped to provide auxiliary communications,” Macedo explained. “For instance, when power outages became so severe that the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts lost power, a roll call was initiated on the state’s VHF network. The Region 2 office did not hear the roll call over the state’s VHF network, but they were notified by the ARES sub-regional command center at the Acushnet Emergency Operations Center in Acushnet, Massachusetts, WA1EMA, that the roll call was taking place.”
“Amateur Radio remains the ultimate back-up,” said ARRL District Emergency Coordinator for Southeast Massachusetts Ed Caron, KA1RSY. “It has a significant place in providing situational awareness information for various served agencies.” Caron also serves as the Acushnet Emergency Management Communications Officer.
On Cape Cod, ARES remained active through Tuesday, February 12, putting in more than 72 hours of continuous operation during and after the blizzard. Macedo said that these hams provided SKYWARN with reports of coastal flooding, snowfall, wet snow and wind damage from around their area. Cape Cod ARES members also staffed multiple shelters and multiple Emergency Operations Centers. “Cape Cod ARES has been active with rotating shifts to staff the shelters and the Mutual Aid Coordination Center. I’m very proud of all my people who have put in very long hours,” said ARRL Cape Cod ARES District Emergency Coordinator Frank O’Laughlin, WQ1O.
The blizzard did not just affect the New England area -- Canada caught the brunt of the storm, as well. According to CANWARN’s Jim Langille, VE1JBL, CANWARN members received messages from Bob Robichaud, VE1MBR, at the Atlantic Storm Prediction Centre in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia to let them know of the storm and that there was the possibility of an activation. CANWARN is the Canadian equivalent to SKYWARN.
“On Friday morning, the call came in to activate CANWARN in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island,” Langille told the ARRL. “A message went out to all CANWARN members and a notice was put on The Maritime Amateur website to let everyone know of the net and the information that Environment Canada would be looking for.”
At 8 AM on Saturday, net control began operations by linking up 13 repeaters throughout Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island through the MAVCOM system, IRLP reflector 9014, EchoLink node 190339 and HF operations on 3.770 MHz. According to Langille, CANWARN spotters were asked to record snowfall amounts each hour, as well as visibility, wind speed, direction and storm surge reports. Reports would be recorded till the bottom of each hour and then sent to Dartmouth for processing. Net control would then reset and prepare for the next hour.
“Starting at 11 AM, damage reports starting coming in of downed trees, roofs being blown off, flooding in coastal areas and roads being breached,” Langille said. “Power outages were reported all over the province. Over the next 12 hours, net control recorded close to 200 messages. As darkness approached, we were told by Environment Canada that we could close the net for the evening after the high tide at 10 PM in case of any reports of storm surge. The net activated again on Sunday morning for only one hour to record any damage reports. At that time the net was terminated.”