Hams from North Carolina to Maine Provide Communication Support Before, During and After Hurricane Irene
Hurricane Irene -- the first major hurricane of the 2011 hurricane season -- left extensive flood and wind damage along its path through the Caribbean, the East Coast of the United States and as far north as Atlantic Canada. Beginning on August 20 as then-Tropical Storm Irene headed toward Puerto Rico, radio amateurs were already on alert.
Irene first made landfall in the US as a Category 1 storm on the morning of Saturday, August 27 on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. In preparation, ARRL Emergency Preparedness Manager Mike Corey, W5MPC, activated the ARRL HQ Emergency Response Team (HQERT). On Tuesday, August 23, this team of ARRL HQ staffers began monitoring various nets and providing support to the affected Field Organizations from W1AW, the Hiram Percy Maxim Memorial Station. Two days later, the HQERT went into active mode.
Radio amateurs at W1AW provided reports to the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) and the Voice over Internet Protocol Weather Net (VOIPWX), who in turn relayed these reports to WX4NHC, the Amateur Radio Station at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. W1AW also checked in to nets run by the Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN) and the East Coast Amateur Radio Service (ECARS). Hams at W1AW were also active reporting into the National Weather Service office in Taunton, Massachusetts.
“We began monitoring Irene and communicating with Section leadership several days before the storm made landfall,” Corey said. “The level of preparedness from the amateur community was quite high. Hams were ready to go when called on to assist their communities.”
W1AW Station Manager Joe Carcia, NJ1Q said that activity at W1AW was centered on the voice nets that were active on 80, 40 and 20 meters: “In addition, W1AW was connected to the ‘WX_TALK’ EchoLink weather net. We also monitored the 2 meter Connecticut ARES net, and W1AW’s EchoLink conference server -- normally used by hams to monitor the station’s daily broadcasts -- was made available to those in the ARRL Field Organization who were in Irene’s path.”
Carcia said that W1AW’s IRLP node, D-STAR and Winlink were also monitored during the storm, but saw no traffic. W1AW was on the air for 31 hours, from 7 AM on Saturday, August 27 through 2 PM the next day, utilizing all three studios. The ARRL is still in the process of gathering reports from the affected 17 Sections.
“I would like to thank all of those involved in the response to Irene. The ARES® members, Field Organization leaders, net control stations and the amateurs assisting our served agencies all did an amazing job,” Corey said. “I also have to say thanks to those that helped staff W1AW over the weekend. They made it possible to stay in touch with those in the field and assist locally as Irene impacted Connecticut. Thank you all for a job well done.”
In Greene County, New York -- located about 25 miles south of Albany, the state capital -- hams are currently active, providing communication support to the County Emergency Operations Center. According to Greene County Emergency Coordinator Len Signoretti, N2LEN, Irene “took out” portions of the towns of Prattsville and Windham. “We’ve seen a tremendous amount of property damage throughout the county,” Signoretti told the ARRL. “With the help of hams from Greene, Ulster, Rensselaer, Dutchess and Columbia Counties, we are supporting the Greene County Emergency Services.”
Signoretti explained that when the County Emergency Services activated the Greene County ARES® group, he called Tom Cody, WE2G, to ask if he could borrow the Ulster County ARES® emergency communications trailer. “We have that trailer in Greene County, supporting command centers in the towns of Jewett, Ashland and Lexington, as well as in the village of Tannersville” he explained. “We expect to be providing support through Sunday, September 4.”
North Carolina ARRL Section Manager Bill Morine, N2COP, told the ARRL that his home was a mere 60 miles west of the eye of the storm: The storm passed us by about 4 AM on Saturday. We lost power at that point for about five minutes, but by morning, 54 percent of homes in Wilmington had lost power. Irene made landfall as a Category 1 storm near Morehead City, North Carolina, which is about 90 miles northeast of me. There is considerable flooding and damage 100-200 miles northeast of me. North Carolina ARES was used minimally, as most County Emergency Operations Centers kept power and commercial communications. Irene is my eighth hurricane in the 20 years I’ve lived by Wrightsville Beach, where many a Weather Channel reporter does their reports.”
The Emergency Operations Center for the City of Boston requested assistance from radio amateurs. According to ARRL Eastern Massachusetts Official Emergency Station Mike Neilsen, W1MPN, this is the first time ever that this has happened in a storm situation. Neilson told the ARRL that WX1BOX, the Amateur Radio station at the NWS office in Taunton, was active during the storm.
“The SKYWARN operations at the Taunton NWS office was secured on Sunday, August 28, as were three ARES® operations -- in Bridgewater in Southeastern Massachusetts, one on Cape Cod and another in Brookline, just outside of Boston,” he said. “Eastern Massachusetts ARES® remained in a stand-by status until Tuesday, awaiting deployment to Western Massachusetts.”
Neilson told the ARRL that hams in the ARRL’s Eastern Massachusetts Section supported shelters operated by the American Red Cross in Salem, Dedham, Attleboro, Weymouth, Bridgewater, Falmouth and on Nantucket Island, as well as seven shelters on Cape Cod and another shelter at Otis Air Force Base.
Throughout its path, Irene caused widespread destruction and at least 54 deaths. But close on Irene’s heels, forecasters are keeping an eye on Hurricane Katia, currently a Category 1 storm. As of 11 AM EDT on Thursday, September 1, Katia is located about 1050 miles east of the Northern Leeward Islands; it is moving west at 18 MPH, with maximum sustained winds topping 75 MPH with higher gusts. No coastal watches or warnings are currently in effect. Forecasters say that they expect Katia to strengthen in the next 48 hours and could become a major hurricane by this coming weekend. The NHC defines a hurricane as a major hurricane when it reaches Category 3.