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Hurricane Bill Passes New England, Finds Newfoundland

08/24/2009

Along Coastal New England and the Canadian Maritimes, residents boarded up windows in preparation for Hurricane Bill. Even though the storm -- downgraded from Category 4 to Category 1 -- was considerably weaker than it had been when it was in the Caribbean earlier last week, those who live and work in the region were not taking any chances. To assist the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in tracking the storm, hams with the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) and the VoIP Hurricane Net (VoIP Net) relayed traffic and spotting reports to WX4NHC, the Amateur Radio Station at the NHC.

"For the second year in a row -- last year with Hurricane Kyle, and now Hurricane Bill -- the Amateur Radio operators in the Canadian Maritimes proved their skills at supporting the needs of the hurricane centers and in passing information vital to the public's safety," said ARRL Emergency Preparedness and Response Manager Dennis Dura, K2DCD. "We know that should even more severe tropical events impact that area, the hams will be ready with this increasing experience of late, and we will be ready to support them."

Bill's top-sustained winds fell from 105 MPH on Friday night to just 85 MPH by Sunday morning. But as the storm's wind speed dissipated, its size didn't: The diameter of tropical storm-force winds stretched 550 miles, the distance from Atlanta to Washington, DC. During the early hours of Sunday morning, Bill's center of circulation passed about 160 miles to the east-southeast of Nantucket, Massachusetts, its closest approach to the United States. There were wind gusts ranging from 25-35 MPH along the eastern coast of Massachusetts and a few bands of rain swept northward across Cape Cod, but not enough to cause any flooding.

The VoIP Hurricane Net activated at 4 AM EDT on Sunday, August 23, wrapping up at 6 PM that evening. "Nova Scotia amateurs relayed a significant number of reports to WX4NHC via the Net," said Director of Operations for the VoIP Hurricane Net Rob Macedo, KD1CY. "They described tropical storm force conditions and pockets of wind damage, including a few coastal road washouts from storm surge but the region was spared hurricane force winds. This is likely because of Bill's track parallel to the coast, just south of the province. The highest wind gusts were in the 45-55 MPH range over land."

Macedo said that during the VoIP Net's weekly Net on Saturday evening, Net Control conducted a special roll call, lining up Canadian stations from the affected area: "Martin Thomas, VE1AUZ, was the key liaison station monitoring the local VHF/UHF repeaters, feeding the information to the VoIP Hurricane Net. Several other Canadian stations also relayed reports, including Geoff Wilson, VE1GW, and Frank Leslie, VE1FWL. VE1EMX, an official station for the Municipality of the County of Cumberland's Emergency Measures Organization, was also on the air. More than a dozen Canadian stations were connected into the VoIP Hurricane Net during the height of Bill's impact on the Maritimes. This is our second time in two years working with Canadian amateurs and amateurs affiliated with Radio Amateurs Canada (RAC) and they did a terrific job once again."

RAC Vice President of Field Services Doug Mercer, VO1DTM, told the ARRL that he, Newfoundland Section Emergency Coordinator Rendyl Godwin, VO1RYL, and four District Emergency Coordinators were "actively passing traffic hourly to the Hurricane Watch Net since 1200 UTC [Sunday]. We will continue to pass regular updates until the event is over."

Hurricane Watch Net Manager Dave Lefavour, W7GOX, told the ARRL that they received an activation request from WX4NHC, their first activation of the 2009 hurricane season: "We opened the Net at 8 AM EDT on Sunday, August 23 on 14.325 MHz, and operated continuously until 7 PM. We had a successful spring recruiting campaign that brought several new members to the Net, and Hurricane Bill allowed us to introduce them to our Net protocols. It's one thing to read about how we do things, but there is no substitute for experience. Conditions on 20 meters were difficult, but with the additional members added to our roster, we were able to maintain communications with our Canadian reporting stations. Kudos to three hams -- Derek King, VE1AWT, David Myrick, VO1VCE, and Fredrick Snow, VO1FJS -- are in order, as they were stalwarts during this HWN session, providing timely information that we relayed to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. By the end of the day, 22 HWN members had participated in the Net."

Lefavour thanked all amateurs who kept the 20 meter frequency clear so they could support WX4NHC. "With the unpredictable shifts in propagation on the 20 meter band, and considering the conditions under which these folks are operating, the signals of our reporting stations are often weak," he said. "This was certainly the case for Sunday's Net session."

WX4NHC Assistant Coordinator Julio Ripoll, WD4R, thanked the hams who supported the operation: "I would like to echo my thanks to everyone for making the effort to support our friends in Canada during Hurricane Bill. It was truly an international effort with Net Controls from many parts of the US and as far away as Germany. The highest wind reports that I saw come in came from Sable Island with a population of five people and 300 wild horses."

Ripoll singled out five Canadian hams "who truly deserve special mention for their extra efforts and long hours relaying reports: Martin Thomas, VE1AUZ; Joseph Wilson, VE1GW; Frank Leslie, VE1FWL; James Hannon, VE1EMX, and Fredrick Snow, VO1FJS."

Bill's Journey to Canada

Bill began as the third tropical depression of the Atlantic hurricane season on August 15 and became a named tropical storm later that day. The storm reached hurricane status -- the first hurricane of the year -- on August 17 and strengthened to a Category 2 hurricane the next day with winds in excess of 98 MPH. Bill continued strengthening rapidly and became a major hurricane -- Category 4 -- with winds of 132 MPH on August 19, remaining at that strength for a full day before beginning to weaken.

In its early days, Hurricane Bill tracked toward the west-northwest, but eventually curved northwest and then headed toward the north, passing well west of Bermuda as a marginal Category 2 hurricane early on August 22. The storm was a solid Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 86 MPH when it entered southwestern maritime waters near dawn on Sunday, August 23. Bill then tracked northeast through maritime waters passing within 30 miles of the coast of Nova Scotia before veering more eastward on its way to Newfoundland.

Hurricane Bill passed over Grande Miquelon -- a small group of French islands 30 miles south of Newfoundland -- before making landfall near midnight Sunday night at Point Rosie on Newfoundland's Burin Peninsula. The strength of the storm was on the boundary between a strong tropical storm and a hurricane, with sustained winds around 70 MPH at landfall. Bill tracked rapidly through the southern portions of Newfoundland in just a few hours, increasing in speed and moving east of all Newfoundland waters by mid-Monday morning, August 24.

Hurricane Bill encountered a tropical air mass when it arrived in Atlantic Canada, delaying the onset of extratropical transition until it was well into the Atlantic region of Canada. Heavy rain was reported in all four Atlantic provinces. Storm force wind gusts, as well as high coastal waves and marginal flooding with storm surges were reported in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Storm surge values ranged from 20 inches along the Atlantic Coast of Nova Scotia, to 28 inches along the Northumberland-Miramichi coast of New Brunswick, to 30 inches in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland.

"Bill opened the 2009 hurricane season for us," HWN's Lefavour said. "We hope that we are not needed for the rest of the year, but the peak of the hurricane season is yet to come. We're ready."



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