Late Season Tropical Storm Ida Comes Calling on Gulf Coast
With only weeks to go before the end of the 2009 hurricane season, Tropical Storm Ida formed off the coast of Nicaragua, making landfall as a hurricane in the morning hours of November 5. The storm lost significant strength as it moved through Nicaragua and Honduras, only to reemerge in the Caribbean a day later, impacting El Salvador and Mexico. Ida gained strength, becoming a Category 2 storm with winds peaking at 105 miles per hour in the Gulf of Mexico. The path for Ida at this point was clearly toward the Gulf Coast of the US, with a projected landfall somewhere between Louisiana and the Florida panhandle. As Ida's path became more focused, Amateur Radio operators and ARES® groups concentrated on increasing their level of readiness should there be a need to respond.
On November 8, ARRL Emergency Preparedness and Response Manager Dennis Dura, K2DCD, began to obtain information from the Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Northern Florida Sections on their level of readiness and to set the stage for any necessary response coordination. The ARRL Headquarters Incident Management Team was also placed on alert to support this activity. "Fortunately, some of this coordination was made easier by the fact that Southeastern Division Director Greg Sarratt, W4OZK, and Northern Florida Section Manager Paul Eakin, KJ4G, as well as ARRL Media and Public Relations Manager Allen Pitts, W1AGP, and all were attending the Stone Mountain Hamfest in Lawrenceville, Georgia," Dura said.
Alabama Section Manager Jay Isbell, KA4KUN, reported that the State Emergency Operations Center in Clanton was manned by amateurs for 24 hours supporting the coastal counties, along with the EOCs in Autauga, Baldwin, Calhoun, Cherokee and Covington counties. The State's D-STAR 2 meter repeaters were linked together; the Gulf Coast Weather Net was linked into the 440 D-Star sites to provide the bulk of the communications needs should they arise. The state emergency HF frequency of 3.965 MHz was utilized as a backup to the D-STAR system.
According to Section Manager Gary Stratton, K5GLS, the Section went into a standby mode on November 8, utilizeing a State Net on 3.873 MHz to update operational considerations as needed. Since this frequency is also used for emergencies in the ARRL's South Texas Section, coordination with STX SEC Mike Schwartz, KG5TL, and ASM Lou Everett Sr, WA5LOU, permitted their regularly scheduled net to be canceled to accommodate Louisiana's needs. The amateur station at the State Emergency Operations Center was available, but was not activated. While many parish EOCs were operational -- since Ida's track was to the east of the state -- communications needs requiring Amateur Radio resources and support did not occur at the local EOCs according to SEC Jim Coleman, AI5B. Coleman reported that many Parishes had declared states of emergency with some voluntary evacuations. Richard Webb, NF5B reported that in accordance with the Central Area Net Cycles 1-2 Emergency Operations Policy, a watch was maintained on 7.280 MHz for any outbound traffic. The Louisiana ARES EchoLink Conference Node *LA_ARES* was made available to Mississippi if needed.
Assistant Mississippi Section Manager Tom Hammack, W4WLF, provided the primary coordination for the Mississippi Section for Section Manager Malcolm Keown, W5XX. The Section was placed on alert for possible responses on Sunday. Hammack reported amateur activities at County Emergency Operations Centers in Jackson, Pearl River and Stone Counties, as well as at his location in Harrison County; all of this was in addition to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency EOC in Jackson. Net Manager for the Jackson County 2 Meter Net Glen Smith, K4GSG, placed the net's resources on standby. Emergency Coordinator for Jackson County (Pascagoula) Chris Swift, KE5MOZ, activated the EOC in that location. Bill Musa, K5YG, and Gerrit Erickson, K6GFE, activated the Ocean Springs EOC. Amateur Radio resources at the Harrison County EOC were on standby through Bud Samuelson, KB9ZR. Butch Horning, K5KMU, placed the Mississippi Coast Amateur Radio Association 2 Meter ARES Net on alert for any requests.
Hammock said that since there was only one antenna feed line and no mounted antennas on the roof that were usable due to construction, they faced "severe challenges" at the Harrison County EOC. "We managed the situation by temporarily -- but strongly mounting a 2 meter/70cm antenna that connected the operation to the D-STAR network," Hammock told the ARRL. "We also did a quick re-build of a G5RV antenna for any HF needs." In addition to the rapid repair and build work done, Jeff Smith, N9OKV, monitored nets from his home in Long Beach and relayed the information to the Harrison EOC. The Harrison County EOC was not the only EOC that faced challenges: At the State EOC, hams encountered hardware and other technical glitches with EchoLink.
Section Manager, Paul Eakin, KJ4G, began the efforts by establishing contact with the Florida Division of Emergency Management in Tallahassee on November 8; by Monday morning, he activated the communications networks for any needs. Hams provided Amateur Radio support to the National Weather Service Office in Tallahassee utilizing HF and EchoLink; the State EOC was connected in also using EchoLink.
Section Net Managers set up a rotating schedule of 22 hams to cover 3.950 MHz around the clock through Tuesday if needed, and the Southeast Weather D-STAR Network was made available along the Gulf Coast for any needs. Several County EOCs were manned through mid-day Tuesday. Eakin told the ARRL that this was the first chance to use the Section's resource database: "By using the database, we were successful in meeting and eliminating a duplicate mission request in Walton County."
From a national perspective, the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) and VoIP Hurricane Net (VoIP Net) were operational at various times in the life cycle of Ida. WX4NHC, the Amateur Radio station at the National Hurricane Center, did receive information on the storm from Robert Mills, KC4MQU, who is stationed on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. The station was not operational when Ida made landfall due to the storm's strength and the fact that local NWS Forecast Offices and their SKYWARN spotters were providing data as needed. The National Traffic System Region 5 activated their emergency nets for a time during Ida's approach.
While Ida became extra-tropical shortly after landfall, Dura said its remnants could still cause flooding over parts of the Southeastern US, as upwards of 5 inches of rain or more could fall over the next two days accompanied by strong winds. Many areas have Flood and Flash Flood Watches and Warning in places, along with Wind Advisories. ARES® groups in those areas may still be playing a support role. "While the efforts of hams for the landfall of Ida have ended, Amateur Radio is likely playing an expanding role in those areas encountering the remains of the storm supporting the National Weather Service Forecast Offices through the SKYWARN program," Dura explained. "Even though hurricane season officially ends on November 30, Mother Nature pays no attention to the calendar. Tropical events can still be encountered and the remains of these that turn extra-tropical can cause significant damage and destruction to the areas they impact."
Dura's comments rang true as the remnants of Ida pounded portions of the Carolinas and Virginia with more than six inches of rain and tropical storm force gusts before traveling up the East Coast into New England. North Carolina Section Manager Tim Slay, N4IB, reported ARES® on standby in a portion of his state.
Virginia Section Manager Carl Clements, W4CAC, and Section Emergency Coordinator Joe Safranek, K4JJS, indicated that the EOCs in Hampton and Norfolk requested Amateur Radio support during their activations. According to Safranek, most of the local repeater radio traffic wasSKYWARN and road traffic-related.
Delaware Acting Section Manager John Scoggin, W3JKS, and SEC Wilson Merchant, W3IOU, reported that Sussex County ARES® was active with a weather net. The County EOC requested the Amateur Radio support for monitoring the weather conditions for situational awareness throughout the area.
Southern New Jersey Section Manager George Strayline, N3GZ, and SEC Gary Wilson, K2GW, both reported activities along the Southern New Jersey shore with Amateur Radio supporting county SKYWARN activations. Accroding to Ed Clark, W2KP, RACES in Atlantic County was active in support of county operations.
Dura said that the affected Sections all echoed the same thing in their reports: "It could have been much worse. At best, we had a good exercise."