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Midwestern Hams Spot, Track Tornados As 2011 Begins

01/13/2011

In the final hours of 2010, tornados swept across Missouri, Illinois and Arkansas, leaving at least seven people dead. Hams in Missouri -- one of the hardest hit areas -- activated nets and provided real-time weather observations to the National Weather Service. According to a timeline of events in the St Louis Post-Dispatch, hams in the towns of Pacific, Ballwin and Sunset Hills in Missouri, as well as a ham in O’Fallon, Illinois, were among the many who spotted and reported twisters and severe weather to their local NWS offices.

Beginning at 10:30 PM on December 30 -- as forecasters were posting tornado watches and warnings -- Regional SKYWARN Net Coordinator Jim Sellars, N0UAM, activated the Southwest Missouri Regional SKYWARN Net. At this time, the NWS was reporting that the storms were just making their way in to Stone County, just west of Table Rock Lake.

According to ARRL Southwest Missouri Public Information Officer Rod Kittleman, K0ADI, first responders, SKYWARN mobile intercept spotters, SKYWARN spotters and Emergency Managers throughout the region provided critical reports to the NWS via Amateur Radio during the storms. Taney County ARES Emergency Coordinator Don Birk, NA9X, along with hams at operating from the Stone County 911 Center, provided the NWS with eyewitness observations from area amateurs reporting in from their local nets. Cody Hudson, KF5HLZ, of Harrison, Arkansas, observed the tornado and associated power flashes as the storm damaged condos and boat docks at Indian Point and reported them directly into the regional net.

ARRL Arkansas Section Manager J. M. Rowe, N5FXW, said that his state was spared the brunt of the storm: “SKYWARN groups in the northwest part of the state were active during the storm,” he told the ARRL. “They reported storm activity and damages to the NWS office in Tulsa, Oklahoma.”

The tornados and severe thunderstorms made their way north into Christian County where hams affiliated with the Christian County ARES® group sprang into action. Kittleman told the ARRL that Christian County ARES Emergency Coordinator Pat Conway, WA6JGM, helped to pass information and spotter reports to the Regional Net. Along with Emergency Management/CERT Liaison Rich Vogt, KB9YZE, Conway assisted Christian County emergency management officials after an EF-1tornado caused damage between Sparta and Fordland in the early morning hours.

Throughout the night, severe thunderstorms continued across all of Missouri, and as daybreak approached, additional supercell thunderstorms developed and affected large areas of Southwest and Central Missouri. Kittleman said that hams reported tornados in Pulaski, Phelps and Dent Counties, including an EF-3 tornado within the sprawling Fort Leonard Wood military complex. ARES® groups and emergency management officials in the affected areas provided real-time accounts and relayed reports on the situation into the regional SKYWARN net.

Kittleman said that groups in Webster, Douglas, Laclede, Pulaski, Wright and Phelps Counties tracked and reported on these dangerous storms. Texas County ARES® Emergency Coordinator Richard Wood, KB0MPO, and his group relayed their observations of the Fort Leonard Wood storm from their vantage point on the south side of the Fort to the National Weather Service office in Springfield, enhancing the warning process and helping increase warning lead times.

According to Ben Kiningham, K9IDQ, in Menard County, Illinois, there were no communications outages, so Amateur Radio operators in that state were not called upon to provide communications support. “Only one person was injured, and electrical, phone and cell service was still open to much of the area,” he told the ARRL. “Emergency response was immediate -- county and state police, fire and two utilities, as well as fire departments from Lincoln, Springfield and other communities, assisted to see if all was okay. The National Weather Service ranked the storm as an EF-3 Tornado that blew through the region swiftly, blowing roofs off of at least half a dozen or more homes.”

Kiningham told the ARRL that the storms in his area -- about 25 miles northwest of Springfield, Illinois -- hit during the middle of the night: “About six homes were destroyed, but 100 homes and farms suffered some kind of damage. The south shore of Lake Petersburg was fine, but the north shore was where all the damage occurred.”

“Events like these prove the effectiveness of a well run SKYWARN operation,” said ARRL Missouri Section Emergency Coordinator Ken Baremore W0KRB. “The ARES® and spotter groups handled the transfer of information, data and spotter reports seamlessly as the storms crossed the various county areas of responsibility, and effectively passing the information from their local nets into the regional net and then to the NWS. This can only be accomplished via a coordinated and active SKYWARN and ARES® organization. The weekly local and regional ARES®/SKYWARN training nets help reinforce this proper reporting and coordinating of procedures.”

Steve Runnels, KD4OPZ -- the Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the NWS office in Springfield, Missouri -- said that he was impressed by “the amount of Amateur Radio support we received during the overnight and into the early morning hours. This proves that the Amateur Radio community is always ready. It also shows the strength of their commitment to the communities they live in and the National Weather Service’s mission to protect life and property.”  -- Thanks to ARRL Southwest Missouri Public Information Officer Rod Kittleman, K0ADI; Ben Kiningham, K9IDQ, and the St Louis Post-Dispatch for the information



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