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SKYWARN, ARES on Alert for More Severe Weather in US Midsection


[UPDATED: 2014-04-30 1405 UTC] Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and SKYWARN teams are on alert for more severe weather in an area ranging from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast and even extending toward the East Coast — perhaps one-third of the US. On April 28, tornadoes raked Mississippi and Alabama. Eight died in Mississippi, while two died in Alabama, and another two fatalities occurred in Tennessee, near the Alabama line. According to Mississippi Gov Phil Bryant, tornadoes inflicted “severe damage” in and around Louisville, some 100 miles northeast of Jackson. Tupelo also was hit; TV viewers in that city watched as WTVA’s chief meteorologist exited the set after ordering his colleagues to take cover.

“Preliminary reports indicate extensive damage in the Jackson Metro, Winston County, and Lee County,” said ARRL Mississippi Section Manager Malcolm Keown, W5XX. “ARES/Skywarn activated over the state providing ground-truth weather and damage reports to NWS-Jackson and NWS-Memphis. One 400 foot ham tower was lost in Northeast Mississippi which supported multiple repeaters. We are expecting another round of storms late this afternoon.”

Late last week severe weather in Eastern North Carolina led to one death and severe property damage in five counties.

Over the weekend 14 people died in Arkansas storms; other fatalities were reported in Oklahoma and Iowa. Forecasters say the severe weather could continue through the end of the week. Arkansas Section Central District Emergency Coordinator and Arkansas SKYWARN volunteer Danny Straessle, KE5WLR, told ARRL that the National Weather Service Little Rock Forecast Office contacted him on Saturday morning to request activation the following day.

“Arkansas SKYWARN operates in the operations center at the Little Rock Forecast Office,” Straessle explained. “This provides a direct benefit to the forecasters to have a direct ear-to-the-ground truth our operators provide.” Straessle said the first team of Amateur Radio operators opened the Arkansas SKYWARN net at 11 AM CST on Sunday. Net controllers were Shane Lee, WX0X, Pat Thomas, AE5NW, and David Wilmot, KF5TOC. “We scheduled teams of two operators for 3 to 4-hour shifts each,” he said. While much of that day was quiet, the NWS issued a tornado warning just after 7 PM, warning residents to take cover.

“We immediately received a report from Harold Higgins, W5HWH, in west Pulaski County of 80 MPH winds, trees down, and power out,” Straessle said. The storm was tracking to the northeast across Arkansas Route 10. Then, Tim King, KC5GNJ, reported debris and rotation — the first actual tornado sighting. The twister proceeded into Mayflower and crossed Interstate Route 40, which was subsequently shut down. 

“As the storm crossed the Arkansas River,” Straessle said, “Adam Flynn, W5FJC, had a great view of the storm and was the first to report that a second vortex had appeared.” A tornado emergency was issued for Mayflower and Vilonia. “I can see a very, very wide tornado on the ground to the west,” Flynn told the net. Behind the storm, Adam Flynn, W5FJC, followed up with reports of downed power lines and a damage path. Widespread property damage was reported in Mayflower and Vilonia, north of Little Rock. 

The NWS declared another tornado emergency Tim Hunter, N5RZX, told the net from downtown Vilonia that he had eyes on the storm. Hunter himself was affected by the storm, and Straessle said his situation was not known as of early this week. Other SKYWARN volunteers reported a second funnel trailing the first, and subsequent eyewitness reports confirm the tornado. Straessle said the net did not shut down until 4:45 Monday morning.

“While local and national TV stations could only show images of radar signatures and debris balls, Arkansas SKYWARN Amateur Radio storm spotters provided a virtual play-by-play, as the storm made its way through this part of central Arkansas,” he said.

“While the forecasters had their eyes glued to the radar, their ears were glued to reports coming in from Arkansas SKYWARN.” Straessle said the net “went like clockwork” and was “one of the most professional nets we have had.”

In Bates County, Missouri, on Sunday, William DelliPaoli, KD0PVP, reported that his SKYWARN net was able to get a warning out 20 minutes in advance to members in the fire department and city emergency operations center, where volunteers were monitoring. “I had been monitoring NWS chat all day and was prepared for the tornadoes entering Bates County,” he told Mike Bellinger, K0UAA, Missouri District A Emergency Coordinator.

Lafayette County, Missouri, ARES EC Jack Green, KD0CYM, said ARES was called out on Sunday April 27. “[We] had been keeping track of storm cells heading towards Lafayette County,” he told ARRL. “Around 1 PM we received word of a sighting south of Bates City, [and] we deployed. Around Higginsville, we had very strong winds that blew very large signs down, tore shingles off houses, and broke off large tree limbs.” Green said the 13 deployed spotters then stood down to regroup for the next front.

“Around 6 PM I called all spotters back out for a storm cell coming north from Butler .We got a report of a tornado around there, [but] nothing came close to Lafayette County; it stayed south of us,” Green said, and the spotting net was shut down.

Ray County, Missouri, northwest of Kansas City, also experienced some severe weather over the weekend. ARES EC Randal Kennett, W0RAK, reported that Amateur Radio volunteers started up a net on the Richmond repeater and exchanged condition reports. A funnel cloud appeared some 4 miles from Kennett’s home.

“Tornado warnings were broadcast by NWS for most of the towns in my area,” he said, but a downed tree in Hardin was the worst damage he observed.

Much of the US South and Southeast also have been experiencing heavy rainfall as a result of the persistent storm systems, and flood warnings have been posted in several states.





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