Hams Turn Out to Help as Massive Snowfall Stuns Several States
[UPDATED 2016-02-01 1330 UTC] This report has been updated to reflect ARES and SKYWARN activity in New Jersey.
Amateur Radio volunteers were at the ready as a storm of historic proportions over the January 23-24 weekend dropped up to 3-1/2 feet of snow, some of it on states not used to seeing much snow at all. Some communities remained paralyzed Monday morning, as they continue to dig out. Utility line icing caused power outages in some states, and flooding occurred along coastal areas. While the storm bypassed Northern New England, it brought major East Coast cities to their knees, and some 30 deaths have been blamed on the severe weather. In the New York City area, Hudson Division Director Mike Lisenco, N2YBB, said he tried to keep up with the rapid and heavy snowfall accumulation as he anticipated reports from Section Managers (SMs) and Emergency Coordinators (ECs).
“I shoveled snow three times already today,” he said late Saturday. “There’s still another foot of snow out there. The city is completely shut down. No cars are allowed to be on the road at all! I’ve never seen that happen in my 62 years.” A record 26 inches of snow fell in New York City’s Central Park. Lisenco said 31 inches fell in Brooklyn.
New York City Area
ARRL NYC/Long Island SM Jim Mezey, W2KFV, reported, approximately 2 feet of snow with some local flooding. All ARES members were on standby but active in net operations, with SKYWARN also active. In all 13 volunteers took part. Communication was on VHF and UHF repeaters, and 40 meters was used to transmit weather information using digital modes. Babylon EC John Melfi, W2HCB, said the Great South Bay Amateur Radio Club, which makes up the town’s ARES team, took part in storm-related operations on Long Island.
Eastern New York Section Emergency Coordinator David Galletly, KM2O, said parts of his section received little to no snow, while others areas closer to New York City were clobbered.
“The snow/no snow line was extremely sharp. The northern two-thirds of the Eastern New York Section — covered by NWS Albany — received little in the way of precipitation. Albany, for example, did not see a flake,” he told ARRL. “The story was a bit different in the southern third closer to New York City — covered by NWS Upton. Blizzard warnings in ENY were limited to southern portions of Westchester County with Winter Storm Warnings and Special Weather Statements issued in adjacent northern Westchester, Putnam, Rockland, and Orange counties. Reports with snow totals attributed to ‘Trained Spotters’ and ‘Amateur Radio’ were filed from these areas” in NWS statements.
The NWS Upton also credited Amateur Radio spotters with snowfall accumulation reports from Bergen and Passaic counties in New Jersey, from Westchester, Suffolk, and Orange counties and Bronx borough in New York, and New Haven and Fairfield counties in Connecticut, among other locations. Farther north, in Southern New England, there was some uncertainty as to just where the extreme snowfall would hit the region.
In New Jersey, RACES station NJ2EM at the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was on standby for the weather event. Two county OEM RACES activations occurred in Camden (K2EOC) and Gloucester (KD2EAE) to handle traffic and communications in the event of power outages and infrastructure damage.
As part of the rebuilding of the NWS Mount Holly SKYWARN program, ARES was utilized to capture weather observations from most Southern New Jersey Section counties as well as some from Northern New Jersey. Leading this effort was Southern New Jersey SEC Tony Otlowski, W2WCC, utilizing the South Counties Emergency Repeater Network (SCERN) D-Star Network with county ECs. Dennis Dura, K2DCD, of the Mount Holly SKYWARN Advisory Committee facilitated coordination with NWS Mount Holly to utilize this virtual information collection effort prior to the storm. This included coordination with Dave Garland, WX3NCC, of the New Castle County, Delaware, SKYWARN program.
Cape May County SKYWARN Coordinator Bill Aber, N2JAI, conducted a net that was separate from the SCERN. Cape May County saw major flooding during three tide cycles.
More than 200 reports were passed through the SCERN operation to NWS Mt. Holly.
The Appalachian Region may have been the hardest hit, with more than 40 inches of snow reported in parts of West Virginia, where Gov Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency on January 22, deploying state resources in anticipation of the storm. Kanawha County ARES activated nets on 75, 40, and 2 meters.
“We were lucky,” said ARRL West Virginia SM Phillip Groves, N8SFO. “Lots of snow — 24 inches in Beckley, a few power outages around the state. We had several ARES/RACES nets on standby, and a lot of hams with nothing to do but talk on the radio.”
In Kentucky, not typically known for snow emergencies, Gov Matt Bevin also declared state of emergency after several of that state’s southern and eastern counties received a foot or more of snow, stranding thousands of motorists along a 30 mile stretch of Interstate 75. According to Kentucky Public Information Officer Greg Lamb, W0QI, the Kentucky Emergency HF Net activated on 75 meters, with stations checking in from throughout the Commonwealth. Hazard and Harlan County-area repeaters activated a SKYWARN net on January 22 in anticipation of the storm. It remained active for 12 hours, until after the storm had passed.
Amateur Radio volunteers provided 67 storm-related reports to the National Weather Service (NWS) Jackson office. Assistant Region Four Section Emergency Coordinator Johnny Brashear, KY4JLB, was net control, while Fred Jones, WA4SWF, provided details from Louisa. Some area repeaters were down as a result of storm.
In Shelby County, ARES was contacted by served agencies, including the Red Cross, and the county emergency manager, and put on standby to assist with any shelter communication, if needed. No activation was necessary, though and Shelby ARES stood down, although it continued to actively monitor. In Madison, Rockcastle, and Laurel counties, the Red Cross asked for assistance after the Interstate 75 closing. Lamb said the NWS Louisville office expressed thanks for the Amateur Radio assistance.
In Virginia, National Weather Service (NWS) Wakefield SKYWARN Amateur Radio Coordinator Steve Crow, KG4PEQ, said the Wakefield SKYWARN Amateur Radio Team was active from Friday morning through Saturday evening, with brief wrap-up nets for storm total snowfall on Sunday morning.
“While the SKYWARN Radio Desk at NWS Wakefield (WX4AKQ) was not activated, we ran local nets in four of our regions impacted by the storm,” Crow told ARRL. “Participation exceeded expectations, with 13 SKYWARN net controls taking 274 reports from 109 different spotters. Reports consisted of snowfall measurements and ice accumulation, and also provided extremely valuable data on precipitation transition times as the storm fluctuated between snow and sleet in many areas.”
Crow said the Wakefield office serve 66 counties and independent cities in central and southeastern Virginia, northeastern North Carolina, and eastern Maryland.
In Stafford County, Virginia, about a dozen ham radio volunteers were deployed for emergency communication in support of the county emergency manager, but an emergency situation did not develop there.
In North Carolina, the storm brought snow and a lot of power outages, with some 200,000 without power at the peak, but no communication outages, ARES SEC Tom Brown, N4TAB, reported. “A few shelters were opened, but were subsequently closed due to minimal need,” he said.
Delaware, which typically — but not always — experiences fairly mild winters, was not spared this time. “While some areas of Delaware received up to 17 inches of snow, public service, wireless, and telephone services were operational throughout,” ARRL Delaware SM Bill Duveneck, KB3KYH, said. “This made for a very routine and uneventful ARES activation…just the kind we always hope for.”
Amateur Radio volunteers in The First State began preparing for the storm the day before it started, firing up a “Ready Net” on Friday evening in Sussex County, providing weather forecasts and potential served-agency assignments. The next morning ARES initiated spot reporting to the county emergency operations center (EOC), staffed by Sussex County RACES. The ARES Storm Net opened at noon, and stayed up into the evening. Duveneck said 34 volunteers participated in the net, reporting weather, downed wires, and traffic accidents. Other ARES volunteers staffed a shelter at a Georgetown high school, and ARES remained on standby to assist South Delaware hospitals and the Delaware State Police.
In Delaware’s two other counties, Kent and New Castle, ARES did not deploy, but volunteers activated an emergency net Friday evening and remained at the EOC in Dover until Sunday morning, taking spot reports and providing information to county emergency managers. Duveneck said the Amateur Radio station at Delaware’s Emergency Management Agency EOC did not activate, but a team of operators remained on alert. Volunteers also kept an ear on the state HF net frequency.
The Washington, DC, area got smothered by snow. FCC Headquarters in DC remained closed on Tuesday. AMSAT announced on Sunday that its office in suburband Washington DC would be closed on Monday while the region cleans up.
Southern New England
In Connecticut, Section Emergency Coordinator Wayne Gronlund, N1CLV, summed it up this way. “Our first significant winter storm has passed with surprisingly few power disruptions!” He expressed his appreciation to SKYWARN and other volunteers and net participants for reporting observations to the NWS.
In Massachusetts, NWS Taunton office is home to the Southern New England SKYWARN station WX1BOX, which activated for 16 hours over the weekend to gather reports on the blizzard’s effects over its coverage area. The storm largely affected the area south of Boston toward southeast Massachusetts — especially Cape Cod and the Islands, south-central Rhode Island, and south-central Connecticut.
Eastern Massachusetts ARES Assistant Section Emergency Coordinator Rob Macedo, KD1CY, and Noah Goldstein, KB1VWZ, staffed WX1BOX for much of the activation. The team handled several hundred snowfall reports, as well as reports of damage from high winds and the heavy, wet snow and of coastal flooding.
“Compared to last year, this storm did not impact our Section as badly as it could have or as badly as our neighbors south and west of us, but there was still significant snowfall reports as well as some coastal flooding and pockets of tree and wire damage and power outages in the region,” Macedo said. “SKYWARN Net reports were invaluable to find out where the heaviest snow occurred and where the cutoff in snow accumulations was in our region.”
SKYWARN nets ran hourly on the 146.955 Barnstable repeater covering Cape Cod and the Islands, the area hardest hit. ARES District Emergency Coordinator Frank O’Laughlin, WQ1O, and Assistant ARES DEC Dan Howard, K1DYO, Norfolk County and South Shore SKYWARN, also ran periodic nets on their frequencies, as did Connecticut SKYWARN on their frequencies in the NWS Taunton coverage area.
Nantucket ARES was on standby to support shelter operations on the island, as power outages mounted. Utility companies were able to restore power quickly, averting the need for a shelter, however.