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Oklahoma Amateur Radio Volunteers Activate Net to Track Severe Weather

03/27/2015

Amateur Radio SKYWARN volunteers in Oklahoma went on alert March 25 as severe thunderstorms sparked tornadoes. The Southwest Independent Repeater Association (SWIRA) and Tulsa Region SKYWARN nets were active in support of tornado warnings in both the Oklahoma City and Tulsa Metropolitan areas. No Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) activation was required, however.

“March 25 was a busy afternoon and evening in Oklahoma,” ARRL Oklahoma Section Manager Lloyd Colston, KC5FM, told ARRL.

Oklahoma Section Emergency Coordinator Mark Conklin, N7XYO, said that ARES-OK Tulsa Region was put on standby. “No communication support was requested by served agencies,” he said. “Other than some local cell service overload, normal communications were up and working.”

The WX5TUL Tulsa National Weather Service SKYWARN Net activated on VHF and UHF, with approximately 25 stations checking in. Weather spotters reported four tornadoes, two causing major damage and injury, along with large and frequent severe hail, minor street flooding and significant damage due to straight-line winds, causing widespread power outages. The severe weather has been blamed for at least one death.

Colston said the SWIRA net control stations received reports — at times under challenging conditions — that were relayed to the National Weather Service office in Norman. “Both the Tulsa and Norman offices have Amateur Radio stations,” he pointed out. “Both encourage SKYWARN and Weather Ready Nation initiatives in their service areas.”

Colston said that as the storm progressed across the Tulsa Metro area many of the early damage reports were passed to the Tulsa Area Emergency Management Agency via Amateur Radio. “Oklahoma Section radio amateurs reported on this storm system until it exited the state late that evening,” he said. Colston and Conklin noted that many early “ground truth” and tornado observations came from SKYWARN spotters.

Conklin said that the Tulsa Amateur Radio Club (TARC) UHF Superlink System is used for SKYWARN traffic outside the Tulsa Metro area, while TARC’s VHF repeater handles SKYWARN net traffic inside the Tulsa Metro area.

A preliminary damage assessment from the National Weather Service Office in Norman confirmed more than one tornado, the most severe being in Moore. The NWS survey rated damage from the tornado as “high-end EF1.” Widespread damage also resulted from winds of from 70 to 80 MPH, the NWS said.

“Situations like the one on March 25 are complicated,” the NWS commented on the Oklahoma City and Moore tornado and wind event, “and the storms that produced the damage are difficult to anticipate and extremely difficult to warn for. They are not uncommon in Oklahoma.” Tornadoes that occur in these situations “represent the lower end of the tornado intensity spectrum,” the NWS said.

 



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