WX4NHC Assistant Coordinator Honored at National Hurricane Conference
W4NXC Assistant Coordinator Julio Ripoll, WD4R was awarded the Distinguished Service Award at the National Hurricane Conference -- held April 18-22 in Atlanta, Georgia -- for “exceptional service in providing emergency communication during hurricane events over three decades while leading [the] WX4NHC Amateur Radio station at the National Hurricane Center.”
Ripoll not only serves WX4NHC as its Assistant Coordinator and an operator, he co-founded the station with then-NHC Director Dr Neil Frank in 1980. WX4NHC collects ground weather reports for areas that are -- or are about to be -- affected by approaching hurricanes, gathering thousands of these reports that are passed on to the forecasters. The station also broadcasts the advisories to ships at sea and to those coastal areas that do not have any other means of receiving them, saving many lives over the years.
“For 30 continuous years, Julio has unselfishly donated over 10,000 hours of his time and many thousands of dollars during operations, both in the hurricane season and in the off season, while at the same time operating his architectural business,” said WX4NHC Coordinator John McHugh, K4AG. “Through his efforts over the years, the data gathering Amateur Radio station at the National Hurricane Center has evolved from a very simple station into the modern sophisticated one it is today. Julio has volunteered under every Director of the NHC since 1980, and the station has been activated for 96 hurricanes to date.”
When Amateur Radio operations at the NHC first began, Ripoll was studying architecture at the University of Miami. “He would borrow the university’s club station transceiver or bring his own radio from his dormitory room in a cardboard box, hand-carrying it a couple of blocks down US-1 to the old NHC building,” McHugh recounted. “The station radio equipment was then setup on one of the Hurricane Forecaster’s desk and connected to the coax cable that ran 300 feet to the roof top wire antenna.”
During his first hurricane season at the NHC, Ripoll led a group of five volunteer operators who sometimes operated up to 12 hours per shift. “Hurricane Allen -- a category 5 storm -- was one of Julio’s most intensive learning experiences,” McHugh said. “He relayed landing permission over ham radio from the Prime Minister of St Lucia to the British Hospital Ship HMS Glasgow to provide medical assistance after Allen had caused heavy damage and injured many people on the island. As Allen progressed through the Gulf of Mexico, still a Category 5 hurricane, toward Texas, he was able to maintain communications with the NWS office in Brownsville during the landfall, when all other means of communications had failed. The group had more than 120 hours on the air, filled 20 pages of the radio log and sent more than 90 radiograms. Most of the WX4NHC operational functions and goals were tested and achieved.”
McHugh said that this proved to Frank and the staff of the NHC the important support that Amateur Radio can provide during hurricanes to the affected area, as well as being able to receive valuable surface reports from the people actually experiencing the hurricane effects in real time.
“Over the years, Julio has expanded the station by acquiring and installing donated equipment and antennas,” McHugh said. “He has selected and developed a group of more than 30 specially trained volunteer operators who can be called upon to operate the station in three hour shifts for as long as is needed. During the 1998 hurricane season, they operated more than 500 hours, the longest time being during Hurricane Georges, when the station was on the air for 10 days and collected more than 500 reports. These Surface Reports are real time eyewitness reports and weather information that provide the forecasters with supplemental data that may not be available to them through other means.”
National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read, KB5FYA, said that “in an era with increasing reliance on high speed technology, we still need the capability to relay critical information to, and receive critical information from, those communities in their time of greatest need -- in times of disaster when most technology has failed. Frequently, the only viable form of communication is the dedicated ham radio operators in or near the disaster area. We at the NHC are grateful for the support of the team of radio operators staffing WX4NHC during tropical cyclone events and assisting in potentially life-saving communications.”