Weather Service, ham radio group celebrate partnership

The National Weather Service and the American Radio Relay League of amateur radio operators will join forces during the holiday weekend to recognize the valuable service amateur radio provides during severe weather, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said today.

Hundreds of volunteer ham radio operators will partner with forecasters at nearly 55 weather service offices, including the Norman Forecast Office, to broadcast special messages celebrating the contributions that amateur radio make to the National Weather Service to as many other amateur radio stations as possible. These transmissions will be made on amateur radio frequencies, not on those used by AM or FM radio stations. The exercise will run from 6 p.m. CST on Nov. 26 to 6 p.m. Nov. 27.

The National Weather Service (NWS) utilizes state-of-the-art technology to warn the public of critical weather. Tools such as advanced computers and Doppler radar give meteorologists a good idea of approaching weather, but weather observations, like wind speed or rainfall amounts, are essential for forecasters to know exactly what is occurring during severe weather events. Whether Hurricane Floyd is sweeping across the Atlantic coast or an F5 tornado is ripping through Oklahoma City, real time observations provide crucial information in the public warning process.

Unfortunately, it is precisely at this time that communication between a NWS office and volunteer storm spotters may become unreliable. Devastating winds, lightning strikes and floods may down telephone lines, and communication centers can become overwhelmed by requests for aid. Often, many NWS offices enlist the help of amateur radio operators and their established, reliable communication system.

Amateur radio operators, known as “hams,” use the air waves to communicate with each other. There are approximately 740,000 hams in the United States and around two million worldwide. During severe weather, specially trained ham volunteers observe the weather and immediately report it to NWS offices. The information is received at the NWS office by other hams with radios, and this information is then relayed to the public.

“Ham radio is an important tool used by Skywarn storm spotters to report essential information to our office during severe weather,” said Dennis McCarthy, meteorologist-in-charge of the National Weather Service Norman Forecast Office and a licensed amateur radio operator. “These reports are a key part of the warning decision-making process. Our relationship with hams has saved lives and property time and time again.”

The Norman office will be working with members of the South Canadian Amateur Radio Society and other local hams during the event.

Meteorologist-in-Charge Scott Mentzer of the Goodland, Kan., Weather Forecast Office, devised the amateur radio testing plan, which started as a tribute to ham operators in northwest Kansas and blossomed to a project involving weather service offices around the country.

“We started the holiday weekend back-up test to give much-deserved recognition to the ham radio operators who work with the Goodland office and often provide critical communications links during severe weather, and it just grew as ham operators and forecast offices learned about it,” said Mentzer, who is a ham radio operator himself. “The exercise provides an opportunity for weather service personnel and ham operators to share knowledge and test each other’s capabilities before a severe weather situation.”