REPORT 2016-07-24

Weather is the theme of this week’s bulletin. HAMNET is here to extend a hand of help if neighbourhoods or bigger areas are overwhelmed by floods, snow, power losses, and vehicle accidents associated with all of the above, hence the subject.

Since Wednesday, the SA Weather Service has been posting alerts, warning of rough seas and storm conditions, gale force winds and storm surges along the Eastern coast, as a result of Spring tide conditions adding to the frontal weather now passing. These coastal conditions are set to continue into the middle of the coming week. After the heavy rain of the end of this last week in the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape is warning residents of possible heavy snowfalls in the Eastern high ground tonight, as well as heavy rain along the Southern coast from Monday onwards.

Then the Snow Alert forecasts snow occurring on the Western Cape ranges from Saturday morning, starting to spread to the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Drakensberg and high ground around Kokstad, and to the KZN Midlands by Saturday evening. Today, the snow will spread further into the Northern Drakensberg. Heavier falls in the KZN Midlands, the entire KZN Drakensberg, most of Lesotho, and Western KwaZulu Natal will occur this afternoon, and the Eastern half of the Eastern Cape.

Piet Badenhorst has posted a summary of the forecast in the van Reenen’s Pass area on Hamnet’s FaceBook page. He says sleet will fall this afternoon, turning to heavy snowfall this evening and tomorrow, possibly closing van Reenen’s Pass to traffic by lunchtime today. Falls of up to 1.5m may be experienced in the Drakensberg, and motorists and long-distance truckers should avoid van Reenen if possible, to avoid being stuck in stationary queues. He also says the extreme weather is due to the faster than expected passage of the cold front that hit the Western Cape on Wednesday evening, across the country.

Some of the snow in the KZN Midlands will be replaced by rain on Monday and Tuesday, but Lesotho, the KZN Drakensberg and the Hogsback area will not be so lucky. By Tuesday, it could start snowing on the Western Cape peaks again, spreading to the Sutherland area and possibly Calvinia, but slowly clearing by Wednesday.

Bearing all this threatening weather in mind, and further bearing in mind the tragic violence that has been playing out internationally, and which has the potential to spread to South Africa, it occurs to me that all HAMNET members, and in fact all radio amateurs, should never be without our handheld radios as we go about our daily lives, to be another chain of contact in case of local or general catastrophe. And if we are not out and about, but at home keeping warm, we should have our VHF radios on and programmed to the local emergency traffic repeater, or simplex channel, and our HF radios monitoring 3770kHz and 7110kHz lower sideband all the time, to catch that call for help when it comes through.

Our new HAMNET website, at, carries an interesting account of a motorbike accident rescue achieved by Matt ZS1MJJ and Paul ZS1V. Matt says he encountered a riderless motorbike flying through the air as he drove on the way to Gordon’s Bay this past week. Stopping to investigate, he found the rider some 10 metres away, lying face down in water, and unconscious. Matt called for assistance on the 145.600 repeater, and Paul heard him, disabled the link of the 145.600 repeater to the entire South and West Coast chain by using the correct DTMF tones to isolate that specific repeater, and called through to the Somerset West Neighbourhood Watch Control Room, who then called an ambulance service and the Police, both of which quickly arrived on the scene. Thus was the rider’s life saved, thanks to a working repeater system, a pair of reactive HAMNET members, and the assistance of the Neighbourhood Watch Control Staff. Well done, Gentlemen!

A report-back of the major earthquake disaster exercise held on the West Coast of the USA has been published on several sites. A Magnitude 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami was announced to have struck the Pacific Northwest, causing a blackout of all conventional communications channels. ARES and RACES organisations in Oregon and Washington states, the ARRL’s headquarters’ station, and stations in Langley, British Columbia, which was holding its own coastal exercise, were all linked.

“Overall, our objectives of being able to communicate with external agencies via voice and Winlink were achieved,” Monte Simpson, ARRL Western Washington Section manager said. “It was great to be able to participate in an exercise of this magnitude to get a feeling of what it would be like to have this many people trying to send and receive data. All of our operators felt this was very beneficial.”

Simpson said that including Amateur Radio as “an actual functional part” of the exercise was a big plus, and that the participants felt they were “actually part of the team and not some auxiliary group that was being tolerated.”

Among his recommendations, Simpson said there should be more standardization on language and forms, as well as coming up with a method of establishing contact with communities that lack communication if repeaters go down. He also advised that ARES and RACES teams exercise their equipment on a regular basis, to avoid unexpected outages and failures during a real-world event. Good advice that we here in South Africa should follow too.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.