REPORT 4 December 2016

At 00h40 UTC on Friday morning the earth’s crust again demonstrated its instability when a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck a fairly densely populated part of Peru. The epicentre was only 3.56km below ground in the Puno area, where about 60000 people are within a 50km radius, and very likely to suffer damage to person and property. Another 800000 people live within 100km of the quake zone, but no news of major loss of life has been reported.

And from Jim Linton VK3PC, Chairman IARU Region 3 Disaster Communications Committee, comes news that Tropical Cyclone Nada has developed to the East of Sri Lanka and will impact India this weekend. Gopal Madhavan VU2GMN reported that a severe cyclonic storm with heavy rains is predicted over the next few days and emergency amateur services were initiated as of Friday. He advised that 7070 kHz will be used on HF, as well as several VHF frequencies. Several control stations including VU2GMN are ready. Heavy rainfall will increase the risk of flooding of inland areas and winds are confined to near the storm. Weather experts are closely watching its movement which includes touching the northern edge of Sri Lanka and moving to India’s Western coast late Friday and into Saturday. While the cyclone may weaken over Southern India, eyes are watching for a second cyclone that could develop in the first half of next week.

The KwaZulu-Natal government launched its latest roll-out of lightning rods, aimed at disaster stricken communities last weekend. Lightning conductors are crucial for the protection of rural communities which have borne the brunt of the extreme weather across the province.

December and January have traditionally proved to be the most deadly time of year. The roll-out of the lightning rods was specifically targeted at rural communities and the department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs has partnered with municipalities in ensuring that public spaces such as community halls, clinics, and schools had lightning rods installed, especially in high-risk areas.

The roll-out included a massive awareness campaign that also encouraged communities to buy the lightning rods at their local hardware supplies for their own homes. Each lightning rod provides a circle of protection of about 100 metres, so each village or suburb in a vulnerable area needs many of these needles in the sky to protect the local property and people. Twenty five people have so far died in KZN this year from lightning strikes.

In a prelude to a story that is going to grow over the next 5 years or so, research is being conducted in the South Pacific to determine to what extent drones can play a part in mapping disasters and planning relief efforts. The researchers are backed by the Australian Red Cross and the Department of Foreign Affairs, and will travel to Fiji and Vanuatu, and surrounding small islands, hit by tropical storms last year, and cut off from aid for up to 4 days after the disasters. Mapping of disaster areas, and the determination of exact coordinates of damage to buildings and other infrastructure by small drones will considerably speed up aid by the countries themselves, or from neighbouring states. As drone technology improves and expands, this kind of rescue service will become commonplace, so watch this space for future developments.

The annual SKYWARN Recognition Day (SRD) on-the-air activity took place in the United States yesterday from 00h00 until 23h59 UTC. Developed by the ARRL and the National Weather Service (NWS) in 1999, SKYWARN Recognition Day honours the contributions that SKYWARN volunteers make to the NWS mission — the protection of life and property during threatening weather. During the SKYWARN Special Event, hams operated from several NWS offices. W1AW took part in the event. So did WX4NHC at the National Hurricane Centre, on HF, VHF, and UHF, plus APRS and WinLink. WX4NHC activity centred on the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) frequency, 14.325 MHz.

The object of the event is for all participating Amateur Radio stations to exchange contact information with as many NWS stations as possible on 80, 40, 20, 15, 10, 6, and 2 meters, as well as 70 centimetres. Contacts via repeaters are permitted. Stations exchange call signs, signal reports, locations, and a one or two-word description of the weather at their respective locations (e.g., “sunny,” “rainy,” “partly cloudy,” “windy”). NWS stations use various modes, including SSB, FM, AM, RTTY, CW, and PSK31. Thank you to the ARRL Letter for this excerpt.

Two of our regions will be holding end-of-year meetings this week. On Wednesday evening, HAMNET Western Cape will hold its final meeting at the Roll Bar at Killarney race track. This will take the form of an early bring-and-braai at 18h00, and members are all invited to bring their “significant others” and some meat to braai. The bar will be open, and fires will be provided.

And HAMNET KwaZulu-Natal will hold its final meeting next Saturday the 10th, at 12h30 for 13h00, at 84 Signals Unit in Old Fort Road. This will be a meeting as usual, but will finish with the usual bring-and-braai, and all members are heartily invited to attend. All the provinces need rain, but let’s hope Wednesday evening in Cape Town, and Saturday midday in Durban are not washed out!

Talking of rain, the dam report has been issued by the Department of Water and Sanitation, and I’m mildly relieved to tell you that the dams are almost exactly at the same levels as last week. The country-wide average is 50% full, as it was last week, but still down on the 62% full this week last year. At least there has been no further deterioration in the situation. Please do all in your power not to use water if you can help it.

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