HAMNET Report 10 September 2017

Well, more and more natural disaster news comes through. For the first time in recorded history, there were two hurricanes in close proximity to each other bearing down on the Caribbean with sustained wind-speeds of greater than 150mph (or 240kph). They are Irma and Jose, and, as I write this on Saturday afternoon, Irma is approaching Florida, and expected to move straight up Florida’s straight axis this evening, our time, having ravaged a lot of the Caribbean islands since Thursday.

According to the Los Angeles Times, on Thursday, the Dominican Republic had its population of 10.7 million in shelters as the hurricane churned overhead, Turks and Caicos experienced a storm surge of 6 metres on their low lying islands, Anguilla’s 17000 people reported significant structural damage and at least one death, St Barts suffered rooftops ripped off their houses, an electrical grid disruption, and rivers of debris flowing through streets. The dual nationality island of St Maarten/St Martin, suffered at least 8 deaths amongst its total population of 77000 people, Barbuda reported damage to 95% of all structures, and the death of a 2-year-old, but neighbouring island Antigua was less affected. And Haiti, which still hasn’t recovered from its previous hurricane Matthew damage in 2016, is being shored up as Hurricane Jose approaches.

Sadly, John ZS1JNT, tells me that friends of his on St Maarten island report widespread looting of the damaged boats there for anything sellable, and a supermarket opening its doors, letting the locals help themselves, to prevent further damage to their buildings by the looters.

The ARRL Bulletin dated 8 September says:

Please be aware that due to the breadth of this series of weather events, numerous emergency and public service nets are in session, especially on the 80, 40, and 20 meter bands. All stations should be aware that in a large-scale natural disaster, immediate threats to life and property can happen quickly. In order for Amateur Radio to play an effective role in supporting humanitarian efforts, it is key that all licensees cooperate to minimize potential on-air problems.

Amateurs should also be aware that the primary users on the 60-meter channels are using those channels extensively. Amateur stations, as secondary users, must ensure that their communications are conducted in such a manner to ensure that Federal government stations, as primary users, can have immediate use of any 60-meter channel. Amateurs, please make sure you are leaving adequate breaks between transmissions to allow the primary stations to use the frequency. If a primary user does break into an amateur contact on the frequency, the amateurs involved should immediately cease their transmissions.

At this time, it is ARRL’s understanding that only Amateur Radio Emergency or Amateur Radio Priority traffic is moving in and out of the affected areas. Amateur Radio Health and Welfare communications are being queued up for later delivery into the affected area, as the emergency and priority traffic eases.

The Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) reports its frequency being used as of Saturday afternoon is 14.325 MHz, while the Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN) is operating on 14.265 MHz.

Meanwhile, a smaller category 2 hurricane, named Katia is hovering on the North coast of Southern Mexico, and Greg Mossop G0DUB notes:

The National Emergency Network of the Mexican National Society (FMRE) declared on September 8 that they would be using the following frequencies as they prepared for the arrival of Hurricane Katia.

20m 14.120 MHz
40m 7.060 MHz
80m 3.690 MHz

14.325 MHz was also expected to be used to co-ordinate with the USA Hurricane Watch Net.

And at least 61 people have died after the most powerful earthquake to hit Mexico in a century struck off the Southern coast on Friday morning at 04h49 UTC.

The magnitude 8.1 quake, which was felt as far afield as Mexico City and Guatemala City, was registered off Mexico’s southern coast just as heavy rains from Hurricane Katia lashed the east. The epicentre was in the Pacific Ocean, some 1,000 kilometres southeast of the capital and 120 kilometres off the coast.

With the Earthquake hitting Mexico on Friday, we should assume that these frequencies are in use now as they respond to that disaster.

Various Winlink nodes may also be used to deal with the emergencies.

With HF propagation disturbed after the solar flare on Wednesday, Greg asks that we take all steps to avoid interference to emergency communications activities in the Caribbean.

To add insult to injury, a series of massive explosions on the Sun caused a radio network designed to warn people of the hurricanes in the Caribbean, to go on the fritz during the time period when it would have been issuing information about Hurricane Irma, both the manager of the network and a NOAA representative confirmed to Motherboard, whom we thank for these notes.

Solar flares like the ones reported this week are known to interfere with high frequency radio signals. “When that solar flare happens, it’s like static frying,” Bobby Graves, Net Manager for Hurricane Watch Net (HWN), told reporters over the phone. This group of licensed amateur radio operators, based across North and Central America and the Caribbean, works with the National Hurricane Centre to disseminate information about storms. When a solar flare happens, “it’s like they just turned the radio off,” Graves, who lives in Brandon, Mississippi, said.

Bob Rutledge, lead forecaster at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Centre, confirmed receiving “isolated” reports from the Caribbean about radio blackouts related to the series of solar flares observed on the Sun this week, including from HWN. “It’s truly a complete radio blackout,” Rutledge said. “The signal just can’t get through.”

HWN also gathers data from people on the ground and sends the information back to the NHC in Miami, according to Graves. He said that blackouts this week lasted from 20 minutes to up to four hours.

“It’s sad, knowing you’re trying to get the information out, or maybe someone out there is trying to talk back to you,” Graves told me. Radio operators have to wait out the solar storm, and “hopefully the people are still there when the frequency is recovered.”

Starting on September 4, a series of solar flares belched radiation and solar plasma at Earth—including three of the largest and most powerful types of solar flare, which are called X-class, Rutledge told Motherboard. Many more were M-class, a lower designation.

One was an X9.3 flare, the largest recorded in about a decade, according to NASA. NOAA’s space weather agency issued warnings for geomagnetic storms, which are major disturbances in our planet’s magnetosphere that can meddle with all kinds of technologies we rely on, including satellites, radio communications, and GPS signals. According to Graves, these storms make everything sound “gurgly,” like you’re talking “underwater.”

Just what the emergency networks in the Caribbean needed this week!

Let it not be said that we don’t live in interesting times…

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