HAMNET Report 23 July 2017

Keeping everyone connected when disaster strikes is a key component of all emergency communications efforts. Without communication, everything else breaks down.

Knowing which roads are open, which ones are jammed or damaged contribute enormously to rescue efforts. Emergency responders have all sorts of tools at their disposal to make sure first responders know what’s going on, but what about your family? How would you make sure everyone is safe?

A cell phone call likely won’t be an option. Cellular networks will be overloaded, land lines could be cut off, and internet disrupted as well. Email and texting may be viable options since they work on different systems than cell phones.

To avoid trouble contacting your loved ones, establish a pre-arranged contact out of your area. If someone is trying to call home in the disaster zone, the call may not go through. Your chances are better outside the zone.

Everybody should call a designated person, and tell them where they are, how they’re doing, and what they’re going to do. Then, you have one point of contact who can help coordinate things.

Amateur radio operators can be the hub that hold communications together in an emergency. They can reach anywhere in the world without the issues linked to phone and cell service. A radio operator might not be able to get you directly to your loved ones, but he or she can get you very close.

Thank you to King 5’s Disaster Preparedness Facebook page for these wise words.

Ward Silver N0AX has written a long article for Nuts and Volts magazine about the effects of the coming solar eclipse on radio signals. He notes that the usual slow change in ionisation in the upper atmosphere as evening approaches and nightfall arrives, will be speeded up and the temporary night-time conditions will last about 3 hours, bearing in mind the slow start of the eclipse and the final clearance of the moon’s shadow. Areas directly within the total eclipse will experience the most unusual phenomena, but areas North and South of the path of totality will also be affected, and DX to all parts of the world may be improved or reduced in intensity.

Radio amateurs will use the eclipse to hold a huge QSO party, to make as many contacts as possible, collecting data at the same time, and documenting the effect the eclipse has on their propagation. Automated receiving decoders, such as CW Skimmer, a programme written by VE3NEA, the Reverse Beacon Net and WSPRNet, will receive CW, RTTY, WSPR and PSK signals and store them. Professional researchers at Virginia Tech will turn all the data into a database that geophysics researchers can use.

Hams enjoy doing this kind of research. Science is what led to ham radio in the first place, and hams have worked with the scientific community since the early days of wireless.  Listening tests by radio amateurs conducted in the early 1920’s confirmed the presence of a reflecting mechanism in the atmosphere, now called the ionosphere.

So the eclipse will not just be a visual delight for those within its path. We wait to hear whether unusual effects were noted this time round. It will be a long time before we experience an eclipse in Southern Africa again.

Solar flux figures continue to deteriorate over this weekend, as the sun settles down again after the coronal mass ejection and resulting solar wind last week, pushed both the solar flux figures and the A and K indices up, both helping and harming our attempts at propagation during the week. The sun is basically spotless this weekend, but  an elevated solar wind stream is continuing to contribute to minor  geomagnetic storming at higher latitudes. Isolated periods of enhanced activity were possible during the last 24 hours. The K index is 5 as I write this, making DX communications poor.

The office of the Premier of the Western Province announced plans some time ago to use a mobile desalination plant, and tap the natural aquifer under Cape Town’s Table Mountain, to prevent a disaster in Cape Town. Boreholes are also to be drilled in hospitals and schools in high-risk areas in an effort to collect additional ground water.

The Western Cape province is facing its worst water shortage in 113 years. The Karoo and West Coast areas of the Western Cape previously declared drought disasters in 2016.

The southern African region has been experiencing a severe drought for almost three years, as a result of the devastating effects of the climatic phenomenon El Niño. The United Nations estimates that over 40 million people have been affected by the drought, which has resulted in the decimation of crops and water resources, leaving millions dependent on aid. While areas such as northern South Africa, parts of Mozambique, and Zimbabwe have benefited from heavy rainfall this year, other areas, such as in southern Angola, remain seriously affected by low precipitation levels.

Examination of the Provincial dam level averages, reveals that the provinces that don’t experience rain in Winter have dams emptying by about one percentage point this week, while the Western Cape has gained one percentage point over last week’s readings. The snow that fell over last weekend can be expected to add considerably to our dam levels as it slowly melts, but, at 25% full, Western Cape dams are very far from the 47% level they were at this time last year. And high pressure cells over the South-Western Atlantic  and Western half of the country are keeping the cold fronts far to the South of us, continuing to keep our Winter rainfall averages very low.

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