HAMNET Report 5th September 2021

Eight days ago, Tropical Storm Ida was a category 1 storm in the Caribbean, with winds of less than 120km/h, and threatening Cuba, and then Louisiana. By Sunday last it had strengthened to have winds in the 240km/h range, and threatening 2.7 million people in its path. It made landfall in Louisiana as a category 4 storm, and knocked out power for more than a million subscribers.

Excerpts from the ARRL letter this week say that the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) and the VoIP Hurricane Net (VoIP WX) were busy gathering ground-truth weather observations from radio amateurs as Hurricane Ida slammed into the Louisiana Gulf Coast on August 29 as a powerful Category 4 storm. ARRL Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES®) teams in Mississippi activated. Ida wrought extensive damage, especially in Louisiana and Mississippi, and left some 1 million customers in New Orleans and elsewhere without power — and some communities without water. Downgraded to a tropical depression, Ida continued its path up the eastern seaboard, causing further flash flooding and damage and even spawning a few tornadoes in the Mid-Atlantic States. The storm shut down New York City’s subways as well as rail and air traffic in New Jersey before moving into New England. At least 10 people died in the region as a result of the storm.

For the HWN, it was all hands on deck on Sunday, August 29, as the net resumed operation on both 14.325 MHz and 7.268 MHz. “We had a great number of reporting stations throughout the day and well into the evening,” HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, said. “Unfortunately, there were times in which propagation completely disappeared.”

All told, the HWN was activated for 26 hours over the weekend, fielding reports ranging from mild winds to very high winds and torrential rainfall.

The VoIP Hurricane Net activation for Hurricane Ida wrapped up on Monday, August 30 after handling dozens of reports from stations in the affected area of Hurricane Ida that were sent to WX4NHC, the National Hurricane Centre Amateur Radio Station.

VoIP Hurricane Net Manager Rob Macedo, KD1CY, said radio amateurs on the N5OZG repeater system “provided constant ground truth from areas in and around New Orleans. All of these reports were also sent to WX4NHC, the amateur radio station at the National Hurricane Centre, as well.” Net control stations across the US also assisted with reporting and monitoring.

The Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES®) in Mississippi activated on August 29 with several nets. On Sunday, August 29, VHF ARES nets were activated around the state for the purpose of passing weather reports, health-and-welfare traffic, and damage reports as needed.

Both the Mississippi ARES Emergency Net and the Mississippi Winlink Net activated on August 29. The Winlink Net operated until 18:00 on August 30, passing 80 messages, which were copied to KM5EMA, the Winlink station at the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

According to further media reports, more than 40 people have died, of which 23 were in New Jersey, 13 in New York City, 5 in Pennsylvania, and 1 in Connecticut, 1 in Virginia and another in Maryland. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports evacuated people in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and more than 100,000 people without power across New York and New Jersey. In addition, several rivers are at a major flood level.

Thanks to the various agencies for these compiled reports.

I received a report from Brian ZS1BTD, who assisted with an Air Sea Rescue exercise at Strandfontein Beach in the Cape on the 29th August. He writes:

“Arriving soon after 07:00B, a member of the BMW motorcycle club and I (representing WSAR) looked for a suitable landing zone. The usual LZ had numerous mole heaps. Walking in this area, I found myself falling up to 40cm into these holes. This made the area unusable and hazardous.

“An adjacent field had accommodated the dismantled desalination plant. Half the field had wooden sticks protruding in rows. The rest had parallel mounds crossing the width. It appeared to be made up of clay soil. This turned out to be ideal as it was firm and slightly moist, resulting in no dust during the exercise.

Sky-Med arrived at around 08:00.  (A potential Table Mountain callout had not materialized). Therefore extra exercise time was afforded. The Crew consisted of two pilots and two ELO’s (External Line Operators). Unfortunately only two out of five swimmers were on hand. One was from AMS, a female who volunteered to be a casualty. A senior female life guard from Fish Hoek also acted as a patient.  Station 16 provided the rest of the ‘casualties’. Various types of retrieval methods were practised, including something called ‘T-bagging’. The LZ was controlled, preventing any public access.

“After the swimmer and patient/casualty touched down, the long line was retrieved by kneeling down and zig-zagging it in front of you, while Sky-Med landed about 5 metres in front of that. The line was then passed under the skids. The attached end was handed to an ELO who loaded the line into a bag, with the end buoy and hook going in last.  A chopper landing in front of you is quite exhilarating, but focusing on securing the long line keeps your mind at ease.

“All in all it was reported to be a highly successful training session. All parties contributed to it being safe and informative.

“There was a request from the pilot for the Rescue craft to be positioned at 10 o’clock to the patient in the water.  This provided orientation when Sky-Med approached the swimmer and patient for the lift. This is a major help as it is difficult for the pilot to see below his aircraft.   The principal swimmer also gave a few instructions and requests.  Comm’s were maintained between the LZ and 16 Base.

“Ground communications at the LZ was conducted by me (ZS1BTD), but was limited to Marine Band. Sky-Med ZS-HCG requested for comm’s to be on Air Band as it had had all other radio’s removed. This was not possible as I did not have an Air Band radio available.  Hand signals were used instead.”

Thanks, Brian, for the comprehensive report. Well done there on demonstrating your capabilities.

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