HAMNET Report 11th September 2022

In a summary of the major disasters befalling the world this week, the Pakistani flooding situation has raised the death toll to at least 1314, of which 458 were children. A freshwater lake was breached last Sunday before it could burst its banks naturally, preventing a further flood, but displacing 100000 people from their homes.

A magnitude 6.6 earthquake struck China’s Sichuan province on Monday the 5th, killing at least 74 people. 35 others are still missing, and 270 have been injured. At least 20000 have been evacuated to shelters. Videos and security camera pictures abound on the internet showing the destruction.

And Tropical Cyclone HINNAMNOR-22 has spent this week travelling down the north-west coast of Japan in the general direction of North and South Korea, with maximum wind speeds of 160 km/h, 10 deaths, 2 still missing, and about 5000 people displaced.

I found an article in the website “Briefly” which sums up the major natural disasters we have experienced in this country in the last 100 years. There were more than I had realized.

The worst include (in date sequence):

The Limpopo hailstorm of 1936, which killed hundreds of cattle, and at least 10 people immediately. Another 9 died of the flooding that followed the storm. Hailstones the size of fully grown coconuts were measured.

The Tulbagh earthquake of September 1969, which measured 6.3 on the Richter scale, and which resulted in extensive infrastructural damage and numerous deaths in the surrounding area, including children.

The Laingsburg Flood, in January 1981, during which 104 people died, when almost the entire town was washed away after heavy rainfall caused the Buffels River to deliver a massive wall of water to the town. Only 32 bodies were ever recovered. The late Ozzie Carstens ZS1DZ used Amateur Radio to provide the only means of communication with the town for about 3 weeks.

The Sobantu floods of September 1987, which delivered 1000 mm of rain in five days to parts of KZN, resulting in flash floods, landslides and the washing away of an entire island in the Umgeni River. More than 500 people lost their lives in this one.

The Eastern Cape Tornado of January 1998 (or was it 1999?), of strength F4, which tore through the areas around Tabankulu and Mount Ayliff, leaving 95% of local residents homeless, extensive property damage, and more than 20 deaths.

The Cape storm of June 2017, which struck the Southern Coast of the Cape, with winds speeds as high as 120 km/h, waves as high as 12 meters, eight deaths, and extensive damage to at least 100 schools across the Western Cape.

The Knysna Wildfire of June 2017, fueled by the strong winds of that Cape Storm, which maintained speeds of 90 km/h, destroyed over 600 houses, and displaced more than 10000 people.

The Drought, which affected almost the entire country, starting in 2016, but reaching its peak in 2018, with soaring temperatures, crop failures, and deaths of hundreds of thousands of cattle and wildlife, and almost leading to Cape Town’s taps running dry as it approached what was termed Day Zero.

The Floods and Landslides of 2022, affecting the country’s south-east parts between April the 11th and 13th, and due to extremely heavy rainfall in most parts of the country. 448 people died, 40000 were displaced, and at least 12000 houses in the south eastern provinces were destroyed.

Gosh, when one looks at it like this, one realizes we are not as protected from natural calamities as one thinks!

This past week we noted the passing of Frank Drake, the first proponent of the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, and the developer of the famous Drake Equation, which speculated on the possibility of life being present elsewhere in the galaxy and universe. When he first wrote up the equation, nothing was known of planets around distant stars, and so the equation minimized the possibility of habitable planets affecting the likelihood of life. Now that we feel that every star has planets orbiting it, and the vast majority of these stars will have planets in the so-called goldilocks zone, the equation tilts very heavily into the realm of likelihood of life all over the show. The problem is that those life forms may be so far away from us that we will never become aware of them.

However, if Professor Drake’s dream of meeting extra-terrestrial life ever befalls us, we ought to raise a statue to the man who had the vision to think of the possibility of that distant life, and also the passion to spend a good part of his life looking for it.

Then I would be remiss, were I not to note with sadness the passing this week of Queen Elizabeth ll at a grand age. Not all people are Royalists, and not all British citizens will be mourning her passing, but to all our Ham friends who are Royalists, please accept our collective sympathies at the loss of your Monarch, and the end of a very long era. If ever there was a funeral during which to maintain radio silence, this is it.

And this weekend marks the 21st anniversary of the loss of at least 3000 American citizens in the disaster that was 9/11. Amongst those citizens, and to be remembered by us with great respect, were the emergency rescue teams, like the firemen, who ran towards and into those building as they burned, and not away from them, as any normal person would have done. Those rescue teams were not normal, and they that lost their lives should be held in awe. So too, the radio engineers in the building at the time, managing the commercial radio and TV repeaters on the building, who lost their lives doing the things we amateurs love to do. May your signals always be 5 and 9.

Finally, a spot of technically interesting news: Voyager One, now scooting off into interstellar space, at a distance of 23.3 billion km, started speaking in tongues in May this year! The telemetry expected of it was all garbled and made no sense at all.

Nasa might have been forgiven for writing it off as long past its sell-by date, and not worthy of further interaction, but they didn’t. Working with communications lags of 22 hours in each direction, interrogating its functions and activities, they found a fault and hopefully a relatively simple fix.

The rest of the satellite’s behavior was nominal, so the fault appeared localized, and it turned out that the satellite had started sending its telemetry data via a computer that had stopped working years ago. This faulty computer corrupted all the detail and sent gobbledygook instead of clean data.

So all will be well that ends well, when they figure out how to disable the interfering and damaged computer, and return to normal data transfer once more. Which just goes to show you don’t write a youthful satellite of about 45 years old, off.

Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?!

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