July is here and we can be pleased for a couple of reasons. First, the drought conditions we were having last month were wiped out by one storm, Tropical Storm Debby. Second, Debby is gone and except for those people who were directly affected by the several tornadoes that she spawned, the overall damage was less than expected.
As far as Amateur Radio was concerned, the Skywarn Net was activated and kept the National Weather Service Office in Ruskin informed about actual “on the ground” conditions throughout the storm and the immediate aftermath.
“Skywarn” spotters are trained by the NWS at no charge in order to give the forecasters at the weather office what is called “Ground Truth.” As the meteorologists at the NWS view the radar images, they are aware that the greater the distance there is from the radar station, more of the precipitation is under the radar beam.
Because of the curvature of the earth and sometimes because of what is called “ground clutter” from buildings in the area, there can be several hundred to several thousand feet of vertical air space that the radar cannot see. In addition, the radar image cannot tell the weathermen exactly what is happening at ground level.
This is what the Skywarn spotters provide. They can tell the meteorologists about actual rainfall amounts, true wind speeds at the ground, the size of hailstones that may be falling and verifiable accounts of damage and flooding.
The weather service trains these spotters through two courses, the Basic and the Advanced, each about one hour long. The courses are free and anyone can get the date, time and location of the next course from the National Weather Service in Ruskin.
Upon completion of the courses, the spotter will be issued a spotter ID card and certificate of completion. They will also have access to a special 800 phone number to call in their reports. Many ham radio operators are Skywarn spotters and the Weather Service Office even has a complete amateur radio station that takes the operators reports of severe weather. However, you do not have to be a licensed amateur radio operator to be a Skywarn Spotter. Non-hams can use that 800 number to pass along their reports to the same location.
A big round of applause is due the radio operators who staff the weather office station during times of severe weather. Their duty can last days depending on the storm and, of course, they do this voluntarily.
A Skywarn Net can be activated by any ham who is a Skywarn Spotter and may last many hours. The Federal Communications Commission understands the needs of communities during severe weather and this kind of service is one of the reasons that the Amateur Radio Service exists. Service to the community is one of the hallmarks of the history of Amateur Radio.
If you are interested in becoming a Skywarn Spotter go to http://www.nws.noaa.gov/skywarn/
I hope the rest of the summer is kind to us all, see you in August.