Hurricane Grace and Hurricane Henri drew the attention of weather spotters over the past week. The Hurricane Watch Net (HWN), which tracked both storms to gather weather data for the National Hurricane Center (NHC), was able to secure operations at 1800 UTC on August 22 after watching Grace make two landfalls in Mexico.
“Things got busy — and fast,” said HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV. “Just before activating at 1200 UTC [on Sunday], Henri was downgraded from a Category 1 hurricane to a tropical storm. Normally, we — HWN — don’t activate for tropical storms. However, given the wind speed at the time of activation was just shy of being a hurricane, there was a slim possibility Henri could regain Category 1 status.” And, Graves noted, the storm was headed into the densely populated northeastern US. The rainfall generated by Henri, some of it record-breaking, caused heavy flooding in some areas, including New York City. That storm came ashore near Westerly, Rhode Island.
All told, the HWN racked up a combined total of 27 hours on the air — with two activations for Hurricane Grace and two for Hurricane Henri. Graves said only one station reported from Mexico, but the net remained available to assist in any capacity needed.
It was another story for Henri. “We were not lacking reporting stations, and that’s a good thing,” Graves said. “While maybe not as many as we would like, we certainly had a good number checking in and forwarding their data.”
He said conditions, while improved over the past few years as Solar Cycle 25 ramped up, got tough. “At times, we would experience one-way propagation. For example, on Sunday, the NCS on duty was being heard by a station in the affected area but could not hear the reporting station,” Graves recounted. “His relay was able to hear the reporting station, but that station could not hear the relay. So, the NCS asked the questions, and the relay received the report. This is what’s called ‘teamwork.’”
Graves is grateful that Henri was not as bad as it could have been. “It never really got itself organized, unlike storms such as Sandy in 2012 and Bob back in 1991,” he said. “Had Henri been another Sandy, the outcome would have been much worse. We all were lucky and blessed in this regard.”
It was a different story with Grace, which made landfall in the Mexican state of Veracruz, just south of Túxpam, as a Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of 125 MPH, causing several fatalities. “Grace tied a record (with Karl in 2010) of being the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Bay of Campeche,” Graves pointed out. Once it hit land, though, Grace quickly dissipated over mainland Mexico, while its remnants later reformed into Tropical Storm Marty in the Eastern Pacific early Monday morning.
Julio Ripoll, WD4R, at the National Hurricane Center, also praised members of the VoIP Hurricane Net for being extremely supportive of WX4NHC at the National Hurricane Center. “They are a vital part of the WX4NHC team and part of our elite group we call ‘Hurricane Hams.’”
Over the weekend, Eastern Massachusetts ARES® Section Emergency Coordinator Rob Macedo, KD1CY, who also manages the VoIP Hurricane Net, announced tentative plans for the Commonwealth in advance of the storm’s arrival. These included coordination with ARES® volunteers in Western Massachusetts, as well as with SKYWARN teams and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
Ripoll said the NHC and WX4NHC rely heavily on the work of the hurricane nets and appreciate the time and effort that goes into gathering surface reports from stations in the affected areas. “These surface reports are vital to NHC, as they paint a picture of ground-level physical conditions in real time,” he said. “We all work as a team with a common goal to help NHC, which will help those in the affected areas and hopefully help save lives.”
NHC Senior Hurricane Specialist Stacy Stewart singled out the VoIP Hurricane Net and the HWN for praise, calling the amateur radio reports “extremely helpful.”
On August 25, Graves was already keeping an eye on another possible storm, for now identified as Invest 99.
“We are quickly moving into the heart of hurricane season,” Graves said. Invest 99 is located near the Venezuela/Colombia border. “All computer models bring this system over or very near the Yucatan Peninsula and into and over the very warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Once in the Gulf, this storm could go anywhere…most are showing either a Texas or Louisiana — possibly even Mississippi — landfall on Sunday or Monday,” Graves said. The question for now is how intense will this system be?