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. 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, the National Hurricane Center said on Wednesday, with the threat of considerable heavy rain and flooding continuing to spread from the Tennessee and Ohio valleys into the central and southern Appalachians and the mid-Atlantic states.
The HWN initially activated on Saturday for 6 hours to line up reporting stations across southern Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, as well as parts of northeastern Texas. “This allowed the reporting stations to double-check their equipment as well as our net control stations to log their backup capability and, if available, what kind of weather station,” HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, explained. “This saves time the next time they check in. All we have to do at that point is enter the weather data and send it off to the National Hurricane Center.”
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,” Graves said. “Unfortunately, there were times in which propagation completely disappeared.”
All told, the HWN logged 26 hours of activation time 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. “A Davis online weather station in Grand Isle, Louisiana, recorded a wind gust of 146 MPH before the instrument malfunctioned as Ida roared ashore,” VoIP Hurricane Net Manager Rob Macedo, KD1CY, said, citing one extreme report. Another Davis weather station on an oil platform near Pilottown, Louisiana, recorded a wind gust of 119 MPH. Macedo said these and other reports were sent to WX4NHC, the National Hurricane Center amateur radio station.
Macedo said radio amateurs on the N5OZG repeater system “provided constant ground truth from areas in and around New Orleans,” Macedo said, with N5OZG relaying numerous reports of damage to trees, power poles, and structures, as well as flooding. “Many other amateurs on the N5OZG repeater system provided ground truth into the VoIP Hurricane Net despite dealing with direct and significant impacts to their communities and property,” Macedo said, “and we are forever grateful for their support and the continued partnership we have had with their team since 2008 and Hurricane Gustav. All of these reports were also sent to WX4NHC, the amateur radio station at the National Hurricane Center, as well.”
Net control stations across the US also assisted with reporting and monitoring of weather stations, social media outlets, and public safety outlets, reaching out to contacts in the affected area to relay reports of storm damage to WX4NHC. “The team did a tremendous job providing a constant data flow for situational awareness,” Macedo said. “The peak of the Atlantic hurricane season is not until mid-September. The VoIP Hurricane Net Management Team will continue to monitor all developments in the tropics.”
The Mississippi Section ARES team activated on August 29 with several nets. Southeast Mississippi District Emergency Coordinator Justin Gleason, KF7DLW, was contacted by WDAM-TV in Moselle, Mississippi, to set up a station that would be available to help keep WDAM personnel updated on Ida’s progress through HWN and VoIP traffic, state traffic, and digital nets in the event of a power or internet outage at WDAM.
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.
ARRL Mississippi Section Manager Malcolm Keown, W5XX, and Section Emergency Coordinator Robert Hayes, KC5IMN, requested the Mississippi ARES Emergency Net be activated at 1600 on Sunday. The net stood down later the same day. The Mississippi Winlink Net was activated August 29 by Assistant Section Emergency Coordinator for Digital Operations Mark Williams, W5DIX. The net operated until 1800 on August 30, passing 80 messages which were copied to KM5EMA, the Winlink station at the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.
“Given the sometimes degraded band conditions, the digital team was still able to perform sending traffic from Gulf Coast stations to served agencies and state nets as needed,” Mississippi Public Information Coordinator Caleb Rich, K5RFL, said. “While Mississippi avoided major catastrophe, the ARES teams were well equipped and prepared to provide the communication support that we count on them for.”