QRZ Logbook

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The need for SKYWARN

Last month I was heading home and ran into an interesting cloud formation as a powerful wind storm approached Knoxville. Fortunately it was not a tornado, but it was part of a wind storm that did a lot of damage around the area.

Two days later...


The storms that roared through Alabama were some of the largest outbreaks in recent history, with more deaths associated than the famous 1974 "Super Outbreak" in the Ohio Valley.

Check out this video from Tuscaloosa:


The tornado that blew through Tuscaloosa was rated EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. Here's the path of that tornado:

Credit Brian Tang and NCAR.

While Tennessee was fortunate to have missed the brunt of this massive tornado, we were no less spared from the tremendous damage inflicted by the storm. 35 people died in Tennessee and 52 tornadoes were confirmed.

I helped man our area SKYWARN net for the first time in many years on a consistent basis. Without going in to too much detail, politics and an ungrateful power-mongering individual with a vendetta on me got in the way of my participating in SKYWARN for 4+ years. However, fate and karma brought me back in (along with many others he alienated) and it has been one heck of a season so far.

Just prior to this outbreak, Knoxville was hammered with flooding and another tornadic storm in recent weeks, the April 27th outbreak was going to put many skills (and nerves) to the ultimate test.

I arrived home Wednesday afternoon and flipped on the Weather Channel to see the monster tornado raging through Birmingham live. Here's the video off of YouTube.

I'd been keeping a mindful eye on the weather most of the day as best I could while at work. When I got home, and saw what was going on in Alabama, I knew we were in for a long night. As I was watching the storms develop, my weather radio went off with one of many warnings to occur that evening. I counted a total of 49 tornado warnings issued by the Morristown National Weather Service for Knoxville and surrounding counties alone.

While Knoxville didn't get tornadoes, we did get hail. Lots of it. Quarter sized hail bombarded parts of west Knoxville and the SKYWARN net I was running at the time was hammered with repeated reports from there. I finally had to tell everyone on the net to stop with the reports from the same area and give me reports from areas east of there so I could tell where the line was...and prepare for the storm to hit my house, mere minutes away. I passed the net control "baton" to another ham and got ready.

My ham station was in the lower part of my house, so I got the kids and animals downstairs and waited for the inevitable. Within 5 minutes of hearing that the quarter-sized hail was in west Knoxville, it was at my home.

Fortunately the brunt of the hail passed south of me, and I only got nickel-sized hail. But it made the tension no less extreme as the storm progressed towards the northeast. The storm would drop an EF-4 tornado down in nearby Greeneville, killing 7 there.

As the night wore on, more and more reports of damage, high winds, hail, wall clouds, and funnel clouds came in. Several tornadoes touched down all over the area, including a bad one in the Chattanooga area.

The Alabama tornadoes, especially Tuscaloosa, overshadowed the death and destruction elsewhere, but the one constant through all of this was the use of SKYWARN spotters all across the southeast.

One of the many great assets of ham radio is the cooperation that the National Weather Service has with ham radio SKYWARN spotters. While anyone can be a SKYWARN spotter (first responders, police, fire, medical, etc) ham radio is typically the only service that has a station (and a volunteer) on site at the weather service.

The more eyes on the storm, the better. The more eyes that become hams, then the communities are a little more safe.