Activation of Skywarn Nets - How does your area do it?

Discussion in 'Skywarn Storm Spotting' started by W.T. Jones, Apr 1, 2014.

  1. W.T. Jones

    W.T. Jones Moderator Staff Member Silver Member Golden GPS Recipient

    I have to admit that after the Skywarn meeting I recently attended I had more questions than answers.

    The words "activate the net" were bantered about quite liberally by the participants. OK, under what conditions should we here in the great Northeast Part of PA "activate the Skywarn" net.

    I heard several conditions mentioned. The first was "when the NWS requests" that the net be activated. The second was "when you think that it should be activated." And the last was "anyone should activate the net with the advent of severe weather." Those definitions leave a lot of latitude as well as a lot of problems.

    When and how does the NWS tell me as the EC that we need to activate the Skywarn Net. I have the ubiquitous Weather Radio sitting on my desk, in my bedroom, and I think there is one in the basement. I have not been down there in a while but I think there is one there. Would the request come over the NOAA All Hazards Radio? Would they call me? That would be a hoot. I haven't picked up my cell phone in 3 days. It would be the same for an SMS message to me. Since I retired I have grown weary of that cell phone. No one pays me to listen to it.

    If the net should be activated when I think it should then I might miss something important. This is a big county and what happens in the lower end usually goes unnoticed until the nightly news. So do I delegate that responsibility to the one of the Hams in the lower part of the county and rely on them to make the judgement call?

    And the last one really made me wonder. Anyone should activate the net. First, I have two extremes here. The first is total apathy. I don't think some of the Hams would move over to pick up the radio unless there was water running through their living room and only then to complain that someone didn't tell them the storm was coming. The other extreme is the ones that would activate the net if they saw drops of rain on the sidewalk. I am not sure I want to trust their judgement because I would end up with the "Cry Wolf" situation.

    So I am asking questions about the activations here and via email to our local NWS office. They are good people and some of them are even Hams but there seems to be either an assumption on their part that we know when to start the ball rolling or they really don't have a procedure in place to do it. I know it will get worked out. Always does but I'd rather have something to go on to tell my meager handful of volunteers. Makes them feel better knowing that someone at the top of the food chain has some idea of what to do.

    So how do you folks do it? Get a call from the NWS. If that is the way it should work then I'll start carrying the cell phone again. And I'll even give the NWS my phone number. If it comes from the NOAA WX radio then I'll have to figure out a way to get that information when I am out wandering with Taffi, my Corgi. I know I'll get it in the bedroom. The WX Alert that is. After the alert is over I'll probably be sleeping with my Corgi. So reply to the thread and let me hear about your novel ideas about this. I am always open to new ideas.
    wedgar likes this.
  2. DoctorZ

    DoctorZ Moderator Staff Member

    Having an active Skywarn Net going doesn't do much good if there is no one to report to. Your local NWS has to be in the loop, or there would be no one to report to. I'm not an NCS here in the Twin Cities, but I am a Certified Metro Skywarn Spotter and amateur Storm Chaser. I have attended a few meetings on how things work around here, so all I can do is offer up how it's done in the Twin Cities Metro area.

    1. The NWS puts out the Severe Weather Outlook 5 to 7 days in advance. They begin broadcasting possible Spotter Activations up to two or three days in advance.
    2. On Severe Weather days if the risk is Moderate or above, a Spotter Discussion Net is scheduled for around mid morning or Noon, depending on the expected peak storm times. Notification for this Net is sent out over pagers, emails, phone calls, and even an announcement on the designated Skywarn Ham Radio Repeaters.
    3. Our NWS has licensed Ham Radio Operators who are also Meteorologists. When the time comes, they actually break into the Repeater and announced the start of the Net. If the NCS is not there yet, he is contacted via pager, phone, email, or whatever means was predetermined best to reach him by our NWS Office.
    4. If the weather threat has not yet moved into the area, an INFORMAL Net is activated, where the Repeater is put on Standby, and they take Spotter Check-ins, but they still allow for normal traffic to talk on the Repeater. The NWS breaks in every 15 to 20 minutes with an update on what's going on. During the Informal Net, Ham Radio operators are encouraged to discuss WEATHER RELATED topics while on the Repeater.
    5. When Severe Weather in imminent, the NWS breaks in and closes the Repeater to regular traffic, and a FORMAL Skywarn Net begins. At this time they only allow Spotter Check-ins and Reportable Conditions to be broadcast. The NWS directly breaks in every 15 minutes to give us an update, or sooner if weather conditions change.
    6. The Net stays operational until our local NWS closes the Net and returns the Repeater to normal operations.

    On a side note, we have three local 2-meter Repeaters that cover portions of our Metro Area. One for the South Metro, one for the West Metro, and one for All other Metro Areas. We also have two Repeaters in Western Wisconsin that also report to our local NWS. All five of these Repeaters take reportable conditions and log them, but don't always immediately report to the NWS. There is another UHF Repeater that is continuously monitored by our NWS office during active Nets, where the five NCS's go to report their lists, or bring a Ham Licensed Meteorologists over to one of the active Net Repeaters if necessary. Sometimes our NWS Meteorologists run the Net if it's really a dangerous weather outbreak.

    In a nutshell, we're pretty well coordinated around here, and many agencies work together to provide the service. This is because our local NWS only issues warnings based on two criteria: a) Trained Spotter Reports, or b) Doppler Radar; or both.

    I hope this helps?
    W.T. Jones and wedgar like this.
  3. wedgar

    wedgar Administrator Staff Member Gold Member

    Having served as the ARRL Western PA Section Manager from 1996 into 2000, we had a policy that in WPA, ARES Emergency Coordinators were able to self initiate a Skywarn net whenever they felt the need.

    On the other hand, there have been times that I've received phone calls from the State College weather office asking what condition were like for certain weather events.
    W.T. Jones likes this.
  4. W.T. Jones

    W.T. Jones Moderator Staff Member Silver Member Golden GPS Recipient

    Helps? Absolutely. Many thanks!

    Just a quick question. Is there are "preamble" or something like that that you use or just say "The Skywarn Net is active" which for me would be preferable. Seems that some of the nets have preambles that last longer than the wx event.
    wedgar likes this.
  5. W.T. Jones

    W.T. Jones Moderator Staff Member Silver Member Golden GPS Recipient

    I've made some inroads here and find that some of the other ARES ECs are in a bit of a quandary too. When to plug it in and when to pull the plug too. I think many of them are more interested in when to shut it down because it is dragging on too long.

    But I've made some calls and that county dispatch center would like to know when this is happening as well. So I'll go back to the source and talk to the people up north and see what kind of an accommodation can be made.

    One thing I don't like when dealing with the volunteers is something that is nebulous as in "if you hear the wx alert then go start the net" because that leads to too many "nothing happened" incidents. So I'll keep working on it.
  6. DoctorZ

    DoctorZ Moderator Staff Member

    I'm not sure what you mean by a preamble? Usually the NCS or NWS simply break in on the Repeater like any other Ham would and when acknowledged simply announce what's going on and what kind of Net they are starting. As for the end, that is usually either when our NWS issues an All Clear, or informs the NCS that the severe weather threat has diminished for the area.
    wedgar likes this.
  7. W.T. Jones

    W.T. Jones Moderator Staff Member Silver Member Golden GPS Recipient

    Some of the Skywarn Nets have a "script" that they read at the beginning of the net that describes exactly what you listed above. They just put it in a form so that new folks don't stumble over their words getting things started. Which is probably a good idea for someone who is not familiar with starting up the net.

    We have a lot of questions for our not so local NWS office. The station at there has a very large area to cover and what I found out tonight is that he will rotate between areas collecting reports. He has 4 VHF radios at his disposal but he is just one person doing a heck of a job. He did tell me that the initial plan was to have a liaison station for each region that will consolidate reports for him which is a good idea. So the more I dig the more I find out that there is a plan and a method which does make sense. As he put it, it all depends on the cooperation and activity of the Skywarn Hams. So I'll keep talking to the people who have done it and hopefully I'll be able to communicate that to the Hams in my county.
    wedgar likes this.
  8. wedgar

    wedgar Administrator Staff Member Gold Member

    We had our preamble put into our county ARES disaster plan which was available to each ARES member so that each person had the information necessary to put the plan into effect if needed.
  9. DoctorZ

    DoctorZ Moderator Staff Member

    Our Metro Skywarn has a web page. I downloaded a PDF file of our Operating Procedures. I will attempt to upload it here for you. Perhaps it can give you some ideas on how better to organize your area.

    Attached Files:

    wedgar likes this.
  10. wedgar

    wedgar Administrator Staff Member Gold Member

    Looks good!

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