Net Operation Overview
Mike Nie - KB8VMX
June 14, 1998
As many of you know, the past week has seen several instances of severe weather in the Cincinnati Tri-state area. Over that time, a few issues have arisen that need to be addressed to keep our net operation smooth and efficient. This is a long issue. We'd especially appreciate if Cincinnati area amateur radio equipped spotters would take the time to read it in it's entirety.
1. On Tuesday night (6/9/98) a significant episode of severe weather hit our area. The west side of Cincinnati, northern Kentucky and parts of Clermont County were hit by high winds and hail reported as 1" in diameter. The National Weather Service (NWS) also issued a tornado warning for Clermont County based on radar indications of circulation in a storm. No confirmation of a tornado was reported.
Several people have commented that no official weather net was activated for this instance. We were ready to go, but we received no request for a net from the NWS. Our net is an official part of the Skywarn system administered by the NWS, therefore we activate only by their request. Due to the significance of this outbreak we discussed the lack of net activation with the Meteorologist in Charge at the Wilmington NWS. The bottom line is that the severe weather was really not expected and pretty much exploded right over our area. Originally, precipitation was supposed to end about midnight. As it happened, that's about the time it really fired up. Then each time it appeared to be over, another fast growing round hit. Several warnings were issued using radar observations and spotter reports called in by phone. The public received adequate warning. Anyway, with weather being an inexact science, NWS can't hit them all (although they really do come close). They are going to try to give us time to activatethe net before any expected severe weather. (They will occasionally opt not to activate the ham radio nets for small or marginally severe weather events.)
2. Thursday night (6/11/98) we were activated for expected severe weather. A few warnings were issued, but the event wasn't especially significant.
3. Friday (6/12/98) we were activated again. To hear the media reports all day long, they expected this to be "the big one". They were predicting high winds, hail, and possible tornadoes from violent storms. About 8:00 PM we were notified that severe weather was expected to enter our area from the west around 9:00 PM and asked that we have a net operating by 8:45 PM. First on the hit list was Ripley County, Indiana. Dave, N9JUW was running the customary net over there. From the beginning, station were reporting a short burst of high winds (about 50 MPH) and heavy rain, lasting a few minutes as the storms blew through. Several severe storm warnings were issued.
This net is what I will spend the rest of this edition on. Many things went well. Some did not. Maybe it's because this is the first predicted widespread outbreak in a while. These comments are not meant to criticize any individual, but only make our net work smoother in the future. Part of the problem is that we are very fortunate to have a large number of spotters trying to be helpful. For that, we are grateful. Some just need a little "fine tuning". We as net controls get a little rusty too.
First the good. We received many, many reports. Some of them met severe weather reporting criteria as specified by NWS. Remember, the criteria we use are (personally observed):
1. Winds 50 MPH or greater (or causing significant damage).
2. Rain 1" per hour or greater
3. Flooding. Streams out of banks or 1 foot of water in a street.
4. Hail 1/2" or larger (Measured reports are better than estimated)
5. Wall clouds, funnel clouds, tornadoes, or persistent rotation of a storm
Now for some of the things that "need improvement".
1. Please do not report any thing you do not see with your own two eyes. You can, however, relay from another ham radio operator that can't reach the repeater. Friday we received reports of things heard on a police scanner. We cannot relay these reports. First, we cannot call the person back to clarify the report. Second nobody has any way to verify the training level of the person speaking on the scanner. Third, their dispatcher can call the report in to NWS. If we call it in too, it may be a duplicate and cause confusion. As it was Friday, all indications were that this was not a usable report for the above reasons and a couple more. The report was called in as a funnel cloud on the ground. Any trained spotter would have identified that as a tornado. Also, there were several trained ham spotters in the same area and none of them saw anything to indicate a tornado. To make matters worse, at least one person came on the net and accused the net control ops of being incompetent for not taking the reports more seriously. Since he didn't ID, we can't personally tell him HE was the one in error. Fortunately, he was in the tiny minority.
2. We also receive radio reports of things seen on TV and internet. We have all those resources and so does the National Weather Service. (Actually, most of the data originates at NWS, so they have it before any of us). Again, please report only what you personally observe. That is what the NWS is counting on us for - ground truth observations.
3. Please do not tell us that sirens are being activated, or ask us why they are or are not sounding. We do not control the sirens. The NWS does not control the sirens. These are controlled by a local government authority by a policy they set. Each county or jurisdiction may have a different policy. This information doesn't really help us or the NWS issue warnings. Somebody asked on the net Friday why the sirens in Hamilton County weren't being sounded for a severe thunderstorm warning as per the policy. He asked several times, using airtime for each time. Hamilton County's policy is to sound the sirens for any tornado warning or severe thunderstorm warning during a tornado watch. Hamilton County was not under a tornado watch, so the sirens were not sounded. This adhered to policy.
4. Probably the most frequent improper report we receive is about frequent lightning. If you refer to the list of reporting criteria above, you will find that lightning is not on the list. A severe thunderstorm is defined as a storm with winds greater than 58 MPH and/or hail 3/4 inch in diameter or greater. Again, there is no mention of lightning. Folks, all thunderstorms have lightning and all lightning is dangerous, therefore proper precautions should be taken when it approaches. Since it doesn't help determine if a warning should be issued, please do not call in any reports of lightning.
5. Finally, there is no need to check into the weather net. If you have a valid report, call it in. If we need information from a specific area, we'll announce it on the net.
Thanks to the multitudes that checked in to help us for these events. Thanks also to the many that were "out there" that we didn't hear from because they didn't have anything significant report. That's important too! We also encourage all hams to check into the training net every Wednesday at 19:30 EDT.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact any of us at WARN for clarification.