Radio Operations at The National Hurricane Center during
Saturday November 3, 2001 - Monday November 5, 2001
Hurricane Michelle Visible Satelite picture
(click for larger picture)
W4EHW, the Amateur Radio station at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida,
received many Surfaces Reports from Ham Radio Operators in Jamaica,
the Cayman Islands, Cuba, the Bahamas and Bermuda during Hurricane Michelle's
track through the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic.
"Surface Reports" are visual and instrument observations made by
Amateur Radio Operators and Weather Enthusiasts that are sent to the Hurricane Center
over Ham Radio frequencies and other methods.
These "Surface Reports" are submitted in "Real Time" as events happen and can be
a very important tool in forecasting as they reflect what is actually happening at
ground level during a Hurricane. Although the Hurricane Forecasters have an tremendous
amount of high tech satellite, aircraft reconnaissance and computer modeling information,
this additional surface information helps Hurricane Forecasters by verifying the intensity
of the Hurricane at ground level, wind field areas, location and movement of the eye, storm surge,
flooding and accuracy of warning areas and types. Reports from a sailboat in the Bahamas
made an important impact on the Warnings, as will be detailed below.
Hurricane Michelle W4EHW/NHC Operations
For almost a week, Tropical Depression #15 dropped torrential rains in Nicaragua and
Honduras causing flooding and mud slides as it moved very slowly into the Caribbean Sea.
TD-15 would eventually grow into a Powerful CAT-4 Hurricane, named "Michelle" with winds of
135 Mph and later attack Cuba and the Bahamas.
As MICHELLE started her track northward towards Cuba and began intensifying,
W4EHW activated early Saturday morning and started coordination with the Hurricane Watch Net
on 20 meters and the Cuban Emergency Net on 40 Meters for what was to be a very long weekend.
In anticipation of possible interruptions in normal communications between Havana and NHC,
Max Mayfield, Director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, requested W4EHW
to establish a backup Amateur Radio Link with Havana, in order to maintain the flow of
Hurricane information and warnings.
At that time, MICHELLE was forecasted to track between the densely populated cities of Havana
and Matanzas and expected to produce major damage and communications blackout.
The previous Friday, Julio Ripoll WD4R, Asst. Coordinator for Amateur Radio at NHC,
contacted Riley Hollingsworth K4ZDH, FCC Special Counsel for Amateur Radio Enforcement,
and explained the circumstances and importance of establishing a back-up communications link
and the fact that the Cuban Emergency Net is located in the CW (Morse Code) portion
of the U.S. 40 meter band, therefore requesting special permission to allow W4EHW to operate on that
frequency using single sideband (voice).
Mr. Hollingsworth understood the urgency and importance of our request and granted
permission without any hesitation. This was vital to our operations as it allowed W4EHW to
communicate directly with Cuban Hams and Havana Civil Defense to relay the Hurricane Advisories
and collect Surface reports, thus increasing the flow of information and the possibilities of saving lives.
W4EHW set up two simultaneous and continuously manned radio stations at NHC for this operation.
The main station was on 20 meters on the Hurricane Watch Net and the second was on
the 40 meter band for the Cuban Emergency Net. The amount of information and operational demands
required two to three operators to man W4EHW at each shift.
Lionel Remigio KC4CLD volunteered to manned a third off-site monitoring station for
40 meters to collect information from Cuba. His very detailed reports were sent directly
to W4EHW via email and Fax and were considered a true asset to increasing the
effectiveness of the W4EHW operations. Lixion Avila, Hurricane Specialist at NHC,
was very impressed by the detailed reports and complimented Lionel's efforts.
NOAA 42 Hurricane Hunter Airplane
During Hurricane Michelle, W4EHW had conducted some pre-planned on-the-air testing
with the Hurricane Hunter Airplane, NOAA-42, as it made several eye penetrations and perimeter passes
as the hurricane was making landfall over Cuba. These experiments were planned to test the
effective frequencies to be used to communicate directly to the Hurricane Center as a back-up link.
Captain, Dave Tennesen NL7MT, was able to check into the Hurricane Watch Net, where Bob Botik K5SIV,
located in Texas gave Dave a very strong signal report (10db over S-9), however W4EHW could barely hear
the Hurricane Hunter. However, when we changed frequencies to 40 meters, W4EHW was able to
maintain a comfortable conversation with the Hurricane Hunter for several minutes as his signal was
very strong (20 db over S-9). The on-the-air tests were also important to test the HF antenna that was
replaced on the Hurricane Hunter airplane after loosing the previous antenna to a lightning strike.
The following are some of the significant events and reports that occurred during our operations for Hurricane Michelle.
Reports from CL4RP on Cayo Largo, a small island off the southern coast of Cuba, was first to report
landfall of the eye of Hurricane Michelle with winds of 210 KMH (130 Mph). This station was located
at the airport of Cayo Largo and also reported a minimum pressure of 963 Mb and a storm surge of 6 meters (18 feet) above normal with 15 to 20 waves. They had lost the antenna during the height of the hurricane winds,
but were able to repair it and were on the air shortly after the strong winds subsided to report that all 142 people
on the island had survived.
Reports also came in from the area on the southern central coast of Cuba (Playa El Cajio) where the ocean
had retreated from the shoreline some 300 meters (1000 feet) due to the strong northerly winds
pushing the water away from the beach. Warnings were broadcast to keep curious people from venturing
out to look at the dry ocean bottom as the waters return quickly and without warning.
As Michelle moved over the mainland of central Cuba, most of the electrical power, telephone and communications
were completely out. Ham Radio was the only form of communications left operating to and from the Cuba and within the center part of island nation. During the evening, as Michelle progressively shifted more towards the east of the previous forecasted track, cities in the provinces of Matanzas and Cienfuegos, that may have been on the outskirts of the hurricane winds, if Michelle would have stayed her course, would now be in the direct path of the eye. Some of the Cuban stations on the air, were in blackout areas and had Advisories that were more than 4 hours old. Civil Defense in Havana had also lost their HF antenna, when a large palm tree fell on to it. W4EHW then was the only source of the current Hurricane Advisories on 40 meters. Advisory information was being spread by the Cuban Ham Radio stations on 40 meters to other Hams monitoring on local VHF frequencies, some reportedly in shelters and Hospital buildings. Civil Defense in Havana reported that 604,681 people were evacuated from coastal areas and the loss of life was very low, the official count was 5 lives lost.
The Bahamian Hams and boaters were very busy sending in reports all day Monday, submitting almost half of
the total reports for Hurricane Michelle.
Carolyn Wardle C6AGG, from New Providence Island, reported frequently as the eye of Michelle moved over her house. Carolyn described the strange conditions as the strong winds did not shift in direction as in previous hurricanes she had experienced. There was a lull in the winds, to less than 3 knots for more than an hour, but instead of the winds gradually shifting in direction, they started almost suddenly from the opposite direction, from 3 knots to almost 55 knots in a few minutes.
One of the most important communications from the Bahamas was from Wayne Wilkinson KC4CYK/C6A, on
his 42 foot sailboat, docked in the tiny island of Highbourn Cay, located between New providence and Eleuthera islands. As Michelle started to loose it's classic form and the eye became difficult to see, the Hurricane Forecasters were considering lowering the Warnings, Wayne had just reported winds of 87 knots (100 Mph) with gust of 100 knots (115 Mph).
This report caught the attention of Max Mayfield and he asked to verify the equipment being used to take these measurements. Wayne quickly replied that he was using an anemometer made by Raytheon mounted 72 feet up on the sailboat's mast. Max Mayfield said that this report made quite an impact in the level of warnings being considered for the next advisory and subsequently the level of warnings were not lowered.
Max Mayfield, Director of the National Hurricane Center, sends this message:
"Please relay my thanks to all of the Ham Radio operators that helped during Hurricane Michelle.
You all did a great job."
W4EHW at NHC Operational Details
Number of shifts on-the-air = 15 (some with 2 and 3 operators on duty)
Total on-the-air hours= (20 meters = 40 hours) (40 meters = 17 hours)
Total man-hours at NHC (66 hours)
Total number of Surface Reports submitted = 162
W4EHW/NHC Operators during Hurricane Michelle
Caesar Carbana KG4BZA
Joanne Carbana KG4GKU
Hank Collins W8KIW
Manny Corp WD4ACJ
Louis Cruz N4LDG
Mike Davis AF4VJ
John Graves KF4MBG
David Hall KA4MNX
Ken Hernandez N4BKZ
Gary Jacobs WA4PDM
Phyllis Jacobs WB4VRV
Joel Kandel KI4T
Nick Pikarsky N4EVB
Julio Ripoll WD4R
Ed Rodriguez WP4O
We congratulate the Hurricane Watch Net Control Stations for an excellent job maintaining continuous
communications from the affected areas to the Hurricane Center throughout Hurricane Michelle and also
to the many stations in the affected areas for sending valuable measured weather surface reports
and visual observations.
W4EHW, a group of volunteer Ham Radio operators, are very proud to have maintained
an active Amateur Radio Station at the National Hurricane Center for the past 21 years.
Julio Ripoll, WD4R
Press Release issued: Nov. 12, 2001
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