02/04/2022
Credit: ARRL News

Volunteer radio amateurs across New England got down to business over the final weekend in January, as a major winter storm and blizzard dropped up to several feet of snow in the face of hurricane-force wind gusts along the coast. The combination of wet snow and damaging winds felled trees and power lines in coastal portions of eastern Massachusetts, particularly in Cape Cod and the Islands, and caused minor-to-moderate coastal flooding at high tide. The record-breaking blizzard made the top 10 list of major snow events in the cities of Boston and Providence. More ice and snow are hitting New England today (Friday, February 4).

“It was a long weekend of ARES-SKYWARN operations, with extended ARES operations over Cape Cod and the Islands,” said Rob Macedo, KD1CY, Eastern Massachusetts Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES®) Section Emergency Coordinator (SEC) and National Weather Service (NWS) SKYWARN® Coordinator.

Western Massachusetts ARES and SKYWARN teams supported a Western Massachusetts Emergency Net on 75 meters throughout the event, and more than a dozen nets gathered nearly 100 reports on snowfall and weather conditions. Coordinating the operation was Net Manager Tom Kinahan, N1CPE, and his team of net controls, with the cooperation of Western Massachusetts ARES SEC Bob Meneguzzo, K1YO.

The New England Reflector, an Internet Radio Linking Project (IRLP), relayed many SKYWARN reports. Close to a dozen repeaters hosted rolling amateur radio SKYWARN nets that gathered snowfall and damage reports, as well as current conditions from around the region. Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) was utilized for SKYWARN efforts, both in southern New England and across portions of Maine.

“The amateur radio nets provided a tremendous amount of situational awareness regarding snowfall accumulations and the high rate of snowfall that was occurring, storm damage and wind gusts reaching hurricane-force gusts across [the eastern coast of] Massachusetts [and] Cape Cod and the Islands, [as well as] moderate coastal flooding at the time of high tide,” Macedo recounted. “More than 115,000 [people] lost power throughout [the southeastern coast of] Massachusetts, and especially Cape Cod and the Islands.”

“In addition, the City of Peabody Emergency Operations Center was staffed by amateur radio operators Jim Palmer, KB1KQW, and David Pais, N1VSI, where North Shore SKYWARN nets were run periodically, and they were prepared to support ARES shelter operations there, if needed. Phil McNamara, N1XTB, staffed the Town of Carver shelter for Carver Emergency Management, while various eastern Massachusetts hospitals had their amateur radio teams on standby for support,” Macedo explained.

Macedo said the information was shared with the NWS, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, and news media to provide an up-to-date situational awareness picture in near real-time.

Eastern Massachusetts ARES and SKYWARN posted a post-blizzard storm summary that includes many NWS record and storm spotter report statements.

Cape Cod ARES Operation

In addition to rolling Cape Cod ARES-SKYWARN nets every 2 hours, Cape Cod ARES supported operations at the Barnstable County Emergency Operations Center (EOC), the Multi-Agency Coordination Center (MACC) operations at the EOC, and operations at regional shelters in the area. Close to a dozen radio amateurs participated.

Cape Cod ARES District Emergency Coordinator Frank O’Laughlin, WQ1O, said, “We had radio amateurs supporting shelters in Falmouth and a regional shelter at the Barnstable [Intermediate] School. In Sandwich, ARES volunteers staffed the town EOC, as well as two warming centers, while I staffed the county EOC. A key issue we had was various generator failures at some sites that extended shelter operations into late Sunday afternoon [January 30], before commercial power was restored to the point where operations stood down late Sunday afternoon.”

Radio amateurs participating in the Cape Cod ARES activation included Tom Wruk, KB1QCQ, and Jason Ludwig, KC1MLQ at the Barnstable Intermediate School shelter. In Sandwich, operators included Bill Lapine, W1WAL, who is the Deputy Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director for the Town of Sandwich; Chris Ranney, WA1CMR, and Dennis Driscoll, N1RDN, at the Sandwich warming center, and Heather Gallant, K1BOH, at the Sandwich EOC. In Falmouth, Henry Brown, K1WCC, operated from the shelter with Mel Trott, KC1ELB, staffing the Falmouth EOC. Many other operators provided SKYWARN reports from the Cape Cod ARES group, with Lem Skidmore, W1LEM, and Barry Hutchinson, KB1TLR, serving as SKYWARN net controls.

New England SKYWARN volunteers are keeping eyes on another significant winter storm capable of dumping a wintry mix of precipitation, and possibly heavy snowfall, around the region on February 4. “They will be prepared to self-activate amateur radio nets for that storm as needed,” Macedo said. — Thanks to Rob Macedo, KD1CY