We amateur radio operators are big into weather!
Traditionally, US radio volunteers would get a call or an email from NOAA or the NWS asking for a severe weather report from our grid square. Now we report to national weather organizations on current weather conditions using software developed specifically for amateur radio operators called APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System). There are many different client software versions for monitoring and contributing to the APRS network.
With any of these software clients, the user would take an AcuRite weather station out of the box and hook it up to the computer and automatically transmit data over the internet. But hams (another term for amateur radio operators, HAM radio operators) don’t actually need the internet to communicate data. A common tagline for hams is WAEF, or ‘When All Else Fails’. In a crisis or disaster when cell towers are down and the internet is interrupted, the airwaves will still be there. Hams can send emails and even place telephone calls (VoIP or voice over internet protocol) using only the airwaves.
The APRS website shows all weather stations from the Citizen Weather Observer Program (CWOP). The CWOP was originally set up by amateur radio operators experimenting with packet radio. It now includes internet-only connected stations, and amateur radio APRS stations. These volunteers are sharing their weather data for educational and research purposes, as well as for use by other interested parties.
Our group of amateur radio operators here in Florida holds frequent drills in and out of hurricane season. We are reminded that there are many kinds of disasters and that weather frequently plays a role, whether manmade occurrences or at the hand of nature. During Hurricane Season (May 1 through November 30), our local hams are ready to be called to a shelter for emergency communications support. Weather checks, as well as Health & Wellness communications at the shelter, can be sent via ham radio even when the internet and cell towers are down. The amateur operator simply accesses a frequency outside of the disaster area and uses repeaters to relay the message until it gets to the intended recipient. Weather spotters use the same technology, sometimes with a Raspberry Pi, a laptop and a handheld transceiver to get information to its destination. Our group has sent many weather updates manually from our home weather stations to Ruskin and Miami, Florida, as SKYWARN® contributors.
Using the measurements recorded from our weather stations the NWS provides up to the minute reports in areas where severe weather is happening. That has earned those who report on the weather the nickname of ‘spotters’.
Hams who are certified SKYWARN® spotters provide essential information for all types of weather hazards, their main responsibility being to identify and describe severe local weather. Our weather stations help us document and send data effectively and efficiently- the true definition of amateur radio operators' work.
Because part of our county is rural farmland, ham radio operators who are ranchers use weather stations to measure rainfall and check historical data relating to the time of year. “How do you use your weather stations?” I asked. Some of the answers were related entirely to farm culture, like “before I start a rubbish fire I check to see the wind conditions,” but many were related to the APRS network and the NWS. One of the features that our AcuRite weather station users like is that it provides historical data that is easily referenced.
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