During periods of extreme weather, the National Weather Service relies on volunteer amateur radio operators to help communicate potentially life-saving information. The amateur radio operators (or "hams") serve multiple purposes during catastrophic weather events. Most commonly, hams collect and relay reports of severe weather from trained spotters to National Weather Service offices. These reports help the NWS conduct its primary mission: protecting the public through the issuance of severe weather warnings.
A less common but vital function of amateur radio operators is the provision of emergency communication capabilities when all other means of communication fail. For instance, amateur radio operators were the primary means of communication following the September 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina. Locally, ham radio might be the primary means of communication after a major earthquake. The voluntary efforts of amateur radio operators can mean the difference between success and failure during a disaster.
Stephen Poirier (KC6GNV) makes a contact on the radio as Beth Gupton (KI4ZAK) logs the contact on a laptop during SKYWARN Recognition Day at the Paducah NWS office. Photo by Steve Gupton.
Each year in late November or early December, SKYWARN Recognition Day serves as an opportunity for amateur radio operators and National Weather Service offices to work together in a non-emergency capacity. This year, SKYWARN Recognition Day was held for 24 hours beginning on Friday, December 5 at 6 P.M. CST. Thousands of amateur radio operators participated in the event. At the Paducah NWS office, radio operators temporarily installed their own radio and antenna equipment to supplement the radio gear already in place.
For most of the 24-hour period, volunteer amateur radio operators across the country manned radios at their nearest participating National Weather Service office. The event proved to be fun and competitive at the same time, since the goal for each station was to make as many contacts as possible with other NWS offices. At the Paducah office, members from two radio clubs in southern Illinois and western Kentucky made over 270 radio contacts. National Weather Service offices from Spokane, WA to Las Vegas, NV to Burlington, VT to Melbourne, FL were contacted. A certificate is awarded for each category of contacts that is achieved.
To learn more about ham radio and obtaining a ham radio license, please visit the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL).