Amateur Radio Gearing Up for Another Active Atlantic Hurricane Season

The Atlantic Hurricane Season, which starts on June 1, promises to be a busy time for radio amateurs who volunteer on the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) to report ground-level storm conditions in real time for use by weather forecasters, and for SKYWARN volunteers. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has forecast a likely range of 13 to 20 named storms (winds of 39 MPH or greater), of which six to ten could become hurricanes (winds of 74 MPH or greater), including three to five major hurricanes (Category 3, 4, or 5, with winds of 111 MPH or greater) expected. NOAA projects these ranges with a 70% confidence level.

“2021 is looking to be another active season,” said HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV. “We can only hope we don’t have a repeat of 2005 or 2020. The sea surface temperatures throughout the normal areas of tropical cyclone activity are already near or just above 80 °F, just what storms like. The current forecast for 2021 is on the high side. The adjusted average is 14 named storms, with seven hurricanes and three of those at Category 3 or stronger.”

When activated, the HWN operates on 14.325 MHz during daylight hours and on 7.268 MHz after dark. When required, however, the net will use both frequencies simultaneously.

The net’s primary mission is to disseminate tropical cyclone advisory information to island communities in the Caribbean, Central America, along the US Atlantic seaboard, and throughout Gulf of Mexico coastal areas. It collects observed or measured weather data from participating radio amateurs in storm-affected areas as well as any post-storm damage reports and passes that information along to forecasters at the National Hurricane Center via its amateur radio station, WX4NHC. The HWN typically activates whenever a storm system has achieved hurricane status and is within 300 statute miles of a populated landmass — although this can vary according to the storm’s forward speed and intensity or at the request of NHS forecasters.

“Of course, it takes only one land-falling hurricane to make for a bad year,” Graves said, recalling Hurricane Andrew in 1992. “It was the only storm to make landfall that season, and it was a Category 5 storm that hit Homestead, Florida, just south of Miami.”

Graves said the HWN was already closely monitoring two systems — one near Bermuda and one in the western Gulf of Mexico.

“Now is the time for communities along the coastline as well as inland to get prepared for the dangers that hurricanes can bring,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “The experts at NOAA are poised to deliver life-saving early warnings and forecasts to communities, which will also help minimize the economic impacts of storms.”

Graves included a comparative table that shows predictions from Colorado State University (CSU), Tropical Storm Risk (TSR), and NOAA, with the dates of their respective forecasts. 

  1991 – 2020 CSU TSR NOAA
  Average April 8 April 13 May 20
Named Storms 14 17 17 13 – 20
Hurricanes 7 8 8 6 – 10
Cat 3 or Stronger 3 4 3 3 – 5

“Last year was a record-breaking hurricane season,” observed NHC Assistant WX4NHC Coordinator Julio Ripoll, WD4R. “We even got to use the Greek names all the way to Iota! This season is predicted to be an above-average active season again.”

Ripoll noted that WX4NHC will conduct its annual station test on Saturday, May 29, 1300 – 2100 UTC. “This will be our 41st year of public service at NHC,” he said.

The purpose of the weekend event is to test WX4NHC amateur radio operations and operator’s home equipment, antennas and computers prior to the June 1 start of the Atlantic Hurricane Season. “This event is good practice for ham radio operators worldwide to practice amateur radio communications available during times of severe weather,” Ripoll said.

Participating stations will make brief contacts on various bands and modes to exchange signal reports and local weather conditions.






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