Radio Amateurs Pitch In to Help as “Hat Trick” of Major Coastal Storms Hit Northeast
Amateur Radio volunteers with WX1BOX at the National Weather Service in Taunton, Massachusetts, and various ARES groups had their hands full during March, as Mother Nature’s hat trick of nor’easters brought severe weather conditions and a lot of snow to the northeastern US. The storms caused the Cape Cod ARES team to extend activations for SKYWARN, WX1BOX, and regional shelter operations.
“This has been a very active period of significant severe weather for the region after a relatively quiet stretch from late January through the end of February,” observed Rob Macedo, KD1CY, the Eastern Massachusetts Assistant Section Emergency Coordinator for SKYWARN.
The first in the trio of nor’easters — on March 2 and 3 — brought mostly heavy rain and wet snow to parts of Massachusetts, Connecticut, eastern New York, and northern New England. Strong to damaging winds swept central and southern New England, with hurricane-force gusts across southeastern New England and Cape Cod and the Islands. The storm caused severe coastal flooding across multiple high-tide cycles.
WX1BOX volunteers were active for 17 hours straight, and afterward, some continued to monitor high tides and strong winds, which persisted into the weekend. The volunteers handled more than 1,000 reports of wind damage, wind gusts measured 40 MPH or higher, localized road flooding from heavy rainfall, and coastal flooding. At the height of the storm, nearly a half million customers in Massachusetts alone lost electrical power. Macedo said Amateur Radio nets were active on repeaters, and on the New England reflector on EchoLink® conference node 9123/*NEW-ENG3*/IRLP 9123 system.
“Some of the highest astronomical tides of the year coupled with wind gusts of more than 70 MPH — and as high as 93 MPH at the Barnstable County, Massachusetts, emergency operations center (EOC) — to trigger some of the worst coastal flooding in decades,” Macedo recounted.
Eastern Massachusetts ARES was on stand-by, and Cape Cod ARES was active for several days with a regional sheltering operation until power was largely restored to Cape Cod. “Marc Stern, WA1R, guarded the HF net on 75 meters during the nor’easter,” Eastern Massachusetts Section Emergency Coordinator Marek Kozubal, KB1NCG, reported. WC1MAB at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Region 2 Headquarters was also active through the efforts of Mike “Sparky” Leger, N1YLQ.
Only a few days later, a second nor’easter brought heavier snowfall to southern New England, although winds and coastal flooding were not as severe as in the first storm. In the interior of southern New England, temperatures hovering around freezing meant heavy wet snow, sparking another round of downed trees and power lines and nearly a half-million customers without power in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Eastern Massachusetts ARES was on standby during the storm and for several days afterward until most power was restored.
At WX1BOX, another 14 hours of SKYWARN operations ensued. Amateur Radio nets in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island fielded reports of heavy snowfall, including “thunder snow,” wet snow damage, strong gusty winds, heavy rainfall, and minor coastal flooding. Widespread snowfall amounts totaled up to 16 inches in interior southern New England. As much as 30 inches of snow fell in western Massachusetts as well as in parts of New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine.
Macedo said it became clear from SKYWARN reports that the region would experience extended power outages. “These reports were noted by state emergency management and the media, and used to inform the public about storm risks and to prepare and act accordingly,” Macedo said. SKYWARN nets were also active in the Greater New York City area, reporting damage from wet snow, strong winds, thunder snow, and snowfall totals.
The third storm turned out to be a major nor’easter and blizzard that affected the entire New England region with heavy snowfall — 2 feet or more in more northern areas. Wind gusts greater than 70 MPH across Cape Cod and the Islands, combined with the weight of wet snow, took down trees and utility lines. “Minor coastal flooding also occurred at high tide, but lower astronomical tides again precluded a more significant coastal flood event,” Macedo said. Eastern Massachusetts ARES went on standby once more after blizzard warnings were posted.
SKYWARN nets were active throughout the region, gathering snowfall and wind reports from around southern New England. WX1BOX volunteers were on duty for 16 hours, bringing the monthly total to 47. Macedo said, “The [National Weather Service] Forecast Office is in the process of moving, but antennas for VHF/UHF were left in place, and volunteers provided their own gear to operate over the course of these three nor’easters.”
Wind gusts well into the hurricane range were recorded on Cape Cod, along with significant damage from the wet snow, and seven Cape Cod ARES volunteers provided communication at shelters, as cell phone service was disrupted during the blizzard. Cape Cod ARES District Emergency Coordinator Frank O’Laughlin, WQ1O, said the volunteers “seamlessly” transitioned from providing situational awareness to addressing communication failures. He said six ham volunteers supported the regional shelter operation, and two of them put in more than 50 straight hours.
The storm-weary northeast is monitoring another potential coastal storm or nor’easter that could hit at mid-week. — Thanks to Rob Macedo, KD1CY