A Winter Storm Didn’t Stop Texas Hams

The February 13–17, 2021 North American winter storm, also unofficially referred to as Winter Storm Uri, was a major winter and ice storm that had widespread impacts across the United States, Northern Mexico, and parts of Canada.  The storm resulted in over 170 million Americans being placed under various winter weather alerts across the country and caused blackouts for over 9.7 million people in the U.S. and Mexico, most notably the 2021 Texas power crisis

Governor Abbott and other elected officials issued a disaster declaration on February 12, whereby he mobilized various departments. Joining us today in the studio with the Chaves county Skywarn coordinator and member of the Pecos Valley Amateur radio club Jim, (KB0QNW).

Episode Transcript:

Welcome to the last wire podcast, Jim. Well, thank you. Thanks for having me, Johnny. Jim, how are we making out this week? Have things gotten better in your region? Yeah, well, pretty much here in Southeastern New Mexico, we didn’t have quite the disastrous effects that the state of Texas did, but we did go through some rolling blackouts and some other unplanned electrical blackouts and stuff.

So at least we were we’re here to serve and, and, and help those in Texas as much as we could. But I think things are trying to kind of somewhat get back to a normal, a normal way of life there in the lone star state. Can you take us back to before the storm and talk a little bit about the amateur radio infrastructure and how prepared were clubs for such an event like the severe weather event?

Well, I think at least from a personal basis I knew that the potential for power outages was coming. So a dragged out the generator and the good extension cord and all these kinds of things and made sure that we had plenty of fuel on hand for it because we knew that the potential for electrical blackouts was coming.

So that and then also had the provisions made for power backups for the radios and any event that we needed to either pass any messages or you know, assist. Start Texas neighbours in any way we could, since we’re kind of in an advantageous position for NVIS into that area. So we’re kind of right outside the hot zone, if you will, but still able to serve them with communication needs.

If the need arises, what are people using in the region as a two meter radios, TMR, what type of infrastructure and towers are in the community? Well, and in this area, I know we’re using it across the state. We’ve got an excellent linked two meter system or two meter, four 40. It’s a we call it the mega link and there’s upwards from 25 different repeaters all around the state that covered not only in New Mexico, but into the fridges of Texas, Colorado, Arizona.

And and of course, Texas, again to the South, but. We use that system quite consistently, and then we also use HF and I personally utilize the 70 to 90 traffic net which is. I think they hold back six days out of the week and that’s a real good tool to be able to pass traffic and an exercise and drill with the folks in Texas, as far as passing information.

So HF DMR UHF, VHF analog on the on the mega link. And then of course, local and regional repeaters on two meters, 70 centimetres as well. Whenever the forecast calls for freezing rain, especially in my region, in my area. It’s of great concern to towers and repeaters and equipment. Did you lose anything during this winter storm?

There was none that I was aware of Johnny. I’m sure that possibly that happened, but we kind of somewhat expected it and at least from my perspective and the people that I had contact with nobody had any real issues on that as the coordinator for the Travis County sky Warren, can you talk about your role in helping during this disaster?

Well, we’ve got a, a real active sky warn chapter in Chevys County. We also we’re very how would you say have a really good relationship working relationship with our County emergency manager, as well as the city fire, chief and, and other heads of other entities throughout the Valley as we call it the pick those Valley and as coordinator each year each the spring after our NWS.

Classes, then I will go ahead and I’ll hold one locally to try to recap and refresh, and then also educate the new guys that might be interested on how we, as a, as a club-specific operation run our chapter and the thing is within South Eastern New Mexico, the thing that makes us kind of unique and so dependent on ground truth observations is the fact that we are what I call radar I’m challenged here.

Our main weather radar, it’s based at a cannon air force base near Clovis, New Mexico. And we’re really right on the fringe of that. And. Our that, that radar, our primary radar by the time that lowest beam gets to the Roswell area has a ceiling of only about 10,000 feet. So there’s a lot of stuff that can go on between 10,000 feet and the ground that radar is not picking up.

So the national weather service in Albuquerque, which is where we’re jurisdiction from is very dependent on the ground truth observations that they give from our group. So that’s a lot, what we do during severe weather is passed along. Those ground-truth observations, not only in the event of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes but other things too.

I’m also a cocoa Roz reporter, so they depend on those precipitation reports as well. During this disaster, what was the expectation from the other parties involved? Fire emo, what were they expecting from amateur radio? What type of traffic was being transferred back and forth? Well, the traffic that was being passed locally here in Southeastern New Mexico, wasn’t real specific or real dependent upon in this last storm for our local or regional area.

Again, since we were kind of out of the hot zone, so to speak. But those folks in Texas what we did was basically. Provide standby communications and also some active communications in the way of passing traffic ARL message grams and things of that nature. That’s, that’s just what they do on a, daily as a form of drill and practice.

So we were able to do that and keeping up those that techniques and keeping up those skills and practicing those skills if there was actually a. An emergency message that needs to be passed. I personally they had one come up for Clovis, so I was able to take that message and pass it and deliver it by cell phone.

So I could have done that by mega link also that that gentleman was on the mega Lake, our mega Lanka linked system. So as the temperature rising people starting to return to their home, starting to clean up, has a tide change. Are things getting better for the region? Yes. Yes. Like I said, things are, are healing and it’s going to take a long time.

One friend of ours, in particular, had had to leave their house because of the loss of power and the temperatures, you know, just brutally, brutally cold temperatures. So they left their residence and they like so many other people failed to turn the water off. They’re just. You know, not used to this.

Well, when they came back, they came back to about ankle, deep water throughout their house. With much of the the ceiling sheetrock could fall in the end, it was a two-story dwelling and they lost. Most of their personal possessions actually. So my daughter that lives there not too far from them in a DFW suburb took them into her house and a while they went in and completely got it was, they had to completely gut the house.

It was that bad. But then this is a scenario that’s Bay that we saw over and over and over again in Texas. So that’s probably one of the biggest the biggest cleanup. The aftermath that they are dealing with right now, except for some people, unfortunately, have, to bury their loved ones because of exposure and things of that, things of that nature.

What lessons were learned from this experience? And do you see any changes happening in your club or other clubs in the area?

Well, I think it’s always something that, you know, hams are really pretty good from the aspect of, of preparedness. I mean, there’s this, you know, backup and emergency power is pretty much a staple. I mean, we, we pretty much all understand that. But then we still have a lot of. Hams on the other side of that, that say, you know, that they just don’t really prepare for that and don’t think it will ever really happen to them, or if it does, it’s no big deal.

And, you know, I guess maybe in some sense it isn’t, but by the same token, if you’re called upon and you might be the only one out there available at the time to fill a particular role, and if you’re not prepared you know, even as much as. Learning how knowing how to comfortably operate your radio and go to reverse frequencies and just things of that nature that you don’t always think about opening your squelch.

Many of these radios sounds like a silly, stupid thing, but many of these new radios have a menu-operated step squelch system. And if you don’t know how to get in there and activate that you might not be able to hear someone on simplex out there that, you know, might need some assistance. And so learning to be familiar with your, your equipment excuse me, always having some kind of a backup power plan you know, things of that nature and being able to, to kind of access as many frequencies as you can know, what the frequencies are, the repeaters in your area.

And, and in neighbouring states as well on, on HF and, and just, just the different resource. We’ve got a lot of resources available to us and I think more so being a. Being aware of those resources and putting them to the best use and utilize them to the best of our, to the best of our ability is probably a huge part of preparedness that I, that I would like to see more and taking an interest in that.

Thank you, Jim. I really appreciate you coming out and helping highlight the role that amateur radio played during this emergency event and the importance an amateur radio is to the community and what we need to do to better prepare for such event. Well, Johnny, thanks for having me. I appreciate you. And you guys take care up there.

You’ve been listening to Jim kilo Bravo, zero Quebec, November whiskey. Who’s from the chambers County sky Warren. And he’s also a member of the Paco Valley amateur radio club. As we learn about the role of amateur radio played in helping residents during the weather event. Uriel, thank you for listening to the last wire podcast.

I’m your host, John Bignell VE1JMB Remember in times of crisis and natural disaster. Amateur radio is often used as a means of emergency communication. When all other conventional methods of communication have failed. At the last wire podcast, we’ll profile and help share stories of hams who have volunteered their amateur radio knowledge and equipment for communication duty when disaster strikes.

If you have a story to share, we want to hear from you, contact us at john@lastwire.ca until next time, this is VE1JMB 73.

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