“We have survived Hurricane Irma.” That assessment came this morning from ARRL West Central Florida (WCF) Section Manager Darrell Davis, KT4WX, who reported that the storm’s eye passed over the Hardee County emergency operations center just before midnight EDT on September 10. (Davis also is the Hardee County Emergency Coordinator). Irma has now been downgraded to a tropical storm, but flooding remains a threat as the storm’s remnants move inland. Davis said he was grateful for the Ham Aid equipment — four hand-held transceivers and one mobile transceiver — that ARRL sent to Florida as the storm threatened the peninsula last week. After hitting the Florida Keys, Hurricane Irma made landfall near Naples, Florida, on September 10 at around 2100 UTC as a Category 2 storm.
No one is standing down just yet, however. Davis said his section, which includes the City of Tampa, will have a conference call this afternoon and an ARES net this evening “to assess any unmet needs by our ARES groups in our Section.” Thirty Florida counties were under mandatory evacuation orders. As of today, FEMA reports that 586 shelters are open, housing some 192,000 occupants. FEMA also reported that more than one-half of the state’s customers — some 5.7 million people — were without electrical power as of early this morning.
Over the weekend, a Regional SKYWARN Net was active in the West Central Florida Section to gather severe weather reports, and Florida’s Statewide Amateur Radio Network (SARnet) was running a coordination and assistance net to help communicate between the county EOCs and the State EOC and to provide assistance to Amateur Radio operators in other ways, time permitting. The priority during the weekend was tactical shelter communication, EOC communication, and SKYWARN nets as Hurricane Irma approached. At one point, Pascoe County in the WCF Section put out a call for Amateur Radio support, seeking 20 volunteers with their own equipment.
“At our own EOC, the data from APRS stations was very important to our decision makers in the EOC to allow Fire and EMS back on the road, post storm,” Davis reported. “Our repeater went off the air due to power failure. I went to reverse and listen to the repeater input and transmitted on the output and we maintained communications through the storm.”
Davis said the Ham Aid mobile transceiver went to the area’s special needs shelter at a local community college, primarily due to the fact that a handheld’s signal was hampered by the building.
The Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) remains in operation, reported Net Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV. “Considering the path of destruction caused by Irma, many areas, especially the islands, are just now beginning to get HF communications somewhat restored,” Graves said in his 1000 UTC update. “In addition to collecting post-storm damage reports, we will be calling and listening for stations who have been affected by Irma with emergency and priority traffic.” He anticipates that nets such as the HWN will “be busy for days” handling health-and-welfare, emergency, and priority traffic.
“Please, don’t drop your guard on Hurricane José,” Graves added. “Over the next few days, this storm is expected to make a loop and perhaps affect the Turks and Caicos Islands, Bahamas, Cuba, and South Florida by the weekend.”
As if Earth’s weather was not bad enough already, an X-class solar flare severely disrupted HF communication on Sunday at around 1600 UTC. Graves said the widespread communication blackout lasted for nearly 3 hours, “which could not have happened at a worse time,” he added. “But, we cannot control Mother Nature, only work around her.”
The Hurricane Watch Net remains operational on 14.325 MHz during the day and on 7.268 MHz after dark.
The VoIP Hurricane Net activated over the weekend to track the impact of Irma as well as of Hurricane Katia, which made landfall on the coast of southeastern Mexico. The activation was expected to continue through September 11.
Puerto Rico fared better than had been expected. “We were lucky that all we got were tropical storm winds,” said Puerto Rico Section Public Information Coordinator Angel Santana, WP3GW, adding that the storm did down some trees on the island. While electrical power has been up, there is still no water, Sandana said.
“Some repeater systems did operate without problems, and, besides reports on Irma’s route, many were indicating local conditions,” Santana said. “Our Section Emergency Coordinator remained in contact with the Red Cross,” he said, and on September 9, volunteer radio amateurs went to the island of Culebra to establish HF communication there so they could keep in touch with the Red Cross office in San Juan, where ARRL Puerto Rico Section Manager Oscar Resto, KP4RF, was stationed. More than 350 Puerto Rico residents took advantage of Red Cross shelters, and about 150 evacuated to shelters in the US Virgin Islands.
Santana said the Friendly Net and Caribbean Emergency Radio Net were fairly active, and on September 10, 1,000 refugees from St. Martin were brought to Puerto Rico