The already-busy Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) now is watching three hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin — Category 5 Irma; Category 1 José, following behind Irma, and Category 1 Katia in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s the first time in more than 5 years that three storms have been active at the same time in the same region.
“It now looks like the Hurricane Watch Net will be working on two land-falling hurricanes,” said HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV. “Irma is still affecting Puerto Rico and heading toward the Turks and Caicos Islands. Over the next few days, Irma will affect Hispaniola, Cuba, the Bahamas, and Florida. Katia is forecast to make landfall somewhere between Tampico and Veracruz, Mexico, late Friday evening or early Saturday morning.”
As of 2100 UTC today (September 6), Irma was about 40 miles northwest of St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, and about 55 miles east-northeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The storm’s maximum sustained winds at 185 MPH are well above the Category 5 threshold. It’s moving west-northwest at 16 MPH.
The storm damaged more than 90% of the buildings on Barbuda and Antigua, and it’s battered the northern Virgin Islands. In advance of Irma’s arrival on the US mainland, authorities in several Florida counties have begun issuing evacuation orders, while schools and offices across the state are shutting down, and anxious residents are clearing supermarket shelves.
The most powerful hurricane to threaten the Atlantic coast in more than a decade, Irma remains an extremely dangerous hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 185 MPH. Katia and José have maximum sustained winds of 75 MPH. Graves said the net is currently working stations affected by Irma, which, he speculated, could last through the weekend and possibly longer. “It appears we will be working stations affected by Katia beginning early Friday,” Graves added.
In addition to the mix of three hurricanes, the HWN has been hassled by a series of solar flares — one a massive Class X-9.3, said to be the most powerful flare in more than a decade. “This solar flare caused a near-total communications blackout for most of the morning and early afternoon,” Graves recounted.
The HWN will remain in continuous operation until further notice. Daytime operation on 14.325 MHz will begin at 1100 UTC each day, continuing for as long as propagation allows. Nighttime operations will be on 7.268 MHz, starting at 2200 UTC and will continue overnight. If propagation dictates, the net will operate both frequencies at the same time.
The net is seeking “observed, ground-truth data” from stations in the affected areas — including wind speed, wind gusts, wind direction, barometric pressure, rainfall, damage, and storm surge. “Measured weather data is always appreciated, but estimated data is accepted,” Graves said. “We will also be interested to collect and report significant damage assessment data back to FEMA officials stationed in the National Hurricane Center.”
Graves said the net always remains available to handle emergency or priority traffic and is available to provide back-up communication to responding agencies and organizations.