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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Marristown NWS to get a new radar technology

Several sources are reporting that the National Weather Service office in Morristown and Nashville are set to get new radar installations.

A tornadic vortex signature from the new
dual-polarization radar (credit NOAA)
The next generation of weather radar, called dual-polarization radar, is currently being installed in Nashville, and Morristown by the end of the month.

It's already installed in the Memphis facility and will be able to more accurately tell the meteorologists what type of weather is coming our way, and more importantly, if there's debris on the ground. It can tell the differences between rain, heavy rain, snow, and hail. More info on this new radar can be downloaded here.

A dual-polarization radar scan showing different
types of precipitation in one sweep (credit NOAA)
However, don't think it's a replacement for SKYWARN spotters. They'll still be in use to confirm what the radar is seeing and report from the "fringe areas" where the radar may not be able to determine what's going on because of the terrain (East Tennessee is in the mountains after all) or in the rare event that the radar gets knocked offline. I've been on the air calling a SKYWARN net when Morristown's radar got hit by lightning several years ago, knocking them offline. They were relying on ham radio operators to relay what was going on, as they tried to gauge the severe weather from radar stations in Huntsville, Nashville, and southwest Virginia, where the East Tennessee area was on the very fringe of their radar scans.

So, this is great news for the area I'm in (and it's being installed all across the country), but it's also a time to remember that, in the possible event of a catastrophic failure ham radio operators will still be around to report on the weather "when all else fails".

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

It pays to check your ground!

The last few months I've seen some strange things amiss at my house that are out of the ordinary. I lost some electronics to lightning in April. My computer, a couple of wifi routers, cable modems from my ISP, and possibly a couple of appliances in the kitchen all became victims of lightning. Not a direct hit, but, as I have had occur before, static from a nearby strike ran in and toasted the stuff.

I suspected I had an issue with my ground system, but wasn't sure the best way to deal with it. I talked with one ham on the radio about it and he said it was imperative that I check my grounding system. But things seemed fine with my electronics and as a precaution I began unplugging most of the sensitive electronics such as my TV, ham equipment, and cable equipment.

After my TV went out last month (due to what was eventually an unrelated issue) I called my friend Jason (KF4VDX) and he showed up the week before Christmas to check things out. My wiring in the house was fine and we changed out a breaker for the living room as it was needed anyway. Then we looked at the ground rod and discovered that the clamp to the rod was completely eroded and my ground rod and ground wire were BARELY touching!!!

The weather forecast called for thunderstorms the next day, and it was 10 o'clock at night when we discovered this, so the hardware stores were closed and I had no clamps here, so we ran to Walmart and looked for something...ANYTHING that would work in a fix. We settled on an automobile battery clamp and got the grounding issue settled. The next day I went to the hardware store and bought TWO ground clamps to ensure this would not happen again. Unfortunately with the rain (it was near constant the next several days) I couldn't get to it safely until the day after Christmas when I got back from a trip to the zoo with the family.

While I was at it, I took the wiring from my antenna and secured it to the electrical ground as well. Up until then I had it secured to a different ground rod. I was encouraged to put them on the same ground.

So life lesson learned. Sometimes, when I try to be a better ham, some of the most basic things are overlooked.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

Despite the lousy economy I hope all my ham radio friends had a good 2011.

2011 started great as I went to the Morristown Hamfest on New Year's Day (a soggy, rainy New Year's) and purchased a Wouxun KG-UV2D and enjoyed it so much I got a 2nd one for Lauren at the Knoxville Hamfest the following June.

I had a scare in April as a tornado touched down about 1000 feet from my house. Lightning is also to blame for the loss of a couple of computers, wifi routers, and some appliances in the kitchen. Then I found out my grounding was bad! More on that in a couple of days...

My activity on the radio was significantly reduced, in part to the electrical stuff that occurred over the last few months. We moved our bedroom downstairs where the "radio room" was, so some of my operating hours were cut back. 10 meters has been active as the sunspots have picked up, and 10 is one of my favorite bands and when I miss a big band opening it's not something I relish.  Hopefully I'll be able to get on the air more as things get straightened out with the home stuff. We still need to put a new roof on the house and focus on the kids' schoolwork. 

Speaking of the kids, Lauren's not been on the radio except to occasionally check in to a net or two when she's awake. It's hard to coax her on. I tried to do that on our way home just yesterday, and she refused, because she was nervous. Understandable, but there's only one way to overcome it...

School comes first, so hopefully she can prioritize them and be able to do both.

As for Amber, she's still interested in getting her license, so we'll be working with her over the next few months.

As for my resolutions, well, I already said I wasn't going to make any more. I kept that one good and proper. If I resolve to do anything, it's to encourage Lauren to get on the air, so hopefully I can keep that one.

Here's to 2012! Let's hope it is a great one!