Amateur radio operators play big role in tracking storms, tornadoes

Becky Campbell • May 2, 2012 at 9:22 AM

When the tornadoes in April 2011 were ripping across the landscape of Northeast Tennessee, real-time information was being relayed to the National Weather Service, which then gave emergency warnings to residents in the storm’s path.

Much of that real-time information came from amateur radio operators, said Charlie Stuchell, a professional radio reporter as well as an amateur radio operator.

On Saturday, there’s an opportunity for anyone interested in the hobby to obtain their entry-level FCC amateur radio license.

Stuchell, a member of the Carter County Amateur Radio Club, said the organization will host an eight-hour class and participants will take a 35-question test to become certified.

“So many people are concerned about emergency communications and being prepared if we have a tornado like we did last year,” Stuchell said.

“We were talking to people in Greene County” who gave real-time information pinpointing what areas were getting hit, he said.

Stuchell said there are two amateur radio organizations — SKYWARN, a storm spotter program through the National Weather Service, and the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, a statewide program operated by the Amateur Radio Relay League.

“SKYWARN plots the storm that’s coming and they get that information from amateur radio operators called spotters,” he said.

Stuchell said there are likely hundreds of amateur radio operators in the Tri-Cities and the skill is fun as well as functional.

“You can be informed of what’s happening weatherwise and emergencywise in real time,” he said.

Anyone interested in taking the class can just show up at Sycamore Shoals Hospital on West Elk Avenue in Elizabethton. There is a $15 fee for the FCC test, but all the materials are free, he said.

“It’s a good way to learn about and get involved in amateur radio.”

For more information, call Stuchell at 538-4811.

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