Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES®) teams along the Gulf Coast have plans in place to deal with Hurricane Laura, now expected to make landfall as a powerful and dangerous Category 4 storm. “Catastrophic damage will occur” in a Category 4 hurricane, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) warns. More than a half-million people in Louisiana and Texas have been ordered to evacuate ahead of the storm, set to strike around the Louisiana-Texas border. The Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) updated its plans and has activated on both 14.325 and 7.268 MHz as Laura swirls in the Gulf’s warm waters.
“Overnight, Laura grew in size and intensity and is now a major Category 3 hurricane,” HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KE5HAV. “The forecast calls for it to become a Category 4 hurricane later today.”
Graves said that because Laura is a major hurricane, HWN is now operating in catastrophic response mode. “We will remain in continuous operation on both frequencies until the bands close,” he said. “We will resume operations on those bands just as soon as propagation returns.”
At 1200 UTC, the center of Laura was some 280 miles south-southeast of Lake Charles, Louisiana, and about 290 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas, moving northwesterly at 15 MPH with maximum sustained winds of 115 MPH.
“Laura is a large hurricane,” Graves pointed out. “Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 70 miles from the center, and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 175 miles.”
“Once Laura has been downgraded to a Tropical Storm, we will focus on helping to gather any post-storm reports from the areas that had been hit,” Graves said. “This includes the relaying of any emergency or priority traffic.”
The Voice over Internet Protocol Weather Net (VoIP-WX) will activate later today and remain up into Thursday morning. WX4NHC at the National Hurricane Center will also be active to receive ground-truth weather data from HWN and VoIP-WX Net participants. The VoIP-WX Net will activate, with expanded capabilities, on the Echolink WXtalk 7203 Conference, as well as IRLP 9219. 9550, AllStar 27154, DMR BM TG 50535, P25 TG 50535, YSF reflector 50535 (narrow mode only), and D-STAR XLX432 D (DCX432 D).
“We are looking for reports based on the National Weather Service SKYWARN Reporting criteria,” said Net Manager Rob Macedo, KD1CY.
In Louisiana, parish ARES teams will remain in a standby status until local emergency managers or served agencies, such as the Red Cross request activation, Louisiana Section Emergency Coordinator (SEC) James Coleman, AI5B, said in a Tuesday evening situation report. Activations will happen on a parish-by-parish or on a regional basis as support is needed. The Louisiana ARES Emergency Net is set to activate today (August 26) at 2300 UTC. Ham Aid emergency communication kits from ARRL Headquarters have been pre-positioned in Louisiana in preparation.
“Ensure you have a plan,” advised Louisiana ARES Net manager Joe Holland, KB5VJY. “If you have a generator, test run it, ensure you have plenty of fuel and ventilation, ensure you have water and food. Be safe.” The net convenes on 3.878 and/or 7.255 MHz. The Delta Division Emergency Net will be on standby status starting at 1700 UTC on Thursday, August 27. VHF and UHF resources will also be called into service.
ARRL South Texas Section Manager — and incoming ARRL Director of Emergency Management — Paul Gilbert, KE5ZW, advised members there to make plans either to ride out the storm or evacuate. He said the likely landfall zone would impact the cities of Beaumont, Orange, and Port Arthur, as well as other towns along the Texas-Louisiana state line. ARES members should get stay in touch with Section Emergency Coordinator Jeff Walter, KE5FGA, as well as district and local emergency coordinators for any activation plans. “Please do not self-deploy,” Gilbert stressed.
The ARRL Headquarters Emergency Response Team (HQERT) has been in regular communication with Section leadership in Louisiana, Mississippi, and other Sections potentially to be affected. On Tuesday evening, several members of the team took part in a Zoom conference with Section Managers and Section Emergency Coordinators in areas that could be impacted by the storm. Another Zoom conference is set for this evening (August 26).
“Most staff members, including the HQERT, are working from home and communicating with each other via email and MS Team,” ARRL Assistant Emergency Preparedness Manager Ken Bailey, K1FUG, said, adding that W1AW is ready to go if needed.