Monday, April 21, 2008

More Storms & BIG puppies

Puppies first - 13 days old. Eyes open. Definitely piglets!

You'd think that the previously described storm would have cleared and stabilized the atmosphere. Nope. Another line of severe storms formed west of Abilene late on the 9th, and we watched them move steadily eastward for next 3+ hours into the Metroplex area, along with high winds, large hail, and various tornado warnings, including a long-lasting tornado vortex signature (TVS) in a cell that kept heading right at Arlington. Moving as fast as 60 mph, the line hit the western edge of the Metroplex about 3 a.m. The OEM has a new policy that delays activation of the EOC (don't you love all the acronyms?) for severe weather until the National Weather Service (NWS) has requested that RACES be activated. Then and only then will a staff member make the determination whether to formally open the EOC (Emergency Operations Center). Previoulsy, RACES radio volunteers had access to the Radio Room and just went to work without direct supervision, not that we have it now, but then some fo them could privately access the EOC and get started before a staff member arrived. New policy requires a staff member to physically open the EOC and be on duty throughout event. This particular occasion RACES wasn't activated until the storms almost to the western Tarrant County line. Moving up to 60 mph, that only gave Arlington a 10 to 15 minute window to activate. Then there was a slight delay in getting that done. I left within 90 seconds of receiving confirmation activation had been authorized, by which time the winds were hitting maybe 35 or 40 and rains were already approaching torrential. Thankfully, I was the only idiot out on the streets at 3:40 a.m. because with lights out along the 2-3/4 mile route I take, I first hit a stretch where water covered the street, hydroplaning for 100 feet or so (thankfully staying in my lane), then didn't realize I was at the major intersection where I needed to turn until I was in the middle of the pitch black intersection all but blinded by torrential rain, suddenly trying to figure out where the heck I was, and knowing it would have been far smarter for me to have stayed at home. Another 45 seconds, and I was safely at my destination. I had my radio with me and was monitoring RACES, but there wasn't a single spotter deployed in Arlington. I waited 10minutes for Dave to get there, then we both waited another 15 for a staff member to make it in, by which time the most serious portion of the storm had long since moved into Dallas County. We lucked out. The mid-cities area of Hurst/Euless/Bedford got hammered. That same cell continued northeast into Dallas and Collin County, dropping a small brief twister and doing major wind damage throughout those counties. Just before I left home, I called waking daughter and told her to get to a safe place immediately! Part of an apt complex roof was blown off only 2 or 3 blocks from her home, and among other wide-spread damage in Dallas & Collin Counties, significant major power line and some structural damage was done within 2 to 6 blocks of my sister's home in northwest Dallas County.

The whole bit about waiting for staff to get back to the OEM after regular business hours before the EOC can be activated in severe weather events just will not work. They know that. What they can do about it is another issue for them to resolve internally and with upper city management. I got 1.3 inches of rain and no other damage this time. The hail on the 8th, however battered all the unprotected cars and roofs, including mine. Not sure if I'll make a claim on my older model car and pocket the $$, or what. As for roof, it's not leaking and in any event, I'm waiting until AFTER the spring storms have abated to even think about it.

April 15th, I went to my first RACES Meet & Greet in Fort Worth and had my picture taken for my ID, assuming my application is okay. After rushing it to the PO on the 31st, the coordinator didn't even pick it up from the post office until the 19th.

Storm April 17th. We knew this huge storm was headed our way as well. In fact, my daughter had a scheduled flight from Minneapolis at 5:15, and I advised her at 4:30 there might be a ground hold because of approaching bad weather that was going to hit about the time she was supposed to land. Unfortunately, her flight left on time. In the meantime, since the storms were approaching during business hours, this time the OEM stayed open. I had a CERT meeting at 6:30 and wondered if they were going to cancel it. Instead I showed up with HT (Handy-Talkie - my hand held radio) in hand and kept monitoring, knowing that RACES was sooner or later going to be activated. As it happened, the scheduled CERT program that evening was to introduce CERT members to severe weather events, radar images and how the EOC reacts. The room was full at the 6:30 start time, about the time the storms hit Parker County, just west of Tarrant County, with TVS, lowering wall clouds, rotating scud, ground-covering golf ball and baseball sized hail, high winds, etc. RACES activated about 7 and Ben, who was giving the CERT program, told me to go on to the EOC. I had to stop by home to get my ID. This time everyone was in place. What delayed Dave and I was that the lap top that I'd been given to use was missing and Dave had to take off 5 precious minutes to move the Go Kit (the portable radio set up) into another cubicle for my use. At first I tried to play catch up on missed radio calls in the Entry Log, but the weather got so bad and so many spotters were out that I gave that up and just summarized and typed in reports in real time. RACES activation means that only those with RACES membership and authorization can use the radios for so long as the RACES NET is activated = FCC rule. The RACES storm spotter is required to give the call sign, wait for the Coordinator to acknowledge their sign and give them permission to report. The report consists of location, then the conditions or even being reported. Example: This is ABC5QR (not a real call sign), Go ahead ABC5QR. I'm at 57L and am watching a wall cloud developing 5 miles to my SE, with rotating scud. Quarter-sized hail." After which the RACES Coordinator generally quickly summarizes an already very brief report. ABC5QR hopefully repeats his call sign (the vast majority of spotters are men). In this case the RACES coordinator will ask for immediate confirmation from anyone else who has a line of sight to confirm a developing wall cloud. At the height of the storm the reports were coming in NON-STOP, the next report starting immediately as the previous one ended. It became a task similar to straight dictation, but with a lot of keystrokes from column to column, and it was quite a challenge to keep up with them all. I got most, location and reported event taking precedent over some of the call signs. Also, from time to time it was necessary to get up and make a verbal report to OEM management. Initially they didn't have my Event Log on screen in the actual Command Center, and figuring out which extension someone would be at at any given moment was more difficult than just getting up and walking 25 feet to tell someone in person. When the Radio Room is completed, this won't be an issue. We'll be just off the main control room and can holler out the door if it comes to that.

Video of April 17 Hail Storms:

No comment on the idiots driving around in the middle of it. Real storm chasers make every attempt to AVOID a hail core, if for no other reason than that it frequently preceeds the tornado now unseen behind it.
Arlington lucked out again. The TVS which was headed right down I-30 at us dissipated. Most cities sounded sirens this time because of observed brief tornadoes but primarily due to the large and very dangerous hail. I'm not aware of any large hail hitting Arlington this time. The winds stayed relatively calm and under 65, and the baseball sized hail hit elsewhere, though there were several minutes when it appeared to be headed right at southern Arlington. I got another 1.2 inches of rain. A secondary small storm was moving through as I was leaving the EOC. It was about 9:30 and after almost 3 hours of non-stop adrenalin rush, I really tired. As her 7:45 landing time approached I kept wondering where my daughter was. In fact, that's the last comment I made as I left the EOC. Her cell phone was off, so I knew they had taken off. I'd tried to reach her after the plane should have landed. I called and left a message for her to stay at the airport until the storms passed, and call me when she got in. Well, she did try but my cell phone didn't receive the calls. It so happened that the moment I sat in the car, my cell rang. She was in San Antonio where her flight had finally been diverted after a 2-1/2 hour flight had turned into almost 5 as the plane made repeated attempts to cut in through the storm cells to land at DFW. It was so turbulent, they eventually gave up. Then they had to wait for a new crew, still sitting in the plane in SA. The normally 50 minute flight back to Dallas was just as circuitous, having to fly west out of San Antonio actually into Mexican air space, before they could head back north behind a solid line of storms - which by the stretched from Mexico into and across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, bisecting the country in half. Her flight, which originally left at 5:15 finally landed at 12:59 am. In the meantime, she asked me to go check on her dog and puppies, meaning an additional 40 minutes on the road, 1/2 of it in heavy rain.

Puppies in box unphased and just fine. Mama Dog under bed hiding. EMVolunteer hungry and exhausted. Daughter finally got home just before 2am.

Severe Weather 3 - EOC 1.

In the meantime, my dear sweet Andy, my bichon mix who has been being treated for lymphoma since last June, is nearing the end. Just not a fair juxtaposition with new puppies in the family as well. Or perhaps, very appropriate - Circle of Life and that sort of thing. Just don't expect me to deal rationally nor prosaically with the circumstance of such.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Midnight Hail Storm

It's right at 11pm. A cold front moved through the area a bit earlier producing various storms along it's SW to NW front. I'm sitting here monitoring the NWS seeking hail reports from the Grapevine area and listening to two or three radio operators reporting from their home locations. A couple more cells have moved into southern Tarrant County and one is headed more or less in my direction. Nothing severe at this point. Tomorrow is forecast for moderate risk of severe storms. NWS is just issuing a severe thurnderstorm warning for that storm moving in my direction, small hail and winds to 60mph. Guess I'm going to be up a while. The NWS notifies radio operators either the same time or a few seconds before the information is sent to radio and television broadcasters around the area. So far my NBC5I warning link hasn't popped up with that severe alert. If this were to develop very quicky and get pretty bad I'd receive a call from the EOC advising me to activate - in other words get my tail down there ASAP.

I went to meet with Gene and Greg this evening at the EOC to discuss the status of the Event Log, and to familiarize Greg with the data entry process. The entry itself is pretty straight forward, but it's the know what needs to be entered and what can be left out that's important, and entering all those still unfamiliar call signs that slows me down on occasion. When the Radio Room is completed, I'll be seated between 2 radio operators typing in info pretty much real time. When I first arrived, early for a change, I walked into a room with several police officers - which I had not anticipated. They were using the EOC as Operations command to oversee Opening Day for the Texas Rangers. At the time they were monitoring traffic leaving the stadium. A bit later it was checking to make sure all the tailgaters had left the premises, and handling reports of a fight and drunks in one of the parking lots. They deployed what I'd call a modern version of a paddy wagon in case of mass arrests (something th ... Ha, the computer alert just sounded - that took about 5 minutes to come up.) The police were trying to avoid mass arrests, but just in case ... Between 6 Flags security, Stadium security and several squad cars with flashing lights the remaining partiers moved home without incident, more or less.

I'm hearing a increasing rumble of the approacing storm and will go watch to see if I get any hail. I hear hail on the roof! -------- Well, that was a bit of a wild ride starting with torential rains with pea-sized hail coming down in sheets, followed by 1-1/4" hail just to wrap up the show. The flowers I just planted over the weeked are shredded.

All the hail in the bowl is a couple of handfuls I scooped up in a 6" square area. Note that the chunk beneath the quarter is half-again as big as it is.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Severe Weather April 3-4 - How about Puppies Instead - Naw, Let's Do Both

I'd had a call from both Dave and Ben on the 3rd to meet at the EOC to get back up to speed on our Event Log entry program, and find a way to work around current lack of formal radio room. I had a choice of separate cubicle or to share one with Dave, which I opted for. Easier to turn sideways and say "Huh?" rather than call over the cubicle. Mainly the purpose was for me to get used to new set up, new computer, new keyboard, etc. Once I got situated in the corner worked fine, though in a crunch Dave and I couldn't get out at the same time. The most difficulty I have is trying to hear call signs that are rattled off and the speaker already giving a report before my brain has registered call sign enough to get it down. Dave had already set up a separate Go Kit on the desk top with both 200 and 400 band receivers, one set to the Arlington Repeater and the other to the Tarrant County repeater AND my own headset. We spent the rest of the aftenoon with him calling out call signs for me to practice listening to and typing, then me preparing a table to post on the wall of the call signs of local members so I would know who is who, and thus make it easier for me to hear and remember who was reporting. As we were doing that, another OEM employee was in his cubicle directly next to us participating in this area's afternoon's Emergency Manager's Weather Briefing via conference call with the Storm Prediction Center in KC and the NWS in Fort Worth. Seems there was some disagreement as to what we could expect - ranging from large hail, 60 mph winds to same with heavy rainfall and the possibility of tornadoes. The winds had been gusting 20 to 30 all day, with heavy overcast, but at 10pm, the skies were mostly clear.

In the interim my daughter's belated vacation souvenirs began the process of arriving. Expecting to have to be back at the EOC around midnight, I went over at 8 to find her on the phone with emergency vet, coming home to grab a nap at 10. The skies were mostly clear and there was nothing on the radar of any signifcance. She called at 1:43 to annouce 4 puppies, at 1:45 my alarm went off, afther which I spent the rest of the night monitoring severe storms that were up in Denton County, a new cells forming and training east across the Texas Motor Speedway. Thankfully the hail shafts started dumping large hail just east of that venue, a reprieve for all the NASCAR fans. Denton County suffered heavy damage. It didn't even rain at my house. Puppies are fine.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Severe Weather Forecast for April 3rd

Because of my involvement with the Arlington EOC, I and other volunteers receive weather-related information directly from the OEM to prepare us for significant weather-related events. Normally we get these early in the morning. That I received the following as a "preliminary briefing" before 5:00 p.m. on the day before indicates considerable concern.
From the Arlington Office of Emergency Management

Scattered showers and thunderstorms are possible tonight. Another active severe weather day also seems to be shaping up for Thursday:
SYNOPSIS - The Storm Prediction Center has placed areas along and north of the I-20 corridor in a moderate risk for severe thunderstorms on Thursday. A slight risk covers our southern counties. Large hail, damaging downbursts, and a few tornadoes are possible, especially in the moderate risk area, Thursday afternoon and evening. Storms will move and spread southeast Thursday night, with the hail and downburst threat continuing.
DISCUSSION - At mid-afternoon Wednesday, a warm front was moving northward into the Temple area. Two vigorous upper level storm systems were to our over the northern Rockies, and one off of the California coast.As we move through Thursday, the warm front will continue through north Texas and into Oklahoma. Warm and moist air will flow north into the area. The upper-level systems will approach the area, with mid and upper level winds increasing. A surface dryline will become established over west Texas, and will move east during the day. A cold front will move southward through Oklahoma as well.Scattered thunderstorms are expected to develop along and ahead of the dryline Thursday afternoon. The atmosphere will be quite unstable, and very strong updrafts will be possible. Deep-layer vertical wind shear will be favorable for organizing the storms, with mid-level rotation. Large hail (perhaps larger than golf balls) and damaging downbursts will be possible from the strongest storms. Storms which can remain isolated, and not merge into clusters or lines, may also find a favorable environment for low-level rotation as well.By Thursday night, the southward-moving cold front should overtake the dryline and move into north Texas. Storms should evolve into a squall line along the front and move south-southeast through the area. The low-level rotation potential should decrease, but the threat for hail and downbursts will continue. Storms should exit our counties late Thursday night or early Friday morning.
BOTTOM LINE - The forecast environment looks fairly similar to what we saw Monday, but the upper-level support should be stronger with this event. Monitor the movement of the dryline and cold front during the day Thursday. Watch for thunderstorm development Thursday afternoon along the front and dryline. Once again, storms may be fairly fast-movers, so teamwork among the spotter groups will be important. Spotter reports of visual storm structure were extremely helpful Monday, and that will be the case Thursday as well. Ground-truth reports will of course be beneficial as well. Monitor the following National Weather Service websites:
(base info)
(Storm Prediction Center)
(Emergency Managers briefing page)

for the latest information.

First Wednesday Siren Test Cancelled - Tests Explained

Because of severe weather Monday, and due to heavy overcast today, the Office of Emergency Management cancelled today's siren test, in part due to the ever-present concern some people might fear it was a real weather emergency then become complacent the next time a real one happens, and perhaps frighten the bejeebies out of a few as well.

The city of Arlington holds its siren tests on the First Wednesday of each month. Members of the all volunteer Emergency Management Support Team (EMST) and other radio volunteers proceed to a siren location as directed by the event leader at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The actual flipping of the switch is done by city personnel. At each location all electrical equipment and battery boxes, both on the pole and on the ground, are visually inspected for signs of tampering or other problems, then the volunteer observes and listens to the siren to make sure it is operating properly: 1) making at least 2 full rotations; 2) is loud; 3) is secure and 4) report any other issues that may be of concern. For the first test the siren is activated using the electrical system. Because all sirens do not sound at the same time, there is about a 5-minute wait as all sirens finish sounding. Then the siren is tested a second time using the battery back up. Each volunteer then reports the results via amateur radio to the person in charge of the event as his or her radio call sign is called. On occasion a volunteer might not have a radio available, and the information is phoned in to the EOC instead. The goal is to visually inspect every siren every 3 months. Unfortunately, there are often only a handful of volunteers so not all prioritized sirens (Arlington has 48 sirens) are observed, and cancelling the test because of inclement weather postpones testing.

NOTE: WARNING SIRENS ARE INTENDED TO ALERT THOSE OUTDOORS TO SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. They are not designed nor intended to be heard inside every dwelling or business as a primary alert system. If you can hear a siren with windows closed, A/C, Radio or TV on, the dishwasher running, etc. count yourself fortunate, but don't depend on the siren system as your sole means being alerted to a local emergency. For weather events, purchase a Weather Radio and keep the battery back-up current. For other emergency events, you'll have to depend on Television or Radio, or other mode of communication. That the siren system is only meant to be heard OUTSIDE remains a matter of contention between OEM's and residents who believe the system should be able to warn EVERY one EVERY time. I don't necessarily disagree with this sentiment, but that is not their function. Nor is it likely a siren could be created to be heard by someone running a blow dryer in the bathroom a mile or more away without deafening everyone in between. Another bone of contention between residents and the OEM is with regard to the area-wide sounding of sirens when only a few neighborhoods may be potentially affected. Thus for a tornado cutting across a far corner of the city, those residents miles out of danger get the same siren warning resulting in the inevitable complaints from those not directly affected. There are in fact computer programs and siren systems that are able to target specific areas, but upgrading to the newer systems is expensive. Reverse 911 is a concept whose time and technology is here, making it possible for organizations, businesses, local city and county governments to saturate specified geographical areas with phone alert messages. Unfortunately, the larger the community, the more expensive the install.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

March 31st Storms & RACES Activation

Though thunderstorms, possibly severe, were forecast they were predicted to move into the area in late afternoon. Instead, by 2:00pm storms were developing SW of Fort Worth and a tornado watch was issued about 2:30pm. I have NBC 5 Online's (free download from ) weather alert program on my computer. When a Severe Weather alert is issued by the NWS, it beeps and shows the area warnings, among other things. I noted that Tarrant County had been placed under a Tornado watch. I then went to to check local and nexrad radar. It already showed strong storms along with a Tornado Vortex Signature in Johnson County, SW of Tarrant County. I turned on my ham radio just in time to hear the RACES activation alert at 2:30. I called Ben Patterson at the EOC to see if it was being activated and got ready to go. The EOC has been undergoing expansion and renovations for most of the past year and the Radio Room at the EOC Radio Room has not been accessible and thus not operable since last June. Fortunate that we had a bunch of early springs storms and it quieted down after that. and has not been open during recent events - at least those occurring after office hours. About 10 minutes later he called back and I went in. I live close so it's only a 5 or 6 minute trip.. The new EOC is a sight & site to behold, but the new updated Radio Room ... well according to various sources they forgot to order the necessary cable to wire, or they forgot they had to put it out for bids, or it was left until everything else was in place, which it certainly appears to be, Whatever is going on appears to be a sore point for everyone involved. I'm staying out of it. So instead of the new Radio Room that I expected to find, instead Dave and I were given cubicles 20 feet outside the EOC, Dave on a ToGo kit with the antenna leaning against the window overlooking a court yard, and me a couple of cubicles away trying to get the online Event Log to load, then get my password to work, then try to remember from last July or August how it works. Dave was using a headset to monitor the RACES reports. I only had my handheld and was pretty much getting only static. Even when he unplugged his headset, I still couldn't hear well enough 2 cubicles away to do my job, and I don't think anyone was even watching to begin with. Last year it was projected onto a screen for everyone in the Command Room to view. I didn't see it projected anywhere at all this time. This was a serious event, at least for locations SW of us, when a wall cloud dropped around 1515 from the rain-free base and quickly spawned a small tornado, thankfully lasting only briefly and doing little damage in the community of Godley. A couple of RACES members had been reporting critical info and News choppers from at least 2 local stations were broadcasting live from a safe distance. The new large screens in the EOC includes broadcasts from all 4 major local channels, as well as radar and other weather information. With everyone watching TV news, and Dave calling into the other room every so often with critical information, I felt totally extraneous and wonder if they are even going to continue the Event Log process. The storm itself moved rapidly west to east along the Tarrant/Johnson County line, across Burleson & Mansfield, and rapidly losing strength and size. Another cell along a line stretching from south of Burleson up into Denton County. The northern cell moved across Denton and Collin County, also producing a rotating wall cloud and dropping some nickle-size hail, but also quickly died. Weather reports later in the evening suggested they out ran the dry line.

The DFW area has a fascinating micro climate which causes the majority of storms (including those with potential ice and snow) coming in from the SW to NW to diverge and cross the area a few miles north or south of the main I-30 corridor, or to quickly fall apart at the western Tarrant County line. Not always, but often enough that it's pretty typical. On the other hand, a storm that does punch through and travel down I-30 is usually going to be a bad one.

I was out walking my dog at 6:30 this morning when the front blew in with gusts up to maybe 25, and temps that dropped noticeably in just that 10 minutes with temps predicted to stay in the mid-60's today and tomorrow, and a chance of thunderstorms Wednesday and Thursday, when it's supposed to get back up into the 80's. It's a Texas spring and anything can happen.

I was going to mail my app to Tarrant County RACES yesterday, but got out of the EOC too late to check the weight before dropping in to the mail box. Doing so today.

Abbreviation Key

AARC - Arlington Amateur Radio Club
- Amateur Radio Emergency Service
- Community Emergency Response Team
EMST - Emergency Management Support Team
- Emergency Operations Center - part of the OEM
FEMA - Federal Emergency Management Agency
- National Weather Service
NWS FWD - National Weather Service - Fort Worth/Dallas
OEM - Office of Emergency Management
- Public Service Event - ARES Net
RACES - Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services
- TExas Severe Storm Associaton