Spotter nets: how can chasers help?

Dan Robinson

Staff member
Jan 14, 2011
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I'm starting this thread to get input from the spotter community on how we as chasers can help your mission. After what I've learned this week, I for one am interested in finally getting my ham license and contributing.

A few questions:

- Where are the closed nets located? We know of Dallas and Wichita Falls, are there others we should be aware of?

- Are there uniform rules for checking in and reporting, or are they different from place to place? Since we've seen what happens when a chaser stumbles onto a closed net that does things differently, it would be helpful to have a list of the nets that are exceptions to the norm.

- What are the implications of a chaser selling video or a stream from a storm? Is this considered a violation of the FCC's "no commercial activity" rule? I would assume that since a chaser isn't benefitting financially in any way from making reports (only from selling video after the fact), that this would be a moot point, but it would be helpful for clarification.

- What are equipment recommendations? Keeping in mind that affordability will likely be a major factor in how many chasers decide to become active in ham reporting, what is the bare minimum in terms of a capable setup?

Spotters, thanks in advance for your input!
 
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rdale

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Wichita is NOT closed from what we've found out... They don't accept check ins during active severe weather which most nets do. That is not a closed net.

To answer your last question - if the chaser is using ham radio to coordinate his commercial activities, it is in violation. If he or a spotter is submitting reports and sells video, that is not a violation.
 
Where are the closed nets located?
http://www.w9tec.com/chaseradio/
This is a great location for finding Skywarn nets. Although the list is quite old, most are still accurate.

Are there uniform rules for checking in and reporting, or are they different from place to place?
Every net is different. Check ins might be done by call sign suffix, groups of 3, etc. Reporting might require you to state your suffix and then wait to be recognized, then report, then close with full call sign. Or maybe reporting requires you to state full call sign, wait to be recognized, report, then close with "clear". I've found that most nets announce the rules at the opening of the net, but this isn't going to do you much good if you miss the opening.

What are the implications of a chaser selling video or a stream from a storm?
None, so long as you do not mention the sale of your video or stream on air. It is permissible to announce a website for viewing free photos or videos that would give the NWS a better idea what you are looking at. That same website could happen to offer those videos for sale, but no mention of the videos being for sale should be made on air. Sales can occur off air with no issues.

Database???
Since there are hundreds of nets across the country, it would probably be best to put this information into a database. Let's discuss a list of fields (items) that should be included in the database and I'll create it and make it searchable by location. Maybe I'll even make it location aware to show nearby nets.
Here's some fields to get us started:
  • State
  • County
  • Repeater Location (Nearest City, Mountain, or other Landmark)
  • Organization
  • Local Skywarn ID required to report (yes / no)
  • Main Frequency (Frequency, Offset, Tone, Type [Voice, Data, SSB, etc], Class [Technician+, General+, Extra])
  • Backup Frequency 1 (Frequency, Offset, Tone, Type [Voice, Data, SSB, etc], Class [Technician+, General+, Extra])
  • Backup Frequency 2 (Frequency, Offset, Tone, Type [Voice, Data, SSB, etc], Class [Technician+, General+, Extra])
  • Backup Frequency 3 (Frequency, Offset, Tone, Type [Voice, Data, SSB, etc], Class [Technician+, General+, Extra])
  • Daily Update (time)
  • Weekly Meeting (date / time)
  • Rules - Checking In
  • Rules - Checking Out
  • Rules - Reporting
  • Rules - Other
 
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Apr 19, 2016
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What are the implications of a chaser selling video or a stream from a storm? Is this considered a violation of the FCC's "no commercial activity" rule? I would assume that since a chaser isn't benefitting financially in any way from making reports (only from selling video after the fact), that this would be a moot point, but it would be helpful for clarification.
Some hams (BTW, "ham" as a synonym for amateur radio operator is not an acronym, so it need not be capitalized) lack a complete understanding of the prohibition of commercial activity.

The first thing to consider is the definition of the amateur radio service found in 47 CFR 97.3(4), "Amateur service. A radiocommunication service for the purpose of self-training, intercommunication and technical investigations carried out by amateurs, that is, duly authorized persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest." That section does not define "pecuniary interest," but one dictionary defines "pecuniary" as "of, relating to, or consisting of money."

47 CFR 97.113 provides a list of communications that are prohibited in the amateur radio service. Paragraph (2) prohibits "Communications for hire or for material compensation, direct or indirect, paid or promised, except as otherwise provided in these rules."

Paragraph (3) prohibits "Communications in which the station licensee or control operator has a pecuniary interest, including communications on behalf of an employer," with certain exceptions that the section subsequently delineates. One example of the intent of this rule is to prohibit a taxi company from requiring all its drivers to get ham licenses and then using ham radio (vs. commercial two-way radio) to dispatch the cabs.

How do these rules affect a storm chaser who makes money from chasing? In my opinion it doesn't affect him at all, if he is only transmitting for the purpose of participating in the NWS SKYWARN program, or for carrying on casual conversations with other hams. Doing so would be no more a violation than a UPS driver calling in a hail report while making deliveries or a long-haul trucker chatting with local hams to pass the time.

Some examples of ways such a chaser could run afoul of the regs include (but are not limited to):
  • Promoting his business in any way within an amateur radio transmission. This could include transmitting the address of a website on which his video can be purchased.
  • Transmitting requests for information for the sole purpose of facilitating his business.
Note that the rules deal only with what we transmit. They are silent on what we do with information we receive via amateur radio. So, while it might be a violation to transmit a request for information for the sole purpose of facilitating business, it is not a violation to make business decisions based on what we hear others say on the air. In other words, if you hear a spotter describe a feature that you want to shoot, you can go shoot it and make money from the video, as long as you didn't transmit a request for such information for the purpose of deciding where to shoot.

In short, if chasers behave on the air as do spotters who aren't selling video, it is very unlikely that the chasers will ever be found in violation.
 
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Apr 19, 2016
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Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA
They don't accept check ins during active severe weather which most nets do.
During certain circumstances, the net I lead does not accept "check-ins" except from hams who have something to report that meets certain criteria (basically the things the WFO needs to know). This is to assure that the frequency remains clear to immediately handle reports of tornadoes, etc. We welcome such reports, however from any licensed ham. And our net control stations clearly transmit instructions about operating procedures that are in effect. At such a time, however, a check-in like the one Mr. Shaw attempted in Wichita Falls would not be welcome, but our NCS would assume he joined the frequency after instructions were transmitted and he would be advised that we are currently accepting check-ins only from stations that have something to report and encouraged to call back in when/if he needed to make a report.
 
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Apr 19, 2016
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Are there uniform rules for checking in and reporting, or are they different from place to place? Since we've seen what happens when a chaser stumbles onto a closed net that does things differently, it would be helpful to have a list of the nets that are exceptions to the norm.
Each net establishes its own procedures based on local needs. While this might be inconvenient to travelers, it makes more sense that proscribing a "one-size-fits-all" SOP at a national level.

My advice:
  • Whenever possible, get on the air before the feces strikes the ventilator. Chat up the locals. Ask how things work in their area. This will also help you know how well you're being heard.
  • Unless you have an emergency message that cannot wait, listen intently before transmitting. You can often learn all you need by hearing how other stations on the frequency behave.
  • If you're still not sure what procedures are, the safest thing to do is transmit your call sign (and only your call sign) once, release the push-to-talk button and hear what response (if any) you get. If a directed net is in progress, the net control station will assume you're calling him and will likely answer and inquire of your needs. If no net is in session, stations on frequency will likely assume you're just looking for a conversation and one of them might answer you. If you need help with an emergency (life or property is at risk), it would be wise to transmit your call sign, followed by the word, "emergency." If anyone is monitoring, that will get their attention!
One more thing. Being a chaser is nothing to be ashamed of (as long as you're doing it the right way for appropriate reasons). If, however, you are also what the NWS would consider a "trained spotter," it could prove helpful to introduce yourself that way when you first get on the air in a new geography, e.g., "I'm a trained spotter visiting from X and I just wondered how the net works here." If you are a trained spotter, that's not a lie, and it might grease the wheels a bit with the local spotters, especially if they are, shall we say, less than enlightened about chasing.
 
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Daniel Shaw

It's nice to see this topic moving to a productive means of better communication, involvement and understanding between local spotters and "mobile spotters" aka "chasers".
I have long referred to myself as a "mobile spotter".

I think the next step in assisting the "mobile spotting" community is to have better in field information.
Finding real-time ham radio repeaters can be quite challenging whilst travelling from county to county. An added challenge of finding the input PL tone is also a tricky task if you don't know the repeater information and are not local to the area.

Over the years, net controllers have been very helpful with assisting me in the handover from radio repeater site to site, and I have traveled and spotted across 6 or more controlled nets in a single day.
This is no easy task, and I certainly could not do it easily without their assistance and without the numerous radios installed in my vehicle.

There is a ham radio repeater placefile which is very old and out of date. I still use it as a basic reference.
I would encourage all chasers who are licensed hams as well as chasers who own radio scanners to have a look at this placefile.

PLACEFILE (Look at Kansas on GRL3 after you have added it)
http://skywarn.henion.net/repeaters.txt

A lot of work has been done in keeping this placefile current. This is a testament to the K-Link group who work diligently in maintaining and upgrading this radio equipment.
If a solution can be found to include the same information in a nationwide UPDATED placefile, I believe this would be greatly beneficial and a major step forward to ensuring better information for all "mobile spotters" even if they are not transmitting.

The placefile could also include additional boundary & phone contact information about NWS offices so chasers without ham radio or radio scanning equipment have instant access to the correct information when needed.

If a "mobile spotter" is not licensed to use ham radio but was able to monitor local ham frequencies, the information they may hear could assist them in looking for activity they are not even aware of.
It may even protect their life with critical information, such as "a tree has fallen blocking highway 285 in both directions", or "Farm road 1524 is underwater and the road has collapsed"

This is not information you will see on spotter network, but you may certainly hear about it.

Another example.
Imagine if you heard a local spotter say on the net, "KB5....." I think I see a tornado in the rain, but I'm not sure"
As as chaser "mobile spotter" you may be re-positioning, not realising tornado activity has commenced to your left. You pull over to safety and observe a rain wrapped tornado from your position. You report it via telephone, SN or other means.
You even get to capture it on video and photos. Something that may not have happened as you were not looking at the storm previously and were focusing on driving.

I have experienced occasions were I was concentrating on driving, not realising a funnel had started forming. I was then able to confirm this report, and actually upgrade the warning to a confirmed tornado and still capture the entire event with photos and videos.

Some people say ham radio is in the past. I have experienced it as being a valuable tool which compliments our safety and the safety of others.
When a net control is in place and you are the first to see & report life-threatening criteria.. You can lodge a report within 10 seconds. No searching for the right phone number, No typing on the keyboard whilst your are driving away from the new danger you were not originally aware of.

Local spotter groups are dedicated to protecting their community. They should commended for the work they do.
I have been welcomed to actively participate in their nets from Georgia to New Mexico. Texas to Montana.

I am not saying you need to deck your car out with "breeding antennas" like my vehicle, but I do feel this is a good way forward in the advancement of better communications, support and relationships with the communities we often visit.


Placefile Info
I believe the information needed for the ham repeaters locations are as follows.
- Ham repeater GPS co-ordinates (as per link/example above)
- Frequencies for that location (2M & 70cm + corresponding PL tones)
- Information if the repeater is analogue or digital (I have not come across any digital ONLY repeaters yet, but this could be more common with time)
- Typical repeater range in miles
- Primary or Backup repeater information

Example 1 (Multiple Site Repeater)
- ICON with Radio Tower (hover over icon for info)
Freq = 447.000 / Tone 162.2 - Primary
Freq = 147.125 / Tone 110.9 - Backup
Freq = 147.625 / Tone 127.3 - Backup
Range = 35 Miles (2M)
Range = 55 Miles (70cm)


Example 2 (Single Site Repeater)
- ICON with Radio Tower (hover over icon for info)
Freq = 447.000 / Tone 162.2
Range = 65 Miles

I welcome thoughts & ideas.
 
Feb 22, 2015
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Milton, Ontario, Canada
1. How is it possible to submit a report during an emergency situation without "checking-in"? One should not just burst onto a frequency by shouting out a report, correct?

2. As far as I know, checking-in is considered common courtesy & involves a necessary exchange of key information. So, would it not be prudent for someone doing spotting operations to get the checking-in & exchange of key info completed BEFORE a severe weather situation evolves into an emergency situation?

3. With (1.) and (2.) in mind, I find the rule for Closed Nets that allows them to refuse any transmission on their frequency unless it is (during) an emergency situation rather unrealistic, impractical, and contrary to best practices.



Wichita is NOT closed from what we've found out... They don't accept check ins during active severe weather which most nets do. That is not a closed net.

To answer your last question - if the chaser is using ham radio to coordinate his commercial activities, it is in violation. If he or a spotter is submitting reports and sells video, that is not a violation.
 
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Feb 22, 2015
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Milton, Ontario, Canada
Hi Jay. IMHO the advice you have given is excellent & constructive. Thank you! I do, however, have a concern/question.

The one issue that storm chasers who do spotting operations & mobile Skywarn spotters (which are basically the same animal) may have is that opportunities for them to "chat up the locals", etc ahead of time can be quite limited or non-existent. Consider the following:

1. During the course of a severe weather season, chasers who do spotting operations & mobile spotters are constantly travelling from one location to another, through multiple states in a day sometimes.
2. Furthermore, a typical chase/mobile spotting event can involve the person tracking one or more storms over a few hundred miles & many hours, during which numerous switching frequencies, hand-offs, & check-ins have to occur.
3. A lot of these folks never stay at the same hotel two nights in a row, so the chances of them being able to familiarize themselves with the local ham radio 'culture' are minimal or non-existent. Also, the likelihood that they can anticipate the counties they're going to visit a day or more in advance is very low.

So, the question I shall pose is, "when could such 'chat up the locals' conversations be carried out?".


FWIW, I would think that it would be more realistic/practical for chasers who do spotting duties & mobile spotters to monitor the motion of the storm they are on, anticipate what county they will be reporting to next, and at some point check-in with that county's net controller (so he/she can introduce him/herself, ensure the net controller knows that the he/she is a trained spotter, and advise the net controller of his/her availability to assist.)

Does this not make sense?



Each net establishes its own procedures based on local needs. While this might be inconvenient to travelers, it makes more sense that proscribing a "one-size-fits-all" SOP at a national level.

My advice:
  • Whenever possible, get on the air before the feces strikes the ventilator. Chat up the locals. Ask how things work in their area. This will also help you know how well you're being heard.
  • Unless you have an emergency message that cannot wait, listen intently before transmitting. You can often learn all you need by hearing how other stations on the frequency behave.
  • If you're still not sure what procedures are, the safest thing to do is transmit your call sign (and only your call sign) once, release the push-to-talk button and hear what response (if any) you get. If a directed net is in progress, the net control station will assume you're calling him and will likely answer and inquire of your needs. If no net is in session, stations on frequency will likely assume you're just looking for a conversation and one of them might answer you. If you need help with an emergency (life or property is at risk), it would be wise to transmit your call sign, followed by the word, "emergency." If anyone is monitoring, that will get their attention!
One more thing. Being a chaser is nothing to be ashamed of (as long as you're doing it the right way for appropriate reasons). If, however, you are also what the NWS would consider a "trained spotter," it could prove helpful to introduce yourself that way when you first get on the air in a new geography, e.g., "I'm a trained spotter visiting from X and I just wondered how the net works here." If you are a trained spotter, that's not a lie, and it might grease the wheels a bit with the local spotters, especially if they are, shall we say, less than enlightened about chasing.
 

Dan Robinson

Staff member
Jan 14, 2011
2,400
2,064
21
St. Louis
stormhighway.com
On the other end, I'm wondering if there would be a way to centralize the vetting of chasers so that the nets know in advance who's who. Maybe something like a directory or database where you simply enter a callsign and get a yes/no in terms of spotter training. Or, maybe a central agency could give a chaser a "seal of approval" (for example, do a "background check" of sorts, look at their past history, chasing experience, etc) and have that on file.

In the internet age, it seems like some kind of system could be developed that net controllers could use to see who is in their area and whether or not that person is known and trustworthy. Spotter Network already does this for the most part, but the vetting process there may not be as rigorous as some nets might want.
 

Daniel Shaw

1. How is it possible to submit a report during an emergency situation without "checking-in"? One should not just burst onto a frequency by shouting out a report, correct?

2. As far as I know, checking-in is considered common courtesy & involves a necessary exchange of key information. So, would it not be prudent for someone doing spotting operations to get the checking-in & exchange of key info completed BEFORE a severe weather situation evolves into an emergency situation?

3. With (1.) and (2.) in mind, I find the rule for Closed Nets that allows them to refuse any transmission on their frequency unless it is (during) an emergency situation rather unrealistic, impractical, and contrary to best practices.

Derek, sometimes the net is in "condition red" a term used by some net controllers.
This could be due to a tornado warning, but the warning is not in a "confirmed status"

When the net is more relaxed (in preparation & deployment mode) and the check-ins may have already happened, you would say.
"(Your call sign) mobile spotter, checking into Salina repeater for Skywarn operations."

If you are coming over from another controlled ACTIVE net, handover from one site to another (in a relaxed mode), I would normally say
"(your call sign) Mobile spotter, checking into Salina repeater for skywarn operations, handover from Goodland"

During "condition red" criteria
The following reporting criteria are typically accepted.
Tornado, funnel cloud, rotating wall cloud, fire, hail 2" or larger, significant road collapse/blocked, structures hit/collapsed, medical emergency, etc)

If you have just found the frequency and PL tone and have not broadcasted yet, listen for around 30 seconds before you transmit. If the criteria meets the terms above you would say.
"BREAK BREAK, (Your call sign) Tornado forming 2 miles north of Salina, Kansas, wrapped in rain. Power flashes noted."

Keep the transmission under 10 secs, as multiple stations may be giving the same report.
Wait for a response.
The net controller may acknowledge the report or ask clarification.

If there has been no response, try again with
"BREAK, (Your call sign) Tornado report."
Wait for an answer,

If there is no answer, the repeater may have gone down due to electrical grid failure or tornado impact, This has happened to me on a number of occasions.
If this is the case make your report via other means, SN, phone, etc.

A good example of significant criteria can be found here.

This was from the 2014 Tupelo tornado.
The tornado formed quickly, I did not know the repeater PL tone and was not sure if I was successfully transmitting on the repeater.

To complicate things I had an Australian accent.

FYI: The repeater was destroyed by the tornado.
 
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Feb 22, 2015
34
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Milton, Ontario, Canada
Excellent! Thank you for your detailed response. Very informative!

Derek, sometimes the net is in "condition red" a term used by some net controllers.
This could be due to a tornado warning, but the warning is not in a "confirmed status"

When the net is more relaxed (in preparation & deployment mode) and the check-ins may have already happened, you would say.
"(Your call sign) mobile spotter, checking into Salina repeater for Skywarn operations."

If you are coming over from another controlled ACTIVE net, handover from one site to another (in a relaxed mode), I would normally say
"(your call sign) Mobile spotter, checking into Salina repeater for skywarn operations, handover from Goodland"

During "condition red" criteria
The following reporting criteria are typically accepted.
Tornado, funnel cloud, rotating wall cloud, fire, hail 2" or larger, significant road collapse/blocked, structures hit/collapsed, medical emergency, etc)

If you have just found the frequency and PL tone and have not broadcasted yet, listen for around 30 seconds before you transmit. If the criteria meets the terms above you would say.
"BREAK BREAK, (Your call sign) Tornado forming 2 miles north of Salina, Kansas, wrapped in rain. Power flashes noted."

Keep the transmission under 10 secs, as multiple stations may be giving the same report.
Wait for a response.
The net controller may acknowledge the report or ask clarification.

If there has been no response, try again with
"BREAK, (Your call sign) Tornado report."
Wait for an answer,

If there is no answer, the repeater may have gone down due to electrical grid failure or tornado impact, This has happened to me on a number of occasions.
If this is the case make your report via other means, SN, phone, etc.
 
This is an excellent new thread.

Most of the official spotter nets run through local emergency management or the NWS. Some are regional and some are local, using fire and rescue (government) frequencies that are going to be closed to the public unless you have an unlocked radio. :) Many nets have changed their rules and /or frequencies over the years. If someone had the time, they would need to contact each NWS office in TA and get in touch with the director(s) of the local nets to get frequencies and rules. This is NOT going to be a single set of rules for all locations and not all locations are going to just open up to anyone who wants to transmit. I would not be surprised if some nets tone their frequencies to prevent unwanted public / chaser traffic.

This is a great idea and I hope it develops into something positive.

Edit:

Maybe we could get chasers from each city / community to list their net information here and them compile a working list.
 
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Jun 20, 2009
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Much of Kansas is covered by the K-Link repeater network, as Daniel said. We run a regional net and during really active weather we go to a directed net that is open to weather reports that meet severe criteria. We welcome reports from chasers, because we realize they usually have more experience and report what they see, not what they think they see. As one of the net operators, I can tell you that I breathe a sigh of relief when Daniel checks in with us, because we usually don't have very many people actively spotting and his information is rock-solid. When there is a complex of storms it would be nice to have input from other chasers as well.

In cases where the network gets too busy because there are storms in more than one area we can segment parts of the link system and add net controllers to each segment as needed.

It is perfectly acceptable for mobile spotters to check into the net to announce they are available to report, and I ask that they also check out with net control when they quit, change frequency, or leave the area, so we can log them out.

Our net controllers relay info via NWS Chat and can keep an eye on participating stations of they are sending APRS or Spotternetwork beacons.

Justin
NV8Q

PS: Can somebody upgrade Daniel from "Noob" status. That just doesn't seem right ;)
 

TJ Whitt

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May 31, 2010
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www.tjenn.com
I do know that in some cases, some ARES/RACES nets will not accept any check-ins or routine traffic (small hail or rain reports) if the net is in a higher condition (significant severe weather events). I know it's hard for chasers to know exactly what is going on during a net if they are traveling from county to county. This is why the 'Always listen" rule is paramount. Listen for a few minutes to see what the net condition is. If it is in a lower net condition, then see if you can check in. If it is in a higher net condition, then do not transmit unless you have a life or death emergency. If you do not hear any information concerning the type of net or the net conditions, if there is a few minutes of silence, key up, give your callsign, that you are a trained spotter, and ask what the net condition is. It's really hard to know if the nets from place to place are relaxed enough to allow hams that are not from that area to make reports. I can tell you that Collin County TX ARES nets are open to any ham to make a report. The Dallas County TX RACES net is strictly for Dallas County RACES members only but they do often let non-members make reports especially if there is significant severe weather occurring.

It would be nice if spotters or chasers from around the US, could list their local ARES/RACES/Skywarn net information such as type of net, frequency, offset, PL tone, whether or not they accept check-ins and reports from non-local hams
 
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Besides being a chaser, I’m active in an ARES group and a RACES group, so here are my thoughts:

Where are the closed nets located?

That depends on the definition of “closed net”. I’ve only heard of one net that I would say was fully closed. The start of the Wichita County TX net the other day said “if you are not an accepted Wichita County ARES member, we do not what you to check-in, we do not want your reports”. That is as closed as it gets. There are probably others I haven’t encountered. Dallas County TX RACES only takes routine reports from Dallas area RACES appointees, but they do take reports from any licensed amateur radio operator if it is an “imminent threat to life or property.” I’d call that semi-closed. It is important to remember that just because a group is RACES doesn’t mean they operate every Skywarn net as a RACES net. Many of the groups wear both RACES and ARES hats. Rockwall County TX and Tarrant County TX are RACES groups that often do Skywarn nets as ARES nets or “open” nets. Since there are very few fully closed nets, and since some groups are semi-closed one net and open the next net, I’m not sure compiling a list would be helpful.


Are there uniform rules for checking in and reporting, or are they different from place to place?

They are different, but the vast majority of them have a lot of similarities. It is important to understand that the reason most nets do check-ins is so the net controller will know what resources they have. Some net controllers use this to position the spotters (Wichita County TX and Denton County TX are examples). Others do it so they can safely account for all their spotters, much like police and fire departments do a radio roll call several times a shift or incident. Check-ins also allows the net controller to know where they don’t have coverage; no reports could mean nothing is happening or it could mean no one is looking.

As a chaser, I almost never check-in to a net. Checking-in means you are an available resource for that net controller. You go where they ask you to go, you stay when they say stay, and you don’t check-out in the middle of the action just because something better is happening one county over. I’ve never encountered a net that required you to be checked-in before you make a report. If I’m chasing and a net controller is asking for spotters in a certain area and not getting responses, I will check-in. Remember that most nets only take check-ins before the weather gets bad in their county. Some nets don’t take check-ins on Skywarn nets (for example, Dallas County TX RACES doesn’t do check-ins in Skywarn nets – even for Dallas area RACES appointees).

As for reporting, there are a couple of general guidelines. First - listen, listen, listen. Make sure you understand how the net is operating and what their style is so you can match it. Make sure you meet the minimum reporting criteria (i.e. don’t report ½ inch hail if 1 inch is the minimum reporting criteria). Second – think before you transmit. Don’t key up and start talking then think about what you want to say. Third – be brief and accurate. When making a report, give your call sign, say nothing else (unless the controller has given instructions otherwise), and wait for a response before you make your report. If the net controller hasn’t given instructions for how to make reports or there isn’t an obvious pattern, I recommend you use the HAND style – Have, At, Need, Details – and close with your call sign. You probably don’t need to use the “Need” part and details should be minimal. An example of this would be “rotating wall cloud approx 1 mile west of my location at Dallas North Tollway and Main Street in Frisco, 20 mph measured inflow, KF5LKL”. When chasing, I don’t make reports unless I am reporting something significant and/or new (for example, if there is already a severe thunderstorm warning and there have been multiple hail reports around me, I don’t feel the need to report it again for the same size hail).


What are the implications of a chaser selling video or a stream from a storm?

As others have noted, using amateur radio to transmit reports to a Skywarn net while filming video for sell isn’t a problem on the surface. There is a thin line you need to watch out for. You can’t use amateur radio to coordinate your business activities. For example, if you ran a chase company with 2 vans and you used amateur radio to coordinate between the vans, you likely are violating FCC rules, much like a taxi service using it for dispatch would be. As others noted, receiving information over amateur radio and then making business decisions is allowable. As chasers we need to be careful here. It would be very easy for one of the chaser haters to file a FCC complaint. Make sure you are on the right side of that thin line.

Other Thoughts

Several folks have discussed Skywarn frequency lists in this and other threads. I started to work on a database during the off season. I put it on the shelf for the chase season. I guess I should dust it off. I hadn’t done a lot of the data collection, but I had done a lot of the design and planning. I will try to get back onto and post something on Stormtrack.

One other note, several folks have used the term “BREAK” and “BREAK,BREAK”. At least in my area, a single “BREAK” is sometimes used when someone is making a long winded transmission and needs to pause, let off the push-to-talk, and let the repeater reset before it times out. You shouldn’t have long winded transmissions in a Skywarn net. A double “BREAK,BREAK” is used to indicate that you have an emergency and the net needs to stand by and yield to you. There are a lot of nets where you better be bleeding when you use “BREAK,BREAK” or the net controller will be upset with you. Since Skywarn nets are for the purpose of spotting, making a spotter report is not considered an emergency on these nets. Now if you can’t get in the net to make a tornado report because everyone is still checking-in or reporting pea sized hail, by all means use “BREAK,BREAK”. Just make sure what you have to say is really urgent.
 
Jan 27, 2011
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Russell, KS
Just a quick addition since Daniel mentioned it.. Most repeaters - I know this is true on K-Link but can't vouch for other systems - have a courtesy tone set. If you don't hear the courtesy tone and/or a repeater tail when you un-key, then it's a safe assumption that your transmission was not received.

It's hard to hear at the beginning because there was a simplex conversation going on at the same time on 550 but that stops after about 30 seconds. After each transmission you hear the courtesy beep, then a second of silence and blip of static - that's the "tail". The person transmitting can hear that too when they un-key. That's your confirmation that the repeater heard you.

 
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SCombs

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Jan 19, 2011
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Really enjoying this thread. Lots of good information being exchanged. Nothing but good can come from this. And the real winners will be the safety of the public.
 
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Apr 19, 2016
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6
Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA
Just a quick addition since Daniel mentioned it.. Most repeaters - I know this is true on K-Link but can't vouch for other systems - have a courtesy tone set. If you don't hear the courtesy tone and/or a repeater tail when you un-key, then it's a safe assumption that your transmission was not received.
In addition, our repeater changes its courtesy tones during various conditions. For example if a WW is in effect, it change from a simple "beep" to a Morse code "W" (dih-dah-dah). When a directed net is underway, it changes to a Morse code "N" (dah-dit). Periodic synthesized voice tail messages also announce either "weather watch" or "weather net." That's just one repeater in one place, but I thought you might find this practice of interest.
 
Apr 19, 2016
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21
6
Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA
One other note, several folks have used the term “BREAK” and “BREAK,BREAK”. At least in my area, a single “BREAK” is sometimes used when someone is making a long winded transmission and needs to pause, let off the push-to-talk, and let the repeater reset before it times out. You shouldn’t have long winded transmissions in a Skywarn net. A double “BREAK,BREAK” is used to indicate that you have an emergency and the net needs to stand by and yield to you. There are a lot of nets where you better be bleeding when you use “BREAK,BREAK” or the net controller will be upset with you. Since Skywarn nets are for the purpose of spotting, making a spotter report is not considered an emergency on these nets. Now if you can’t get in the net to make a tornado report because everyone is still checking-in or reporting pea sized hail, by all means use “BREAK,BREAK”. Just make sure what you have to say is really urgent.
Randy is correct that "break break," etc. is a fairly common practice in ham radio. I don't use it.

If I have an emergency (e.g. I come across a car accident with life-threatening injuries), the way I break in is "W9LW, emergency." This a.) identifies myself and b.) unambiguously indicates why I'm breaking in. Likewise, If I observe a tornado, I use "W9LW, tornado" and await acknowledgement before I transmit the details. This plain-language approach makes sense to me and I believe it will be well understood everywhere, even places where it is not common practice.
 
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Apr 19, 2016
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Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA
It would be nice if spotters or chasers from around the US, could list their local ARES/RACES/Skywarn net information such as type of net, frequency, offset, PL tone, whether or not they accept check-ins and reports from non-local hams
IMO SKYWARN Quadrant Two Net
Repeater:
146.88 MHz, no tone required
Back-up Repeater: 146.76 MHz, no tone required but 141.3Hz tone optional
Repeater location: Fort Wayne, Indiana
Area served: IMO SKYWARN quadrant two (essentially the southeastern quadrant of the IWX CWA)
Two operational modes: Standby mode and Directed Net mode
Standby mode: A WW is in effect, but little or no severe wx is yet in the area, and few spotter reports are yet expected. A net control station (NCS) monitors the frequency to handle any reports that come in and to remind stations on frequency what's going on. The NCS might accept check-ins, to learn who is on the air. All stations are welcome to use the repeater normally but are requested to keep transmissions short and leave large gaps between transmissions to facilitate interruptions by spotter reports. The repeater's courtesy tone becomes a Morse code "W." The repeater controller's sythesized voice periodically announces, "weather watch."
Directed net mode: A tornado warning has been issued, or the volume of spotter reports has gotten high enough that more control over the frequency is required. All stations are requested to obtain NCS acknowledgement before transmitting any report, by transmitting a call sign once and one or two words describing the report (e.g. "W9LW, wall cloud"). This enables the NCS to prioritize when multiple stations have near-simultaneous reports. Stations are requested to stay off the air unless they have something to report that meets certain criteria (tornado, funnel cloud, wall cloud, wind damage, hail of any size, flooding, or any emergency that threatens life or property). To keep the frequency clear for high priority spotter reports, the net does not except general check-ins during directed net mode. Upon acknowledgement, the spotter transmits his report directly to the ham at the WFO (if so staffed), otherwise, the NCS or his designee takes the report and enters it into NWSChat. With regard to non-weather emergencies, we encourage hams who are equipped with mobile phones to call 911 directly, vs. asking someone on the net to call 911 for them. When directed net mode is no longer needed, the NCS ends it and then requests check-ins, so he'll know who all was on frequency during the net but didn't have anything to report.

To avoid potential liability, our net does not suggest to spotters where they should go. Before a directed net begins, our spotters often chat with each other on the repeater, to announce where they plan to be, which helps them avoid congregating in one location.
 
Apr 19, 2016
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Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA
On the other end, I'm wondering if there would be a way to centralize the vetting of chasers so that the nets know in advance who's who. Maybe something like a directory or database where you simply enter a callsign and get a yes/no in terms of spotter training. Or, maybe a central agency could give a chaser a "seal of approval" (for example, do a "background check" of sorts, look at their past history, chasing experience, etc) and have that on file.
Dan, in the IWX CWA, spotters are not even vetted. If, for example, a person calls the WFO on the phone to make a report and identifies himself as a trained spotter, the WFO takes his word for it. They don't have time to look the person up. I don't even know who all on frequency has attended spotter training, except for the ones I remember seeing at the last session I attended. The WFO does not share its lists with our net controllers, so we also take a spotter's word for it. That's why our net controllers don't make any attempt to filter reports before they go to the WFO (except in the case of stuff we know the WFO doesn't care about, like lightning).

We let the WFO do the same thing with our reports that it does with telephone and social media reports: Compare the report to radar data and atmospheric conditions to decide if it's valid. Not being meteorologists, our net controllers lack the knowledge and skill to make such judgements.
 
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Apr 19, 2016
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Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA
... opportunities for them to "chat up the locals", etc ahead of time can be quite limited or non-existent ... "when could such 'chat up the locals' conversations be carried out?" ... FWIW, I would think that it would be more realistic/practical for chasers who do spotting duties & mobile spotters to monitor the motion of the storm they are on, anticipate what county they will be reporting to next, and at some point check-in with that county's net controller (so he/she can introduce him/herself, ensure the net controller knows that the he/she is a trained spotter, and advise the net controller of his/her availability to assist.) Does this not make sense?
Derek, this is why I qualified that advice with the words, "whenever possible." It won't always be possible, but it's a good idea when it is, for example, when you're in one place for a while, waiting for storms to fire and not doing much else. Does that ever happen? If so, that would be a good time to "chat up the locals," even if you might leave their jurisdiction before you have anything to report. And by the way, such informal chats, if handled well, could go a long way toward improving perceptions of "mobile spotters."

If a net is already on going by the time you have an opportunity to check in, my other advice stands. Listen for as long a possible to get a feel for net procedures. But if you really need to make an immediate report, my opinion of the best practice is to make your first transmission very short, for example, just your call sign, or perhaps your call sign and one or two additional words that unambiguously communicate why are you are calling. For example, "W9LW, emergency" or "W9LW tornado." If you don't have a report to make, just transmit your call sign once, wait for acknowledgement and then introduce yourself ... unless you've determined by listening that the net is currently accepting check-ins only from stations that have reports to make. In that case, it's best to remain off the air until you have a report and let your report be your first check-in. The exchange might then go something like this:

Me: W9LW, funnel cloud.
NCS: W9LW, go ahead.
Me: W9LW, trained spotter, 4:21 p.m., funnel cloud, no debris visible, two miles west of Sometown."

The rest of the exchange would involve answering any questions the NCS or WFO has, etc. Notice the brevity. During a net it's better than saying, "Hi, this is Jay, W9LW, I'm a trained spotter from northeastern Indiana. I'm visiting the area and thought you'd want to know ...."
 
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Jordan Henion

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Mar 16, 2015
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Wichita, KS
The entire line of thinking behind the Wichita Co ARES/SKYWARN incident is very confusing, and leads me to believe the Wichita Co group is not "up with the times". The ARES/RACES groups are in the habit of conducting closed nets. We have to think about their true mission. The ARES/RACES groups were created as a right-hand to Emergency Management officials in times of disaster. Most of the ARES/RACES groups I know of only started storm spotting activities withing the past 15-20 years, although RACES was formed in 1952 (not sure about ARES, sometime thereafter). Since these groups were formed to be utilized during disasters, it made sense to have policies and guidelines formed around closed nets. You wouldn't want Jim-Bob on the frequency asking what is going on while search and rescue efforts are being organized. However, I think this line of thinking was drilled into their minds as the proper procedure for each and every event for which they activate. That might be part of their procedure, but it doesn't meet common sense.

The SKYWARN program is a platform for the NWS to receive severe weather reports. It isn't a club or an organization where you need to be a card-carrying member of to participate. If you are a spotter or a chaser, you should be able to submit your report via Amateur Radio, telephone, spotter network, or Twitter. The simple fact that the NWS is fielding reports via Twitter from the public is proof that they are interested in receiving more reports, not less. I have instructed my Net Controllers that we are to pass along any severe weather report we receive, and we are not to filter reports. We welcome any and all storm chasers to join our nets on the K-Link and Kan-Okla repeater systems to submit reports: GRLevelx Placefile http://skywarn.henion.net/repeaters.txt updated regularly.

In my opinion, as a SKYWARN coordinator, what happened in Wichita County shouldn't have happened. No Amateur Radio group should be in the practice of filtering or blocking avenues for passing potentially life saving ground truth information. Whether or not they had the right to close the net has nothing to do with it; It is against good amateur practice.

P.S.- Take http://www.w9tec.com/chaseradio/ with a grain of salt, most of the information for Kansas is out-of-date. I personally audit/edit the GRLevelX placefile mentioned above, but only include repeaters that my spotters frequent in our region. I have decided not to expand it's coverage past that point since auditing the file has to be done manually line-by-line and is just short of a nightmare. For other areas, I recommend www.RepeaterBook.com since the information is crowd-sourced and approved by local admins.

Jordan Henion, K0JWH
SKYWARN Coordinator for Wichita, KS NWS