Spotter nets: how can chasers help?

If we get a database put together and allowed crowd sourced updates, we should be able to create a fairly accurate database quickly. I could also write a script to auto-generate a GRLevelx placefile so that we could have information beyond Kansas. Great work with the K-Link placefile BTW; I'll be using that as a start. Since I won't be chasing this season (unless an awesome setup occurs near my house on a Saturday), I'll have time to create this. I just need to know if you guys think it's worth my time to code this, and what information you feel would be important to include.
 

Stephan M Ellis

Enthusiast
Mar 9, 2016
6
7
6
Lawton, OK
Gentlemen,

I thought I'd throw my hat into the ring. I should say that my opinions are my own, but I think the other guys involved would agree with me. I am involved with the LIRA group down in the Lawton, OK area, my callsign is KG5ICZ. I'd like to tell you that we welcome reports from anyone who's got eyes on the storm and the ability to report it. If you're report makes sense, we'll get it to the TV station and the NWS, no problem. Please feel free to check into our nets if you're in the area. We like the check in process because it gives us an idea of who's out and about, plus it's a good way to start building relationships. We also like location updates, within reason of course. If there is a tornado ongoing and you can't see it, we're not really concerned with where you are, if that makes sense. But in general, knowing where someone is in relation to a particular storm is helpful should you provide a report.

One thing I have been doing for the past couple of months is trying to research some of the bigger names in the chaser community, so that I will recognize them if they come through our area and make reports. Rather than rely on some kind of vetting process, I've chosen to do that as much as possible on my own. The great thing about the chaser community is that most of you guys put your stuff out there. It makes it pretty easy for a guy like me to get an idea of who's out there making good reports on a consistent basis.

Just for information about our link system, it overlaps somewhat with the SWIRA link, but we're more focused on the SW ok and the KSWO viewing area. There are four machines in the system:

442.525 +5 PL 123 Lawton, OK
442.200 +5 PL 123 Grandfield, OK
444.450 +5 PL 123 Cement, OK
443.300 +5 PL 123 Hedrick, OK (on top of Navajo Mtn.)

If the link system should fail, we have the machine on the Comanche Cty tower near the Lake:
444.075 +5 PL 123

You can read more about it a http://www.wx5law.org

We do a weekly rag chew on Tuesdays at 7:45PM, so if you're around, jump in! We'd be glad to have you.

The Grandfield machine has antenna problems right now, but it usually can reach into Wichita Falls area in Texas. We'd be more than happy to take reports from that area (I'm talking to you Daniel Shaw), the last round of storms that resulted in the article everyone is talking about, NWS asked if anyone had eyes on the storms down there.

We do have severe reporting criteria just like anyone else, but I suspect most people on these forums understand what the NWS is looking for in most situations. Please do check in with us if you're in the area. My family's safety is important to me and I'll take all the information I can get.

I hope to work with some of you soon. Good Luck!
 
Feb 22, 2015
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Milton, Ontario, Canada
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.
Great ideas Dan! What would really be efficient is if the SN icon for a particular spotter/mobile spotter/chaser was labelled/coloured in a way that reveals level of experience, "rating", or other key indicator. That way a net controller and/or NWS met could see what they need to see while still focused on the radar/road map,
 
Feb 22, 2015
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Milton, Ontario, Canada
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
Well said Jordan! All excellent points! IMHO, when it comes down to the crunch, if a policy cannot be justified with direct reference to public safety, it needs to be re-examined & questioned.
 
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Feb 22, 2015
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Milton, Ontario, Canada
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 ...."
Thank you Jay! All good 'food for thought' & much appreciated!
 
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Jan 27, 2011
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Russell, KS
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.
I did read about some repeaters doing that but I've never heard it. I'm pretty much a home chaser so I've basically only ever been on K-Link during storms. ;) K-link did start putting the "Skywarn Net Active" messages on in the past year or so but no Morse code courtesy beeps that I recall. Each repeater does have a different beep though, so over time you can learn who's talking through which tower.

And back to macro, since K-Link is pretty much a statewide system you do get people wandering in looking for ragchew while the net is up but NC simply tells them that the severe weather net is active and they are only taking storm reports and emergency traffic. I've never heard anyone be rude about it, nor has anyone been told that their report isn't welcome..
 
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Feb 22, 2015
34
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Milton, Ontario, Canada
Re: " 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)."
Cha-ding! IMHO, that represents a policy that is in the best interests of public safety. And, to take it one step further, it also represents why "Closed Nets" are a problem on days when there is the potential for "emergency" situations. Refusing a spotter/mobile spotter/chaser's need to be on a Closed Net's frequency IS filtering and should never occur.



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.
 

Daniel Shaw

If we get a database put together and allowed crowd sourced updates, we should be able to create a fairly accurate database quickly. I could also write a script to auto-generate a GRLevelx placefile so that we could have information beyond Kansas. Great work with the K-Link placefile BTW; I'll be using that as a start. Since I won't be chasing this season (unless an awesome setup occurs near my house on a Saturday), I'll have time to create this. I just need to know if you guys think it's worth my time to code this, and what information you feel would be important to include.
Hello Scott,

I will gladly assist as much as I can with this project.
Moving forward from this experience, I feel we can all contribute to this major task.

Daniel
 

Daniel Shaw

Gentlemen,

Just for information about our link system, it overlaps somewhat with the SWIRA link, but we're more focused on the SW ok and the KSWO viewing area. There are four machines in the system:

442.525 +5 PL 123 Lawton, OK
442.200 +5 PL 123 Grandfield, OK
444.450 +5 PL 123 Cement, OK
443.300 +5 PL 123 Hedrick, OK (on top of Navajo Mtn.)

If the link system should fail, we have the machine on the Comanche Cty tower near the Lake:
444.075 +5 PL 123
Thanks Stephan.

Is it possible to provide GPS co-ordinates for these repeaters and the typical range (in miles) for them.
I'm going to attempt making my first placefile as a foundation of what's possible for the "National Repeater Placefile Project"

There.... We have a name for it now!
Daniel
 
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Here it is!!!

www.hamchaser.com

Done
Skywarn Net Repeater database has been built. This database will store all net and repeater information. I have included every possible item I could think of based upon the comments here, and the information listed in other databases such as repeaterbook.com.
Website has been created, SSL enabled, and frameworks added.

To Do
Create Spotter database.
Create Users database (for login and permissions).
Create Entry page for each database (crowd sourced add / update suggestions).
Create Approval page for each database (so site admins can approve or reject suggestions).
Create View page for each database (along with search).
Write script to generate GRLevelX Placefiles.
Create Map using API to show locations of repeaters.
And lots more :)

How You Can Help
For right now, please let me know what items you would like to see in the Storm Chaser database. For Example: name, experience, home location, vehicle, phone number, call sign, reputation, spotternetwork id, stormtrack name, email address, etc.

Notes
For security reasons, I'm not going to provide details on the fields I created for the database, but rest assured everything discussed has been included (even Geo Location and Range of Repeater in miles)

I will update with more details as I make progress. I may also ask for help coding, inputting data, and administrative reviews of suggestions - but I'm not there yet.
 

Stephan M Ellis

Enthusiast
Mar 9, 2016
6
7
6
Lawton, OK
Thanks Stephan.

Is it possible to provide GPS co-ordinates for these repeaters and the typical range (in miles) for them.
I'm going to attempt making my first placefile as a foundation of what's possible for the "National Repeater Placefile Project"

There.... We have a name for it now!
Daniel

Here's a quick and dirty place file for the LIRA stuff
 

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Apr 19, 2016
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Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA
Is it possible to provide GPS co-ordinates for these repeaters and the typical range (in miles) for them.
Per Daniel's request, here is the data for the Fort Wayne, Indiana net mentioned previously.

Primary repeater, W9INX, 146.88 MHz, 41.0939694°, -085.1802028°, ~30 mile range for mobiles.
Back-up repeater (used if primary repeater fails), W9TE, 146.76 MHz, 41.1699222°, -085.0931389°, ~20 mile range for mobiles.
 

Jordan Henion

Enthusiast
Mar 16, 2015
3
6
6
Wichita, KS
If we get a database put together and allowed crowd sourced updates, we should be able to create a fairly accurate database quickly. I could also write a script to auto-generate a GRLevelx placefile so that we could have information beyond Kansas. Great work with the K-Link placefile BTW; I'll be using that as a start. Since I won't be chasing this season (unless an awesome setup occurs near my house on a Saturday), I'll have time to create this. I just need to know if you guys think it's worth my time to code this, and what information you feel would be important to include.
Hey Scott, that would be a wonderful idea. Our sysadmin for our main repeater system K-Link (Justin, NV8Q) is actually the state admin of Kansas for Repeaterbook.com. He said the guy that runs the website is very active and open to new ideas. The biggest hurdle is knowing where the updates come from, so having some kind of an admin to vet the information before it is applied as gospel. Furthermore, collaboration or having a centralized database to pull information from. That's why I liked the RepeaterBook idea, because a lot of this is already done. Also, if a repeater listing hasn't received an update in 2 or 3+ years, the status changes to "Unknown" until someone applies an update. Either something like repeaterbook, or we could use something like Google Docs/Sheets, and have a script generate a placefile from there? I also have a google maps version: https://www.google.com/maps/@38.4156602,-100.8114966,7z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!6m1!1sz1d3f_SQElbY.k5j0J6NWUdPk . I know it has the ability to export to KML/KMZ. The google map was just updated this week, but honestly it had been neglected since it's hasn't been as easy to edit.

Just throwing a few ideas out there. Let me know what you think.
 
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Jun 20, 2009
10
10
6
Minneapolis, KS
ks0lnk.net
I am reaching out to the Repeaterbook site owner to inquire about adding the ability to filter Skywarn repeaters in a multi-state search query. I'm sure he will be able to do this. Stay tuned.

Here is an example of filtering a single state:

https://www.repeaterbook.com/repeaters/feature_search.php?state_id=20&type=SKYWARN

The next thing I will ask for is the ability to generate a placefile with Skywarn repeaters that will import directly into GR3.
Please help us verify the Skywarn listings for accuracy.

Thanks,
Justin
NV8Q
 
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I am reaching out to the Repeaterbook site owner to inquire about adding the ability to filter Skywarn repeaters in a multi-state search query. I'm sure he will be able to do this. Stay tuned.
The next thing I will ask for is the ability to generate a placefile with Skywarn repeaters that will import directly into GR3.
What YOU all can do to help is verify the Skywarn listings for accuracy.

Thanks,
Justin
NV8Q
Justin, thanks for doing that. Can you please see if they would also be willing to create an API so we can access the repeater information (geolocation, coverage, frequency, offset, tone, and website link)? If so, we could use hamchaser.com to keep track of net information, and repeaterbook.com to keep track of repeater information. That would save a lot of work and no need to duplicate the awesomeness of repeaterbook.

Sent from my SM-G920V using Stormtrack mobile app
 
Oct 4, 2006
209
20
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Oologah, Ok.
Here is a link to the Northeast Oklahoma Skywarn link system. They run severe weather nets and accept all check-ins. These repeaters link into the 443.850 machine in Tulsa. NWSFO Tulsa monitors the 443.85.

Additionally we run a more local net on 147.09+ pl88.5 for Tulsa/ Rogers/Wagoner counties. Feel free to jump in on that frequency as well. We relay direct to NWSFO Tulsa.
 

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I am reaching out to the Repeaterbook site owner to inquire about adding the ability to filter Skywarn repeaters in a multi-state search query. I'm sure he will be able to do this. Stay tuned.

Here is an example of filtering a single state:

https://www.repeaterbook.com/repeaters/feature_search.php?state_id=20&type=SKYWARN

The next thing I will ask for is the ability to generate a placefile with Skywarn repeaters that will import directly into GR3.
Please help us verify the Skywarn listings for accuracy.

Thanks,
Justin
NV8Q
Justin, have you heard back from Repeaterbook yet? Thanks to the contributions of many, the Skywarn Net Database project (www.hamchaser.com) is quickly becoming a reality. We would love to utilize the vast resources of Repeaterbook for repeater information rather than rely upon this community to recreate all of the hard work that has already been done building the repeater database.

Here's What We Are Working On
  • The Skywarn Net Database project will map out all repeaters used by a net link (K-Link, etc), and color code the repeaters so that you know whether or not the repeater you are switching to has different rules from the repeater you are currently on.
  • You will also be able to view the net rules and detailed net information for any given repeater. You'll know who the net control operator is, and what rules to follow, before you transmit.
  • We are also adding dynamic placefile creation that will generate a new placefile upon request using the information in the database.
  • If a chaser does not use GRLevelX placefiles, then a mobile map can be displayed instead that will show nearby repeaters based upon your GPS location from your phone or computer (or general location if GPS is turned off).
  • We MIGHT add text to speech so that you can listen to the net rules while driving, rather than dangerously reading them while trying to keep your eyes on the road. If we do add this, it might also include the ability to give voice instructions for navigating the web site.
 
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Dan Robinson

Staff member
Jan 14, 2011
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stormhighway.com
Scott, thank you for your excellent work on this!

I also wanted to throw out the question of what type of equipment would be a good fit for a chaser wanting to report? Namely, what would be the bare minimum one would have to spend to be suitably equipped? Cost is going to be a concern for many, so I'm hoping there is a setup that is both affordable and capable that minimizes the barrier to entry.
 
Apr 19, 2016
23
21
6
Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA
Scott, thank you for your excellent work on this!

I also wanted to throw out the question of what type of equipment would be a good fit for a chaser wanting to report? Namely, what would be the bare minimum one would have to spend to be suitably equipped? Cost is going to be a concern for many, so I'm hoping there is a setup that is both affordable and capable that minimizes the barrier to entry.
For an absolute bare minimum, a Baofeng UV-5R (or similar) handheld transceiver is available for $50 or less on Amazon and elsewhere. It's a bare minimum whose signal won't be strong enough to reach some repeaters from rural areas. Next step is to connect the handheld to an external (e.g. magnetic mount) antenna, which will extend its range by several miles. Best option is a mobile radio (25 watts or more) connected to an external antenna. An example is the TYT-TH-9000D, $120 on Amazon.
 
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May 18, 2013
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Namely, what would be the bare minimum one would have to spend to be suitably equipped?
Most Skywarn groups in the DFW area have a requirement similar to this: "Mobile users are expected to have a 2M (144MHz to 148MHz) radio with a minimum output of 25w, and a 5/8 wave antenna, on a good ground plane. Fixed Station users should plan on having similar hardware. Handy-Talkies (except with an amplifier) are generally not sufficient, for most nets."

You can get 2M mobile radios for as low as $130 and a 5/8 wave mag mount antenna for around $30 online (and lower at ham fests). Even a 1/4 wave length antenna would work, and you could get them as low as $15. So for as little as $150, you could get going. Spending just a little more will get you better stuff, but a minimum setup will get you on the air.
 

B. Dean Berry

Moderator
May 25, 2014
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Thread necromancy!

I spot typically two WFOs that most chasers probably don't frequent. But, if you do, here are the repeaters that I have confirmed are usable for spotter reports.

WFO - PBZ (Pittsburgh PA) - WX3PIT

Allegheny County Primary - 147.090 +, 88.5 TPL on TX and RX - WPXI TV tower in Northside PGH. Range of about 30 miles, more in some places.

Allegheny County Backup - 146.880 -, 88.5 TPL on TX and RX - Range of about 15 miles. Located near the University of Pittsburgh in Oakland.

Butler County Primary (no backup) - 147.360+, 131.8 TPL on TX and RX - Located about dead-center of the county. Range of about 35 miles to the north, northeast, west, and south(ish). Range of about 20 miles to the west. Limited range due southwest.

Venango County Primary - 145.290 -, 186.2 TPL on TX only, CSQ on RX - Located near the Butler/Venango county border, in the northeast of Butler County. Roughly 20 mile range.

WFO - AKQ (Wakefield VA) - WX4AKQ

Richmond Primary - 146.880-, 74.4 TPL on TX and RX - WCVE TV tower in Midlothian. Range of about 50 miles in most spots.

Richmond Backup - 147.360+, CSQ in and out. Located in Chester VA. Range of about 30 miles.

Old Richmond Primary - 442.550+, 74.4 TPL on TX and RX - WCVE TV tower in Midlothian. Unknown if this channel is still used. Formerly had a technical issue where you couldn't use it if you were within 15 miles of it, but was booming out strangely far distances approaching 100 miles. Big question mark on that one.

Central Virginia ARES - 145.430-, dual mode, either 74.4 TPL on TX and RX (FM wideband), or $293 NAC (P25 digital). Located in the City of Richmond. Primarily ARES, but will pass along life-threatening information if need be.

VA Dept. of Emergency Management - 146.940-, 74.4 TPL on TX and TX. Located in Chesterfield County. Was used for VDEM ham radio operations. Not certain of it's current status. VDEM's spotters would occasionally talk here, years ago.

General Use -

Chase traffic may (keyword: may) be heard on the following channels in both locations:

Ham -
- 146.550 simplex, CSQ
- 146.460 simplex, CSQ
- 446.125 simplex, CSQ
- 147.510 simplex, 255 DPL TX and RX (known as "Local Tac 1" in Richmond)
- 147.585 simplex, 255 DPL TX and RX (known as "Local Tac 2" in Richmond)

GMRS -
- 462.550 simplex, 127.3 TPL TX and RX (known as "Chase 10" in Richmond)
- 462.725 simplex, 156.7 TPL TX and RX (known as "Chase 11" in Richmond)
 

Michael.Merchant

Enthusiast
Oct 24, 2017
7
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Lyndonville, Vermont
Northern Vermont can be reached on the Whiteface Repeater and Jay Peak Repeater. Only active on Wednesday evenings 1900 rag chew style net for 30 minutes. During severe weather Jay Peak is spotter to spotter and Whiteface is Spotter to NWS BVT.
 

B. Dean Berry

Moderator
May 25, 2014
261
67
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Whiteface repeater -

RX - 145.110
TX - 144.510/100.0Hz PL

Special Note - The club which owns this repeater does state that this repeater is not meant for general use, and is only for their training nets and emergency call-ins and weather operations. It is monitored 24/7.

Jay Peak repeater -

RX - 146.745/100.0Hz PL
TX - 146.145/100.0Hz PL