• A friendly and periodic reminder of the rules we use for fostering high SNR and quality conversation and interaction at Stormtrack: Forum rules

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HF Radio, Chasing and Emergency Communications

All modes of communications have limitations and issues. VHF radios have range limitations, with repeater systems providing longer range communications. Cell phones also have range limitations and are dependent upon cell towers staying erect and the AC power grid being energized, with only limited backup battery support. And, cell phones depend on a fiber optic backbone infrastructure, which while dependable, can be disrupted due to damage from lightning, high winds, loss of power and cable cuts.

HF ham radio is another means of communications, and one that may be your only means of communications during disasters that have disrupted power, or caused major damage to infrastructure. HF radio has its limitations too related to ionospheric propagation, antenna efficiency, static from lightning, and transmitter power levels, but HF radio does not depend upon supporting infrastructure.

Back in the 1980s and early 90s, I used HF ham radio when chasing to get radar updates, and weather data. While driving up highway 287 from Dallas toward Childress, I could contact a ham radio operator back in the Dallas-Fort Worth area who would call the NWS to ask for an update, and then relay the information back to me via radio. Conditions weren't always optimum, but I could usually get through.

I continue to take an HF radio with me today when chasing even though I may not have it installed full-time in the chase vehicle. If a major disaster were to occur where other forms of communications had been disabled, I would have it ready to setup within a few minutes, possibly providing the only communications from a disaster scene, such as a major tornado outbreak. Also accompanying the HF radio is a length of coaxial cable and a roll of copper wire for use as an antenna. The car battery would serve as the power source until a generator or other power source became available

As someone mentioned, HF ham radios are available in assorted sizes. Some are about the same size as your typical VHF mobile radio. Features vary, but many HF radios operate on all of the HF ham radio bands, plus 6 and 2 meters, and the 440 MHz band. In addition, a general coverage shortwave receiver is included that can be used to listen to shortwave or standard AM broadcasts.

With cellphones, mobile digital connections and ThreatNet, the need for HF radio to acquire data, or to communicate back home has been virtually eliminated. But, for backup emergency communications, HF radio is still a valuable asset to bring along on a chase.

OBTW, when I did have the HF radio in the chase vehicle, I often operated Morse Code while driving, especially after a chase on the return trip back home, which was often late at night. Overseas contacts were frequently made to locations like Europe, Australia, Japan and elsewhere. Contacts within the U.S. were also possible.

Can anyone comment on a chase situation where other forms of communications were not available, and an HF ham radio might have been or was useful?
HF experiences


I too enjoy the values of HF. Last time I took HF chasing though was in 2002. I barrowed (from N3OKP aka K3WLS) a Yaseu FT-100 HF/6/2 radio with the ATAS-100 antenna. It worked fairly well, but I did have some issues getting that antenna to tune. The new 120 series has fixed that apparently.

For me, I've never had a problem with being able to communicate by some form or another without resorting to the ham bands. Even in the hurricanes I've chased, I had wireless data up and running during the entire event (well, except for the way end of France after it was in Day 3 of landfall....that storm was way slow).

That being said, if your a ham that enjoys being on the radio, HF is great for killing time on those down days or waiting for the cap to break. In my next Caravan I buy (likely right after this hurricane season), I'll have a permanent HF station because I'll likely double the chase vehicle as a Radio platform for VHF contests and the occasional HF contest (like the local QSO parties).
Hi Sam;

I've had an HF mobile rig installed for a couple years now (a Kenwood TS-480 SAT). I initially was going to look into using it with an HF/e-mail gateway and some other data applications but I haven't incorporated that yet, although it would be a simple matter with this radio. On the road I've ragchewed a bit on 6, 10 and 20 which has been nice since I can usually find someone on there even when 2m/70cm is dead.

For me I've been interested in the ability to use this resource in a situation if the need arises (which so far it hasn't). Real world scenarios have proven that HF is sometimes all there is when a disaster strikes and knocks out the rest of the infrastructure. Right now I'm carrying "hamstick" type antennas which work adequately, however I would like to try one of the "Screwdriver" type antennas sometime for more versatility. I'm also interested in experimenting with NVIS techniques and would like to incorporate an antenna into my setup for this use. I was also considering throwing in some sort of wire antenna that could be setup quickly if the need arises; part of a complete "go" kit.

Admittedly a lot of this doesn't necessarily relate with chasing in general, however I like other Ham activities as well and my vehicle serves those needs too.
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