Severe weather fuels ham radio growth
May 19, 2012 (Dayton Daily News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The number of licensed amateur radio operators in the U.S. is at an all-time high, in part because of ham radio use during and after severe weather, experts said.
The number of amateur radio operators topped 700,000 for the first time in October 2011, according to the American Radio Relay League, a national amateur radio association. New license applications for 2012's first quarter were up 30 percent compared to that period in 2011, the league said.
More than 20,000 amateur radio enthusiasts are expected to attend the 61st-annual Dayton Hamvention today and Sunday at Hara Arena.
The event has an annual economic impact of $6 million, according to the Dayton/Montgomery County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
League spokesman Allen Pitts attributed the rise in ham radio licenses to young people getting involved to help in emergency communications, as well as to people who are nearing retirement and taking it up as a hobby.
Recent severe weather in the Midwest and South "clued a lot of people in that they might want to have a way to communicate if other technologies went down," said Henry Ruminski, media chairman for Dayton Hamvention.
Many ham radios can operate on 12-volt batteries or generators, he said.
Ham radio equipment sales also are on the rise, said Ray Novak, division manager for amateur and receiver products for Icom America Inc., a ham radio maker based in Bellevue, Wash.
"We are seeing growth in the areas that have to do with civil support for emergency communications, for being prepared," Novak said.
He declined to disclose company sales figures.
Amateur radio operators are "vital in making sure the National Weather Service gets the information they need in a timely manner," said Louis Long, section co-coordinator for Dayton SkyWarn.
The regional network of ham radio operators relays visual storm spotter reports to the National Weather Service forecast office in Wilmington during severe weather to expedite warnings issued to the public.
Nationally, amateur radio operators are credited with providing warning in April, when 21 confirmed tornados swept through the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas. Officials in the city of Rowlett reportedly activated alert sirens nine minutes before the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the area.
There were no fatalities and few injuries.
Ham radio operators also provided emergency communications support last year in the aftermath of tornados in Alabama that killed 58 people and knocked out electronic communications.
"We actually had to use an old-school way to communicate in some of the areas that were hit hardest by tornados in Alabama," said Jamie Simpson, chief meteorologist for WHIO-TV News Center 7.
Simpson said he works indirectly with Dayton SkyWarn, which in April moved its operations center to the Cox Media Group Ohio Media Center in Dayton. Dayton SkyWarn covers 12 counties in Ohio and three in Indiana, Long said. Its 16 control operators are on call 365 days a year with the National Weather Service.
Handheld amateur radios with "pretty impressive communication capabilities" that sell for about $100 are helping to fuel ham radio growth, Ruminski said.
"A lot of people are getting into it just to have another way of communicating," he said.
Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2419 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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