Weather and Amateur Radio


This page has received hits since May 1 1999

Why the Weather and Amateur Radio?

Surprisingly, amateur radio has a lot of uses for people interested in weather. While that connection is well known in the USA (the Americans are very good at promoting the public service side of our hobby), one hears very little about amateurs helping the public in Australia.

One of non amateur areas of interest is the weather, which was brought to the fore a couple of years ago through a friend who's a member of the Australian Severe Weather Association (ASWA). He put me in touch with the Australian Weather mailing list, and the #Weather IRC channel. It was while participating in discussions on both media that I became aware of some areas where radio amateurs and weather enthusiasts, especially storm spotters and chasers can work together.

For those who are coming from the weather side of things, you may not know a lot about amateur radio - it's probably something that you may associate with middle aged men sitting up all night in front of a box of glowing valves talking to people in all sorts of incomprehensible jargon! :-) However, the modern amateur can be involved with some quite sophisticated and up to date technology.

Aspects of Amateur Radio and Weather Related Uses.

In my opinion, amateur radio has a lot to offer those involved in tracking and monitoring severe weather events such as thunderstorms, cyclones and tornadoes (and yes, we do get tornadoes in Australia, much more frequently than most people realise). This table below shows a list of modes of transmission available to the modern radio amateur and some possible uses for weather watchers.

Mode Description Equipment required Possible Uses
VHF/UHF FM voice Voice communication - Similar to UHF CB with both "simplex" and repeater operation available. Offers excellent audio clarity. Up to 150km range possible if repeaters are used - Linked repeaters can extend range even more. VHF or UHF mobile transceiver and appropriate antennas. Car to car or short-medium range car to base comms. Similar to UHF CB, but higher power permitted and repeaters clear of idiots.
HF SSB voice Voice communication - Similar to Royal Flying Doctor Service communications. Operational range up to nationwide, depending on the frequency used. HF SSB transceiver and appropriate antennas. Long haul mobile - base comms or comms between widely spaced observing base stations.
Slow Scan Television (SSTV) Technique for sending still pictures over a voice grade radio channel. Can use VHF/UHF or HF. Range depends on frequency used (see above descriptions of voice modes) Transceivers, antennas and computer to send/receive pictures. Webcam or video camera/capture card to send "live" snapshots. Suitable software can be downloaded off the Internet. Instant relaying of photographs from storm spotters/chasers. provision of weather radar data to chasers in near real time.
Fast Scan Television (ATV) Transmission of moving pictures. Similar to broadcast television. ATV transmitter/receiver. Transmitters need to be home built. Conventional TV can often be used as a receiver, though an old satellite receiver is needed for receiving some forms of ATV. Long range "cordless webcam" - live video can be beamed several km or more from a good observing site to a webcam server by an amateur.
APRS (Automatic Position Reporting System) Position indication system. Similar in concept to systems used to track stolen vehicles or taxi GPS position reporting system. Uses Global Positioning System (GPS) and packet radio to broadcast the position of stations and other objects. Position data can be displayed on a map by receiving stations. Also offers "SMS" like messaging service. Transceiver/antenna, GPS with serial data output (for mobile stations), TNC (packet "terminal node controller"). Computer and APRS software for stations wishing to use mapping facilities.

Fixed stations wishing to monitor only can instead receive position data over the Internet - avoiding the need for radio equipment.

Tracking storms and chasers. General coordination and planning of chases.
IRLP (Internet Radio Linking Project). Uses the Internet to link VHF and UHF radio sites together (usually repeaters). Enables VHF or UHF global coverage, as long as both ends are within range of an IRLP "node". VHF or UHF transceiver/antenna and DTMF ("Touchtone") tone encoder for controlling links. Medium - long haul communications, especially with mobile stations.

As one would expect, there is a small catch. Anyone wishing to transmit on the amateur bands must hold a current Amateur Operatora licence. Because amateurs are allowed to build and modify their own equipment (unlike most radio users), they are expected to understand radio communications, and therefore people wishing to gain an amateur licence need to pass exams in radio theory and Amateur Service regulations. In addition, people wishing to transmit on the HF bands (below 30 MHz) need to pass Morse Code tests at 5 words per minute. It is possible that the Morse requirement for HF may be dropped sometime after 2003.

There are two ways around this issue for weather people. Firstly, you can recruit already licenced amateurs and invite them to operate their station in your car (some possible recruitment strategies are to speak about your activities at radio clubs and the like, or send invitations to radio clubs and amateur news services for amateurs to attend meetings of ASWA and other relevant organisations). Only the person actually in chage of the radio transmitters needs the licence. Alternatively, you may decide all this sounds like fun, and you want to study for your own licence. In that case, good luck, and look foward to working you on the air one day! :)

The following URLs are provided for your further study.

Other radio related sites:

Australian Amateur Radio FAQ.

Study for your licence online!.

VK2CA's Australian Amateur Radio site - Very comprehensive site, with lots of information, too much to mention here.

Wireless Institute of Australia - the national representative body.

Looking for the closest Amateur repeater? VK voice repeaters listed here (courtesy WIA).

Or perhaps a CB repeater? Here's a UHF CB repeater list (courtesy VK2CA).

APC News - a weekly online Amateur Radio news bulletin from the Moorabbin and District Radio Club.

QNEWS - The weekly news from the WIA Queensland Division (includes Real Audio broadcasts!).

VK3RHF - Melbourne's 10 metre repeater.

Melbourne Packet Radio Group.

Mini Kits - Build your own VHF/UHF/Microwave gear.

QRZ.COM International callsign server and lots of useful data.

Lookup a callsign at QRZ.COM:

Put your SoundBlaster to use on the air with these programs!

An excellent UK based site by Jeremy, G4NJH.

Or if you want to know more about the weather...

Australian Severe Weather Association

Australian Severe Weather

Melbourne Storm Chasers

Australian Bureau of Meterology

Unofficial Hurricane and Weather Site - US based site with lots of weather related links.

Email me