lightning

July in Minnesota brings the hottest weather of the year, typically a few weeks after the summer solstice.  The sun is at its highest and the days are long.  With the heat, there is also an increase in humidity – our climate is described by geographers as a “humid continental climate”.   

What does this mean for our remote base HF stations?   Well, there are a few things to consider if you are a remote HF operator:

  • Humid, hot air breeds thunderstorms, and they can pop up with little warning.  Lightning damage to the stations is best avoided by shutting the stations down and disconnecting the antennas until the threat of storms passes.   If you are a remote user and try connecting to a station and find that it is unavailable, it is most likely a thunderstorm shutdown.  Some shutdowns are preemptive; the stations may be disconnected even if there is only a threat of storms developing.  This must be done because the station admins cannot be available 24/7 to respond  instantly to every storm threat.  These shutdowns are not always reflected on this website as they are quite common, and the stations are generally returned to service soon after the storm threat passes.   For example, if storms are predicted in the early morning, the stations will be disconnected the evening before.
  • Thunderstorms create lightning static – QRN – and conditions on longer wavelength bands like 160 and 80 meters may be very poor with high levels of noise even though the actual storms may be hundreds of miles away.
  • Consider using other bands like 20, 17, 15, and 10 meters.  Don’t forget to check out the 6 meter band as summer propagation may open the band to long distance contacts.  These bands are less affected by lightning static.
  • What happens if lightning damages a station?   Of course it depends on the extent of the damage.  If the radio gear is damaged, it will take some time for volunteers to assess and deal with it.  If other infrastructure, such as internet or power systems are damaged, outside help may be needed.  Repairs may take a long time, depending on the availability of labor and parts.  Obviously it is best to try to avoid lightning damage in the first place.
  • If a station is found to be unexpectedly offline, you may contact station admins to make them aware of it.  You can always check out one of the other stations.

Thanks for your understanding and help!

73 – Pat

wa0tda@arrl.net