Feb 242011

This year Wayne County will have 4 Skywarn training sessions, the first two in Garden City, the third in Livonia, and the last training in Trenton. Please see below for all the information. If you have any questions, please feel free to get a hold of me. If you live outside of Wayne County, please see the list at the NWS Outreach Website to locate a training session near you.

02/26/11 Saturday 10:00AM

Sponsored by Wayne County RACES and Garden City Emergency Management
The Maplewood Community Center
31735 Maplewood
Garden City, Michigan 48135
Located West of Merrimen Road.  (Maplewood is mid way between Ford & Warren roads)

03/26/11 Saturday 10:00AM

Sponsored by Wayne County RACES and Garden City Emergency Management
The Maplewood Community Center
31735 Maplewood
Garden City, Michigan 48135
Located West of Merrimen Road. (Maplewood is mid way between Ford & Warren roads)

04/11/11 Monday 7:00PM

Sponsored by Wayne County RACES and The Livonia Amateur Radio Club
Livonia Civic Center Library
32777 Five Mile Road, Livonia 48154
Located East of Farmington Road.

05/06/11 Friday 7:00PM

Sponsored by Wayne County RACES and The Motor City Amateur Radio Club
Westfield Center
2700 Westfield Rd.
Trenton, Michigan, 48183
Located north of West Rd. (Westfield road is between Allen Road and Fort Street, behind the Trenton Library)

Thanks to the National Weather Service, Wayne County RACES, Garden City Emergency Management, the Livonia Amateur Radio Club, and the Motor City Amateur Radio Club for helping to get our spotters trained!

Jan 232011

For some time now I’ve thought about and spoken of a new way for Skywarn nets to gather and report their information. Most NCOs (Net Control Operators) simply use a pencil and paper to take check-ins, reports and locations changes. When it comes down to it, there’s nothing more reliable than a piece of lead, some paper, and a battery powered radio. After all, when all else fails… amateur radio!

Reliability is the strongest foundation a service to the public can have and the Skywarn program is top of the class in that respect. However, when building a house, you do not build a strong foundation and then precede to spend your days in the basement, unless of course that’s where your shack is! As such, I think it’s important that we try to augment our foundation with as many effective tools as possible so we can do what we’ve volunteered to do, save property and lives.

This new tool, what I’m calling the KWiXS Skywarn Reporter, will allow NCOs to log check-ins, reports, and location changes into an online interface that is capable of relaying that information to anyone else logged into the system. This could be emergency managers, NWS employees, other Skywarn members, or any other authorized person. The goal of the software is to create paths along which information can flow freely with high availability. Communities that are downwind of a storm system can get even more lead time by getting alerts of reports that have been entered into the system. There will not however be a method for real-time chatting, there’s NWSChat for that, or you can always use RF if it’s urgent.

One of the key features is integration of the data into a Google Maps interface. With GMaps a user will be able to quickly see reports, county conditions (green, yellow, or red), and the location of the storm using NEXRAD radar data. There’s also the possibility of integrating APRS data so spotter’s out in the field can have their location tracked. There are many other potential features, but that’s where I put the call out to all hams, skywarn spotters, emergency managers, and NWS employees. I want to know what else could be implemented to provide the most effective tool. It’s not likely everyone will be appeased, and there will most certainly be those who want to stick to the RF way of doing things, and that’s OK. This system will never be meant to replace what trained Skywarn spotters do, nor what ham radio does for Skywarn, it’s merely there to augment the system and improve upon our mission, saving property and lives.

I have this wonderful piece of software envisioned in my mind, but I wanted to share that vision, to allow it be modified and grown into something used not just by our Skywarn program (in Wayne County), but across the country. I welcome any suggestions or comments and will most certainly welcome any programming support. It has only taken a few paragraphs to describe how the system will work from a high level, but it’s actually quite complicated to make sure all the moving parts play nice together. The more help, the better the software!

You can post your comments, ideas, suggestions, complaints or any other thoughts to this blog post, or email me directly at w8fi [at] kritikal [dot] com.

Apr 072010

I’ve gone ahead and removed the unused model that was discontinued last year and added the GEFS and SREF models. I’ve also discovered why some of the valid dates will not stay the same when you hold down ‘shift’ when changing model runs. I’ll have to create a new property for the model that holds how far apart the model runs are from one another, rather than simply using the next hour in the run.

As always, you can check out the latest version at http://www.kwixs.net/ncep/

Dec 282009

Adam Boggs has release version 0.9 of the BrainStorm, a storm chasing tool for the linux platform. The new platform integrates web-based maps, such as Google Maps, radar and warning polygon data, and gps data pulled from an attached device.

The software is released under the GPLv2 license and as source code, so you’ll have to build it and install it yourself. While this is helped along by the use of autogen, there are dependencies that are not listed. The following had to be installed on my Ubuntu 9.04 system:


After installing these two I was able to run autogen, which will have a default prefix of /usr/local/ . A third library came up as not loadable when I went to run the binary, libosmgpsmap, a quick install of libosmgpsmap0 resolved this.

I was not able to test the GPS capabilities since I didn’t have mine handy enough. I’ll test that out at a later date.

As for the radar and severe overlay…

It only comes with radar sites in the ‘alley’ and are hardcoded, making the software somewhat useless in this respect for those outside of the radar coverage area. The warning polygons are actually overlayed images from the NWS site so they do appear pixelated. It seems this is how the software mainly works, by overlaying images upon the map, rather than creating shapes from polygon coordinate sets.

For the radars that it does offer, you can view various types of radar data that are available on the NWS site, including 1 hour precipitation and both velocity types. Only one type of radar can be viewed for all visible radar sites at a time. You’re also not given a choice of elevation angles so I’m assuming it is defaulted to the lowest.

The key here is that it can show your position in relation to a storm and give an idea of what is warned and not, on linux. For that, it does a good job… if you’re in the radar umbrella. What really needs to be improved is the ability to change more properties, such as radar types and sites to show, and even what is shown on the screen.

I look forward to where the software goes from here and so is Adam from the sound of it. It’s written in C/GTK+ and Adam states that anyone is more than welcome to help out.

Sep 282009

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Chris Matthieu, N7ICE, for HamBrief #47. We talk about my involvement with Wayne County’s Skywarn program, emergency communications, and other assorted rag chewing.

Thank again to Chris for the opportunity to talk about one of my hobbies!

You can find more information at:

Central Region NOAA Ham Radio Page

Sep 252009

For the last couple of years at the SRD event at DTX (NWS in White Lake) we’ve used a logger I’ve built using Ruby on Rails. Last year I did a complete rewrite only days before the event, but this year I’m building on the existing codebase. One of the features I’ve added since last year is an Ajax dupe checker. It’s pretty simple but goes pretty far in saving us having to hit the Submit button.

Right now I’m looking for ways to improve the function and feature-set and in November begin trying to spruce up the interface. I’d like more of it to be Ajax, but degrade extremely well as it is with the ham community that they tend to use older hardware.

Eventually this will build out to be an event logger that can be extended to work for any sort of event, with a focus on amateur radio oriented activities. From Skywarn nets, to disaster events, I want to make the logger that can easily manage and display what happened.

I’m seeking thoughts and ideas on the SRD Logger right now, but I’ll be thinking of how to abstract its parts out. If you have an interest in using it this year, or want to help beta test the existing software, just shoot me a line.

Apr 062009

I’ve gone ahead and updated the code to support templated image URLs. This makes for supporting a wider range of image sources much easier. This also means that it will be supporting more than just NCEP images, so the name and location will be changing soon. I may leave the NCEP version up just for those images on NCEP.

Because of the possible sources for images, I’ll be creating a new interface so you can add/remove any source you want from the viewer. I doubt those in the Plains will really want the DTX WRF runs.

And that’s the other addition to this version, the DTX WRF Hemispheric resolution runs are now available. Currently it only supports the latest run, so there’s no way to look at the previous run and the current, but new version are being worked on by DTX so stay tuned on that front. I may also incorporate some sort of archiving locally so I can support this feature even if DTX does not.

As always, let me know if there are any bugs or additions you’d like to see.

Mar 252009

Yesterday I tested out the key addition to my storm chasing arsenal, streaming video.

ChaserTV.com is my new home for streaming all of my storm chases this year. I chose them not only because I favor their choice in technology, Flash Media Encoder with a cloud-based infrastructure, but because of their open support for the chaser. Other services require non-compete and exclusivity agreements, something I’m not really about. Might work for some people, but I’m just a leasurely chaser who isn’t out to make a buck, but won’t mind if a few float my way.

The primary concern was my switch last year from Sprint to AT&T for cellular serivce. I was able to use Sprint’s EVDO Rev.A last year to pull down radar data without a problem, even while chatting it up amongst other chasers. There’s no doubt the EVDO blows the socks off of 3G (they’re both technically 3G but I’ll just use their industry designation) in terms of download, but can be fairly equal in the upload. For downloading, AT&T is quite behind but so long as I can get the data I need, when I need it, then I’ve not much to complain about.

So with my father, grandfather, and several other chasers/watchers, watching, I set out to stream my drive home from work. The first issue was that I failed to set my bitrate… 3G doesn’t like it when you try to upload at 650kbps apparently. After pulling over and going down to 100kbps I was able to stream with little to no stuttering or stalling. Success!

The next step is going to be testing the uploading of video while downloading radar content and maintaining chat via SpotterChat. Perhaps I’ll give that a go this weekend on my trip up to the Nation Weather Service for a SkyWarn meeting.

The one problem that presented itself was the lack of SpotterNetwork updates. While I did have the client open, and was even able to manually send an update, it failed to send automatic regular updates of my position. The client looks kind of janky in my opinion, like something you’d see the AOL skriptkiddies in the mid 90s using. I toy with thoughts of writing my own client in Ruby and Shoes, perhaps if the Earth’s rotation slows and we get some more hours in a day.

This past weekend I installed two NMO mounts into my trunk lid and currently have a 1/4 wave and 5/8 wave dual band antennas. One will be used for my Kenwood TM-733A while the other for APRS and listening to other frequencies. Eventually I’ll have two 1/4 wave dual-band antennas on there so the wind won’t bother the thin aluminum they used for the trunk lid.

Once the APRS is up and running full time in my vehicle I’ll not have to worry about sending SpotterNetwork updates directly as it will just pick up my APRS updates. I’m looking at ways to integrate SpotterNetwork, APRS, and Twitter and I’m currently working on the Twitter implementation of that.

The last peice to all of this is getting my wife involved. Next month I’ll be taking her with me to the SkyWarn training in Garden City so she can get familiar with the cloud structures, radar signatures, and what it’s all about. This is also so she won’t be as clueless should I be gone on a chase when severe weather heads for the area. After that I’ll teach her some basics on radar imagery so she can help navigate when we go out on a few chases this year. I’m really excited to bring her along so she can see that I’m not actually driving INTO the tornado, as has been previously thought.