Expecting a winter storm? Ready your radio

Winter-Storm-JonasMany of us living in the eastern half of North America are bracing for a winter storm this weekend.

If predictions are correct, this storm could dump a lot of snow, sleet, and freezing rain in  many areas.

Winter-Storm-2Of concern to many is the potential for power loss across the region, should this storm have the expected impact. I, myself, live in a rural mountainous area and fully expect to lose power at some point this weekend. (Keep this in mind if you try contacting me.)

Often when a storm is pending, people rush to the stores to buy bread, milk, and eggs. What I concern myself with is stocking up on power!

And you can guess why.  It’s a fact, and a fun one: some of the best shortwave/mediumwave listening conditions happen during a regional power outage. The local noise level simply dives as noisy electronics take a temporary vacation…leaving an opening for some great SWLing.

Here’s my pre-winter storm checklist:

  • Charge batteries
    • Recharge AA cells for portables
    • Charge the internal battery in my CommRadio CR-1a
  • Have the World Radio TV Handbook handy
  • Have several flashlights at the ready (I’m especially partial to the HumanaLight!)
  • Make sure gasoline tanks for the portable generator are topped up
  • Fill the 4×4 with diesel
  • Charge my VHF/UHF Handy-Talkies
  • Oh, yeah…stock pantry/fridge with plenty of food and water

No power?  No problem!  While the snow blows, I’ll feed the fire in the wood stove, brew a steaming pot of joe with my syphon coffeemaker, and cozy up to my warm radio…for a long afternoon of listening.  Ahhh...

SWLing Post readers: How do you prepare for potential power outages?

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27 thoughts on “Expecting a winter storm? Ready your radio

  1. Meet The Breakers

    Im actually quite jealous.. I would actually love to be in that situation, sounds like heaven.. No electricity, wood burning stove, coffee and radios!! Instead we get barely any WX capable of causing distruption, the power never seems to go off,, although if it did we would be screwed because most people in my area won’t even posses a candle never mind backup generators and provisions to that nature. I totally get what your saying about how nice it is to listen to your radio once the electric supply is down, been into SWL, and CB radio, and living in a populated area in north England, U.K. Our bands have been totally crap to listen to since everybody has wifi routers, big screen tv’s and a million devices running of cheap Chinese wall wort power supplies, it makes listening challenging at best and impossible at most times.

    I hope you get through the storm ok, although it seems you are ready and prepared.

    73s from the uk

    1. Tha Dood

      You can have it! Growing up in Western New York, I couldn’t wait to get away from this. When you have to deal with it from 4 – 6 month out of the year, it looses its luster really quick. Fortunately, where we’ve being dumped on here in West Virginia, we didn’t have the winds, or the heavy, wet, snow, just 20 inches of the dry stuff. So now, the big dig comes. Tell ya what, 2 and even 440 amateur repeaters have been very active with weather nets. The only HF I’ve monitored is CB channel 19. 27.185MHz AM here.

    2. Mick

      You want snow ? !!! Every time one snow flake falls in the UK it is a disaster ! The trains stop, schools are closed, businesses and the Westminster Bandits find an excuse to increase the cost of everything. Then Cameron misses out on taking the blame for the failing NHS by blaming the weather and people falling over.

      I do agree with your comments regarding the dreaded switched mode power supplies.

  2. Guy Atkins

    A half inch of snow here in the Seattle USA area becomes the newest “Storm of the CENTURY!”, if the local media outlets are to be believed. You’ll find our best news reporters on the street corners, pointing out ever new flake that falls. It’s comical to channel-surf our TV stations and compare their melodramatic coverage!

    1. Thomas Post author

      That’s funny! It almost gets that way in North Carolina–not quite that bad, but almost! So far, we’re doing okay here mainly because the freezing rain hasn’t been too bad.

  3. Robert

    Two things happen here when there is snow: the HF often gets better (various reasons) and the “excuses” for listening to scanners, HTs and radio in general get easier to make as life grinds to a halt for most folks. Since I have added FTA satellite this last year it will be interesting to see how long it lasts signal-wise, but also I have a battery powered 7″ TV that I can use with it should I want to conserve power with the generator. I also have a deep-cycle marine battery /trickle charge switching system to operate radios on should the need arise. All of this should get us through the power outage should it occur, along with some enjoyable “quiet” time with the radios!

  4. DL4NO

    First, I do not understand your fuss about half a meter of snow and a few minor storms of up to 100 km/h. 50 km south of here, in the Alps, the skiing industry *relies* on such conditions. Where needed they can cope with more than 2 m of snow and much heavier winds. And do believe me: They get them.

    Major power outages only happen when the weather conditions make the ropes of the high-voltage power lines carry a lot more ice than normal, see https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Muensterschnee.jpg. But that only happens on a larger scale every 20 years or so. The low and medium voltage power lines (230 V, 20 kV) are under ground in most more densely populated areas. The mean power outage here in Germany is about 15 min per year. BTW: I monitor the line voltage and it hardly varies more than 223 V to 230 V.

    Only our railway system cannot cope with such conditions anymore. But that has only happened since the politicians tried to privatize it. Luckily that process stopped before it could be really executed.

    Back to my preparations:

    I standardized most of my battery-powered equipment on AA cells. This includes several radios, my digital camera and more. Where needed I use rechargeable cells but I always have a supply of alcaline cells ready.

    My IT center (ADSL modem/router, phone exchange, switch, server…) contains an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). I extended its battery capacity so it can supply the IT center for at least one hour. Two of my computers are notebooks with their UPSes built in. A few systems around the house are powered through Power over Ethernet (PoE) from the IT center.

    This way I hardly felt the three short-term (less than 10 s) power outages over the last months. Only the clocks in the stove and so had to be set again.

    There is always enough foodstuff and drinking water in glass bottles in the house to last for a week or so.

    We have two wood stoves in the house which are mostly luxury items as our central heating uses natural gas. One of the stoves can be used for cooking and heating water.

    When we had problems with a rain water downpipe we searched for its drainage shaft. We made it a man hole so we have access to the ground water at the bottom.

    For my ham radio station I think about a separate battery system. Since solar panels like the FUJI Electric Fwave FPV1096SLN got dirt cheap I even consider some solar-powered system. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgB4oYszyak.

    For basic preparedness I have a Yaesu FT-817 which can be poweed by AA cells if needed. This rig is good for some 30-50 km on 2m using my discone antenna.

    8 km from here is the Olympic Tower of the 1972 Olympics. It has its own emergency Diesel generator that also powers the DB0EL repeater 200 m above ground and more ham equipment including the WLAN based HAMNET node DB0TVM. I can access it on 2.3 GHz using a 10 Mbit/s bandwidth. From there we have our own intranet that is extended with links on 5 GHz mostly. See http://hamnetdb.net.

    If you have access to the ampr.org net ( through packet radio or VPN, try for example http://db0tv.ampr.org or http://debian.vm.db0tvm.ampr.org:8901/, a 2m SDR on the Olympic Tower.

    1. Thomas Post author

      Thanks for the details of your system!

      Yeah–I’ve lived in both the French Alps and Bavarian Alps in the past. You’re right about those areas relying on snow.

      Where I live now, we don’t have the infrastructure to cope with major snow and ice storms. Our HVL lines are almost less vulnerable than our power lines to houses–tree limbs get loaded with ice/snow, then fall on the lines. A 1/4″ of ice can start damaging those lines.

      I didn’t write all of this in the post last night, but I live in a high altitude compared with the surrounding area. My property is surrounded by tens of thousands of acres of national forest. We get snow here quite often and cope fine because only two miles from my house–in the valley–there is no snow. 🙂 It’s when it gets messy down there that we lose power, etc.

      In truth, we never really notice power outages at the home. We have a PV system that powers our refrigerator and freezer, my radio room and the living room. I can run all of my radio equipment from our battery bank. Our house is also passive solar which works brilliantly for heat as long as we have a little sun. We also have a Rais wood stove right in the middle of the house which can heat everything. Our portable 8,000 generator can run our water pump.

      For some reason, our DSL Internet connection is terribly vulnerable to faults in bad weather. We should count ourselves lucky to even have DSL, though, as we’re actually a little beyond the limits of their service but the system still works (albiet slowly!). I imagine our Internet will go out at some point along with the power.


  5. Erica COLE

    ‘Alongside my shortwave interest I love listening to radio stations in areas of particularly bad weather to see how its doing and how the media are covering it. being possibly a bit boring in this way I love it when stationst switch to 24-hour non-stop storm coverage.
    does anyone know of any station planning to do this?
    Thank you.

    1. Thomas Post author

      I like doing the same thing!

      You could simply do an Internet search for radio stations in North Carolina, Virginia, DC, Maryland, etc. I find the the smaller, local ones do a better job. 🙂 I should turn on a local station right now, too.

    2. Thomas Post author

      Erica: check out the stream from WTZQ. It’s a station about 25 miles from where I live. They have a great format and are independent. I’m listening to their coverage now.

      1. Erica COLE

        thank you! Unfortunately the stream keeps refreshing so I’ll see how it goes. I’m an iPhone user and will probably do a trawl of the TuneIn and ooTunes directories to see what else is going on. I’m really glad I’m not the only one who does this! Thanks agsin.

  6. Mick

    Good luck Thomas, hope it is not too bad. We are watching the UK television news now who are covering the story, we could get the tail end of the storm on Tuesday. If we have more than one flake of snow then Britain usually grinds to a halt !

    1. Thomas Post author

      We’ll be okay here. We have nowhere to go and our home is pretty self-sufficient.

      I used to live in Surrey (Shere, to be exact). You’re right: pretty much any snow would bring everything to a halt. 🙂 Not much different in the rest of North Carolina.

  7. 13dka

    I too enjoy my radio toys most when it gets nasty outside, feels so cozy and exiting at the same time. 🙂

    I hope you guys are not being hit so bad again, but I totally get the part about the power outage. I live at a lovely rural place, only 500m away from the coast, and of course I have that awesome 180° arc of electrical nothingness right in front of me and not much around either, a heavenly spot for everything radio..

    …except I live in a house full of flatscreen TVs and monitors, laptops, modems and probably digital fridges, toasters and hairdryers and probably other appliances I don’t even want to know what they are, of which very few belong to *my* household. D’oh! And as if that wouldn’t be bad enough, I can’t put a proper antenna up or otherwise away from the mess to make the S-meter settle at a serviceable noise level. But we get 2-3 good storms each year during the winter season, and I can rely on a power outage of 1-4 hours each time. Indoors radio time! Bring in the DX! Wait…what the…ah… something on the sun brought lots of “wind” too. D’oh!

    (Before you feel too sorry for me, it’s only that bad in winter, as soon the temps get more tolerable I spend a lot of time in my car at a very lonely place with no electricity in some kilometers range directly at the dike, a place that also features 2 conveniently placed, abandoned 10m steel flag poles being a great stand-in for a proper vertical on their own when I’m lazy*, and a great support for some long wire antennas. That place is really awesome to enjoy and test radios all the way during the day, and at night it’s dark enough for some proper star gazing, and to point my new tiny Winradio LPDA directly at satellites, I might even see them passing…)

    *Newbie tip: take a stretch of wire or your supplied wire antenna (like the Tecsun and Sangean ones) and wind it max. three times around a flag pole, a fence, the gutter or an i-beam of the Eiffel tower to get quite some piece of antenna coupled to your radio, without hopelessly overloading it like when you’d connect it electrically. Last year I got often suprisingly good signals from JA or ZL hams using only 100W (that’s the other end of the world from here after all) on the flag pole and e.g. my PL-660 performed almost like a big one.

    1. Thomas Post author

      Wow–some set up! Sounds like you’ve found a great listening post. I’m nowhere near the coast (well, a 4.5 hour drive!). Our ground conductivity leaves something to be desired. My property is more than 10 acres, though, so I can put up some pretty big wire antennas to compensate–and there’s little in the way of noise.

      Where do you live? What part of what country? I’m curious now!

      1. 13dka

        I live far up north in Germany (Schleswig-Holstein) on the generally less crowded north sea side. I think that good ground conductivity helps with low azimuth beam forming and maybe even getting a tad more voltage into the wires, but at the end it’s probably the SNR and unobstructed view that counts and that’s what makes (sparsely populated) strips of a coast desirable more than anything else. I guess the lack of light pollution is in most cases indicative for a similar effect on radio waves.

        Congratulations to your 10 acres, that’s some considerable space for wires! Most average central European hams and SWLs can only dream of conditions like that: 🙂 I would probably think about burying a mesh of wires in the ground, then scrap that plan because that would be much effort on 10 acres, for a questionable effect.

        1. Thomas Post author

          Oh wow! Yeah, I bet that is an amazing location for DX! I’ve never been to that part of Germany, but plan to when I make a trip to visit friends in Berlin next year. I’d like to trek up to Denmark as well.

          I had ten acres, but their wooded and full of “critters”: black bears, deer, turkeys, coyotes and more. I’m planning to install some beverages soon, but think I’ll go for the BOF (Beverage on Ground) variety as I think I’ll otherwise be mending antennas a lot when bears trip on them!

          1. 13dka

            I think “beverage” is the Norwegian word for “mending wires”..ah…no, actually that was a guy from Maine.

            But now that you mentioned it, this brings back a thought I had before – the dikes often have fences running along on the land side to keep the sheep maintaining the dikes from quitting their job, I should be able to find a stretch of a kilometer or more… hmm.

            As for the bears… just print this


            and stick it to each pole. 🙂

            Definitely visit Denmark! The Danes are said to be the happiest people in Europe, which sounds crazy when you consider they also pay the highest taxes in Europe, but the grass is actually a tad greener, the villages are much nicer to look at, the roads are way better and the Danes are extremely relaxed and nice people. True story. It’s so nice that you don’t even mind the beer costing 3 times as much. I wish I could afford to live there. I wouldn’t mind buying you a beer when you’re here tho. 🙂

  8. Daniel Robinson

    My storm radio lineup includes the County Comm, and a combination of other portables, including the SONY SW-07 and a new SONY SW-1000T I now use in our central den….

    1. Thomas Post author

      Dan, I’ve never used a Sony SW-1000T. Very cool. It must be one of the more compact SW radios ever made that includes a cassette recorder.


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