Colorado Amateur Radio Weather Network Celebrates Its 50th Anniversary!

Reprinted from the NWS Boulder website

A flood in Trinidad in 1955 brought together amateur radio operators from near and far, including some who were soldiers at Camp Carson. It was obvious that there was a need for weather reports from small localities, and so the Colorado Amateur Radio Weather Net, with the help and sanction of the National Weather Service, began on August 30, 1955.

The Colorado Amateur Radio Weather Net is still going strong with 76 members providing valuable weather information on a daily basis to the National Weather Service in Boulder.

It was in May of 1955 that Trinidad, Colorado had its big flood. Bob Oberman, W0NVU, as any good ham operator would, worked forty-one hours straight, handling the traffic and messages having to do with the flood.

The Army at Camp Carson had sent their top radio technicians, Mac Jackson, W0KBB, and others to help in the communication with the flood. These soldiers found Bob had the best possible set-up so they moved in on him. He was glad to be relieved after 41 hours.

Then some member of the ham radio community in the next week or two said something like, “Ya know, if people had been pinpointing and reporting the weather from upstream of this flood, it would have been less of a disaster!” This subject was not dropped!

Across that following summer, a group was formed of interested ham operators. Carl Steffan, W0FDP, talked with Meteorologist-in-Charge Albert W. Cook of the National Weather Service in Denver. On August 15, 1955, Cook wrote an official letter to Carl, asking him to inquire into the amateur radio community and if it would be possible for the ham operators to form an official Amateur Radio Weather Network under National Weather Service. Their mission was to collect weather data from areas not covered by official weather stations. This letter and its implications to the ham radio community was first discussed on the High Noon Net and then, of course, among the group that had expressed interest in reporting their weather.

There was little or no argument. The group was ready. Fifteen days after Meteorologist A. W. Cook wrote his letter, on August 30, 1955, Mac, W0KBB, and Bob, W0NVU, began sharing the job of Net Control of the weather net. It was three weeks later that all the red tape was pulled through, and the first formally sponsored Colorado Amateur Radio Weather Net was held on September 21, 1955. Mac, W0KBB, was Net Control. The Frequency was 3.945 Megacycles or megahertz as we call them now.

By June of 1956, when Gene Link of Boulder, W0IA, became Net Control, there were a dozen stations checking in regularly: W0TNK, W0SWK, W0MMT, W0YMP, W0DRY, W0AGU, W0HOP, W0IA, W0NIT, W0LEK, W0WJR, W0NVU, and W0ACH. Gene shared some of the load with Lou Rieder of Sterling, W0IES. (Lou had one of the finest, purest AM signals on the air with no distortion and a narrow bandwidth. It seems to some that the technology to attain that has since been lost!) Charter Membership closed down soon. Earl Morrison, W0ACH became a charter member and Earl's son Rick proudly took his father's call when Earl died; thus W0ACH still gives the weather from Longmont. Smitty of Fleming, K0DAP, was an active early member and his son Chuck Schmidt, K0DAQ still sends in the weather from the same farm outside of Fleming.

Tarz had been sending in weather data as a Cooperative Weather Observer from his farm outside of Sedgwick since 1947, taking over from a railroad agent named Buskirk when Sedgwick had a spur going to Denver. Buskirk was maintaining the tradition of Sedgwick that had begun in 1865 when it was Fort Sedgwick. Tarz got an award from the National Weather Service in 2002 for 55 years of service and he's still sending in weather data.

Kieth Bowhan, W0DGM, had also been a Cooperative Weather Observer in Hugo, Colorado. In those days and for many years to come, Weatherman Bowman gave Colorado its weather and often would give the location and the ham radio call sign of his source of the information. Keith loved listening to Bowman, and one day it came to his mind that he could send in his weather from Hugo which Weatherman Bowman could broadcast on the air.

Since the beginning of the Weather Net, there have been several ways used to get the information in. Relays are a daily occurrence on 3.945 MHz. Often in the earlier days, it seemed that the only way to send the weather, and be heard was in Morse Code, or as a last resort, to make a phone patch or a long distance phone call which would then be relayed.

In the early days the Weather Service received information from radio-equipped weather balloons and recorded the weather by teletype. Our Net Manager Bill de Wolfe, W0LVI, once had a job repairing teletype machines. William Ray of NOAA in Boulder still remembers working the teletype machines that looked a bit like desks with windows showing through to the roll of paper getting holes punched with sprockets. He typed approximately 75 words a minute on round keys that took a lot of hard pounding to get the machine to punch the holes in the tape. Pilots and other travelers have listened regularly to the weather net on their radios before they would take off in the morning. Farmers, ranchers, mountain people and the general populace listened also. The need for an accurate local report has been obvious and the work much appreciated by many people in the world at large. It wasn't until the early 80s that we started reporting weather on Sundays. The next Net Manager was Val Eldridge, K0ZSQ. She ran the Weather Net from 1963 to 1981 with the help of her husband Howard, W0HE. She was a well-organized and amiable person. The group was growing, attaining a membership of around 60 Colorado members and a couple of dozen out-of-staters, some of which have been with us for decades, like Joe of Nampa Idaho, K7CBA. The next Net Manager was Karl, WA0HJZ of Golden Gate Canyon with his wife, Lou, and then came Bill of Thornton, KA0CXW, with his wife Rebecca, and now our present Net Manager, Bill de Wolfe, W0LVI.

In 1968, Bob Swanlund joined the group. His location was the top of Squaw Mountain at 11,440 feet. He and his wife Margaret leased land from the Forest Service, built a stone house up there and began the antenna farm on Squaw Mountain. Up until then, the 2 meter 146.940 repeater had been available only from a building in Denver, but he helped to get the antenna installed above timberline on Squaw Mountain and enlarged the 2 meter net considerably. This caused there to be two nets running at once and so two Net Controls became a necessity. But there were several times when for one reason or another Bob would run both nets himself. He would also listen for weather on a 6 meter repeater that we no longer use, and receive phone patches (although he didn't have a telephone on Squaw Mountain). We, the Colorado Amateur Radio Weather Net Operators, are proud to be providing this service for the state of Colorado.

This information was provided by Bill DeWolfe and Jane Wodening, both of the Colorado Amateur Radio Weather Net.

The Weather Net Today

Today there are XX Amateur Radio reporting stations spread across the state of Colorado. The net averages 60 check-ins per day and has XX operators the serve as Net Control Stations. Each day the weather information is collected on both 2 and 75 meters. The reporting stations provide the following information: The NCS from the two nets combine their information and one person calls the NWS with the results. The NWS accepts the following information each morning.
For mor information on the Colorado Amateur Radio Weather Net contact Bill DeWolfe W0LVI.