Ham radio operators spring into action when weather becomes dangerous

Johnston County News

SMITHFIELD, N.C. (WNCN) – When the weather gets severe and power is down – sometimes the only information available is from amateur radio operators.  

The Johnston County Amateur Society meets monthly and did so Thursday evening.  

They even brought their Mobile Command Center, a converted ambulance.  

The Society springs into action when the weather gets dangerous.  

“We are scattered all over the county and all over the state, so we see a lot of things before the weather service picks it up,” said ham operator Mike Callam.

Callam has been a licensed amateur radio, or ham, operator for 26 years and weather is his passion.

“When Florence came through last year, I was out surveying for flooding. I live in a rural area and they don’t have many officials able to come out there, so I called in some flooded roads and flooded streams.”  

Whether it be from Hurricane Florence last year to the recent tornadoes in Alabama – amateur radio operators spring into action when the weather gets dangerous.  

Ham operators come from all walks of life and for many reasons.

Van Lee played with walkie talkies as a kid and now,  “I enjoy communicating, and I have found over the years, the thing that we have in common in ham radio, just pulls us together so tight that it’s amazing, cross cultures, political beliefs, and religious beliefs.”

Amateur radio operators relay important information to people cut off from the outside world in a storm – cell service and internet service is not needed.  

“In 2011, we were hit hard with a tornado. I just about lost my house and the whole neighborhood was destroyed; and ham radio is the only thing we were using to call 911, because the landlines and cell phones were just frozen up,” said Lee.

Besides helping in a disaster, amateur radio operators get to talk to people all around the world.

“My first and most impressive was King Hussein in Jordan. I talked to him, it’s been many years ago, I asked him about his call sign, I asked, ‘How did you get that call sign?’ He said, ‘I’m the king, I can do what I want,'” Callam remembered.

While Lee recalls, “I had the best conversation with a guy in Kuwait, then I pull him up on the computer and see him there with his ceremonial robes on, and kind of step back and say, that guys my friend and it is all because of this hobby. 

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