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Hi Everyone,

The glorious day has almost arrived when we get to see if our resident groundhog Birmingham Bill will see his shadow this Groundhog Day. No we dont rely on that Danged Yankee Punxsutawney Phil. Why he doesnt even know what sweet tea is, not to mention sweet tater puddin, so that shatters his credibility beyond repair. Why if he doesnt possess that basic knowledge, how can he properly prognosticate ponderous possibilities such as these?

Plus, he talks funny.

If Birmingham Bill does see his shadow, and if the folklore were true, then we would have a late spring.

Whether it is late or timely, are you ready for the storms of spring and for the callouts that will come?

Now is a good time to review your personal emergency preparedness plans and to brush up on your skills. Dont wait until the sirens sound, for by then it may be too late.

In preparing, you should ask yourselves these questions:

Is my family shelter, which everyone should have, still ready?
Is my emergency equipment & radios working?
Are my emergency supplies still adequate and in date?
Are the batteries still good and the rechargeable batteries charged?
Are my communications channels still functional? This includes RF, Internet & telephone resources.
Can I reliably receive weather watches and warnings, in multiple ways?

Are you prepared both at home and at work?

Remember, keeping yourself and your family alive and intact during and after the storms is your number one priority.

Stay safe.

This months ALERT meeting will be February 13 at 7PM.

I hope to see you there!


Birmingham NWS Spring 2018 Storm Spotter Courses

The Birmingham NWS office will present several online Basic Spotter Courses and a single online Advanced Spotter Course this Spring. These online classes allow individuals to complete the courses in the comfort of their own home or office with the use of meeting site.

By attending any course, which runs about 1.5 – 2 hours, individuals or a group of individuals will become SKYWARN Storm Spotters.

Unless you are in need of or just want to attend a refresher Course, you do not need to attend more than one Basic SKYWARN Course, as the material covered is the same; however it is required you to attend at least one Basic SKYWARN Course before taking the Advanced SKYWARN Course.

These courses are two-way, meaning you will be able to interact with the meteorologist leading the training. You will be muted while training is in-progress, and unmuted when applicable (e.g., for questions); or, you can use the built-in chat feature.

The current schedule is as follows:

Basic Class Wednesday, February 21 at 6:30 PM Use Session Code 173-280-976
Basic Class Tuesday, February 27 at 6:30 PM Use Session Code 302-207-574
Basic Class Tuesday, March 6 at 1:00 PM Use Session Code 539-919-581
Basic Class Thursday, March 15 at 1:00 PM Use Session Code 541-472-536
Basic Class Thursday, March 22 at 6:30 PM Use Session Code 425-457-943
Advanced Class Tuesday, March 27 at 6:30 PM Use Session Code 743-275-677

Enter the session code at

These classes will help you provide the NWS the vital ground truth information they need to verify radar indications, target their attention and help you relay reports in a clear manner to the NWS, either directly via the 1-800-856-0758 Storm Reporting Hotline, online at or amateur radio. This knowledge helps SKYWARN Net Control stations filter reports, by giving them knowledge of what reporting stations are trying to describe. This way they can tell if the report is a valid report, an invalid report by an overly excited operator or a valid, but, poorly described report, which without this knowledge would be mistakenly dismissed.

For further information on these classes visit:

If you dont mind travelling to North Alabama, you might consider NWS Huntsvilles training classes also.

For further information on these classes visit: &


The Strangers Among Us

People become interested and involved in Amateur Radio for many reasons. Some are drawn by the comradery they hear on the air, the lure of talking to people in foreign lands, some by the technical aspects and opportunities for experimentation and many for public service and emergency preparedness. We usually join for one reason and in the process of time branch out into different areas.

Whatever the reasons that we are initially drawn into the hobby; there is one common bond for us all:

We all had to get a license.

We have always had the occasional problem of an unlicensed operator trying to get on the air. It is usually a short lived problem and usually these people, who are very recognizable, either get caught or grow bored, give up and go away.

Only twice in my 40 years of ham radio have I encountered someone on the air who I did not realize was an unlicensed operator or bootlegger. One was a gentleman I worked twice in 1978 on 10 meter CW from Pasco Washington. He sent absolutely perfect CW, had a valid sounding call sign and they were very enjoyable conversations.

He sent me his address twice, but, the QSL cards I sent kept coming back and I had someone look him up in a Callbook, and he wasnt listed. Looking further I found that he had never appeared in any Callbook or any other record I checked and never has since, letting me know that he was bogus.

The second was a local gentleman from Bessemer who appeared on 146.88 MHz in February 1984. A nice guy, with a good sounding call, who made a lot of friends on the air. June came, and he had a new N4 call sign, and I congratulated him on his upgrade. He called me on the phone and said Mark.I hate to admit it, but, Ive been bootlegging all this time. I wanted a license and was studying, but, I just couldnt resist the urge. I passed my general test last month at the Birminghamfest. He would freely admit his sin on the air and folk would tell him that he might not really want to say that on the air. No one turned him in, since he was now legit and no one wanted to turn in a friend. He no longer lives in the area, but, I understand he is still active today.

Others who bootleg are obvious, giving impossible call signs, such as ZXY45K, Rubber Duck handles, using CB terminology and with their actions displaying that they dont have a clue about what they are doing.

This problem, which has always existed, is threatening to become a more widespread problem.

I am on several Facebook groups dealing with emergency preparedness and outdoor survival. I am seeing more and more postings of people either purchasing or being given inexpensive ham radios such as Baofeng HTs with the stated purpose of putting them in their bug out bags so they can talk to people during an emergency. Some state I tried to talk to some of the local hams to test it out, but, I couldnt seem to reach them. The majority of them are not licensed.

We hams try to educate them, telling them that this isnt a good idea, that a license is necessary and that the FCC will fine you WHEN you are caught, and that YOU WILL be caught. We then tell them how to obtain a license, to which some say they honestly didnt know a license was needed and thank us. Some say they will get a license and hopefully they actually will bother to do things legally.

There is a certain percentage however whose attitude is who cares?, anything is legal during an emergency and big deal if it saves a life.

To one gentleman who stated the latter I responded as follows:

The problem is that it can COST lives. Before I explain what I mean, I am part of a group called the Alabama Emergency Response Team. We provide communications support for the National Weather Service during severe weather outbreaks. Ive been involved in emergency communications since the 1980s. During hurricanes Ivan, Katrina, and untold dozens of tornado outbreaks, I was on the air, so Im speaking from experience.

During an emergency, conditions are chaotic anyway, with damage, injuries, communications systems damaged, etc. So here you are, the Net Control Station during the middle of all this and an unlicensed guy comes on the air. He knows nothing about proper protocol, net operations or even the proper way to communicate. So the net grinds to a crawl while we try to deal with this person. Trying to make sense of his report, knowing full and well he may be giving a false report anyway. For that has happened.

Back a few years ago a guy came on the radio, said he had just been released from the hospital and his stitches had burst. Please send help. We called the EMS, and of course they found nothing but an empty field. Point being we have no way of telling if the report of an unlicensed person is bogus or not. But, by being a licensed ham, with a callsign being given for identification we know it is probably valid, and help can be sent. But, the time wasted dealing with an unlicensed person delays emergency response, and them arriving on time so they can potentially save someones life.

Its not a case of hams saying you cant join our little clique unless you meet our approval. Its us dealing with real life situations and scenarios. I hope this clarifies it a little. Study and get your ham license and join us. Its fun and we need you!

To this no response was offered.

I also addressed in another thread the kindred theory I bought a police radio so I can talk to the police directly and not have to go through the dispatcher.

To this I pointed out that the police absolutely dont want this, as it disrupts normal communications and could cost an officers life, especially during the frequently heard call all units hold the radio as an officer enters a dangerous situation, only to have some bozo suddenly yell can yall send a unit to Billy Bobs car wash, his durned stoopid dawgs are at it agin.

Seeing that this is an ongoing and developing problem, what can we hams do to help counter this trend?

1. Be aware that the problem exists. You cant address something, if you blissfully ignore it.

2. If you become aware of someone planning on such actions, educate them. Tell them how to become a ham and invite them. One of three things will happen, they may give up the idea, they may brush you off and do it anyway or they may study and get their license and become a valuable member of the ham community.

3. If you find a person bootlegging on the air, dont talk to them. Call the repeater trustee or a club officer, and let them know what is going on. Talking to them will only encourage them to continue and the Im gonna open a can of whoop butt on you approach can backfire and inspire them to interfere with every net and QSO in central Alabama.

4. Clubs and groups, if you are not active in foxhunting and direction finding, you may want to get involved in this activity. Those already involved in these need to hone their skills so you can locate these individuals so you can turn them and the evidence you gather over to the FCC.

Remembering that though tarring and feathering may be tempting please let the FCC be the one that does it.

For if you try to handle it own you own you might encounter one of those frogs on a lily pad in a lake of pain.

In other words, you may end up being sued out of house and home.

Incidentally, that reference to a fake distress call is a true story.

One Tuesday night in 1985 on the old AENX Net on 146.88 an SOS in perfect CW began doubling and heterodyning with the Net Control Station, Joe Smith WA4RNPs signal causing a series of screeching tones.

No tone was being sent. The letters were being sent by keying the mic button over and over. The NCS could not hear it of course, since he was transmitting, but, the other hams could, and asked the NCS to key the mic while the other station transmitted and they copied what was being sent.

This worked, and the gentleman, who gave a K4 call sign, sent that he had just come home from surgery at Baptist Montclair, his stitches had burst and that he was hemorrhaging and growing very weak, please send help.

The hams called 911 and the paramedics found the address given to be an empty field. A call sign search gave an address in Nashville, which confirmed this as being a bogus SOS.

Though it turned out to be a false SOS, it demonstrated a few things. One, that even if you have no audio, either due to a damaged radio or due to an inability to speak, you CAN send a usable distress call that can be heard by using the microphones PTT button. Using the touch tone keys, however might not work, as some repeaters will automatically blank the tones out. Secondly, IF operators take the time to learn CW, even though it is no longer a legal requirement, they will be able to understand and respond to such a distress call.

It was not the last time this person was heard from. A few weeks later this happened again and I was the NCS. I said if you have a problem well be glad to help you, and if you dont have a problem well be glad to give you one. We stood by for another transmission, and he was never heard from again.

All it took was a little diplomacy.


Marks Almanac

February, or Februarius, as the Romans called it, is named after the Latin term februum, which means purification. Ancient Rome celebrated the Februa purification ritual on February 15, which was Full Moon on the old lunar based Latin calendar.

February was not originally included in the Roman calendar, which began in March, but was added, along with January by Numa Pompilius around 713 BC, and until 450 BC was considered the last month of the year.

February was originally 29 days long, but one day was taken and added to August, so the that Emperor Augustuss month would be equal to Julius Caesars month of July. Now only Leap Year has 29 days, the next of which will occur in 2020.

In the Southern Hemisphere February is the equivalent of August. But, for us, February is a cold month with more snow falling in February than in any other month.

Statistically speaking, there is a 70% chance of snow flurries, and a 57% chance of snow up to one inch. There is a 13% chance of over one inch, and a 3% chance of 4 inches or more.

There is hope on the horizon though, as the worst of winter weather is usually over by February 15.
North Atlantic Tropical activity is at a minimum. From 1851 to 2015 there has been only one Tropical Storm to occur, 70 MPH Tropical Storm #1, which affected Florida on February 2 & 3, 1952.

Looking towards the sky, Mercury is lost in the glow of the sunrise.

Venus is hidden very deep in the sunset.

Mars, magnitude +1.3 in Aquarius rises in the east-southeast around 2 or 3 a.m. and are high in the south-southeast by early dawn.

Jupiter 1.9, in Virgo respectively rises in the east-southeast around 2 or 3 a.m. and are high in the south-southeast by early dawn.

Jupiter, the first up, is the brightest point in the sky. Mars glows to Jupiter’s lower left. They’re 7 apart on the morning of January 20th, widening to 10 apart by the 27th.

Lower left of Mars, look for the red star Antares and the rest of upper Scorpius. This is an area very rich in nebulae, so grab the binoculars and explore region.

Saturn, magnitude +0.5 in southern Ophiucus, is becoming more easily visible very low in early dawn. About 45 minutes before sunrise, look for it above the southeast horizon a good 43 to the lower left of Jupiter. Don’t confuse Saturn with twinkly orange Antares about halfway back toward Jupiter, or twinkly Altair far to the left due east.

Uranus, shining at a borderline naked eye brightness of +5.8 in Pisces, is high in the southwest right after dark.

Neptune, shining at magnitude +7.9 in Aquarius, is getting low in the west-southwest right after dark

3588 planets beyond our solar system have now been confirmed as of January 25, per NASAs Exoplanet Archive

In an oddity of celestial mechanics, there will be no Full Moon this February. This is because the last Full Moon, the partially eclipsed Super Full Blue Blood Moon occurred on January 31 and the next Full Moon will occur March 1.

Normally Februarys Full Moon is Full Snow Moon in Native American folklore, since the heaviest snows usually fell at this time of year. Since the harsh weather made hunting difficult, some tribes called it Full Hunger Moon.

New Moon will occur at 3:05 PM CST or 21:05 UTC on Thursday, February 15, as the Moon will be located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky.

This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.

There will be a Partial Solar Eclipse on February 15. A partial solar eclipse occurs when the Moon covers only a part of the Sun, sometimes resembling a bite taken out of a cookie. A partial solar eclipse can only be safely observed with a special solar filter or by looking at the Sun’s reflection. This partial eclipse will only be visible in parts of Chile, Argentina, and Antarctica.

Days grow longer as the Suns angle above the noonday horizon rapidly increases from 34.5 degrees at the beginning of the month to 40.2 degrees at the end. Daylight increases from 10 hours 35 minutes on February 1 to 11 hours 26 minutes on February 28.

Sunrise and sunset times for Birmingham are:

February 1 Sunrise 6:43 AM Sunset 5:19 PM
February 14 Sunrise 6:32 AM Sunset 5:31 PM
February 28 Sunrise 6:17 AM Sunset 5:43 PM

For other locations go to and input the locations and dates you are interested in.

Sunset times are especially important if you are involved in outdoor activities, such as hiking for instance, for people sometimes forget the principle remember you still have to hike back. If it takes 3 hours to hike from your car to Moccasin Lake, it will take that long at least, if not longer, since you will be fatigued, to hike back. So if you started at 10 AM, arrived at 1PM, spent 2 hours fishing, and it takes 3 to 4 hours to hike back you will run out of daylight before you reach your car.

Trails and paths always look different hiking back, due to the different lighting angles and the fact you are looking from a totally opposite direction, plus now it is getting dark. You did good marking your trail with the orange surveyors tape you carried, but, you forgot and tied it on the side facing you rather than the side you would be returning from, so you cant seem to locate any of it. Yep, it seems you just might get stuck in the wilds for the night.

But, you have your little emergency kit with you, so you will be ok

You did remember your kit didnt you? You know the one. That little fanny pack you filled with all that junk you got from Academy, or was it Dicks Sporting Goods?, I forget which, anyway with the Mylar space blanket, the little Mylar tube tent or two 55 gallon drum liners you can tape end to end with the little roll of duct tape you packed, and open bottom to make a tube tent, and the roll of paracord to tie it to a tree. Along with the lighter and matches for making a LITTLE camp fire, a pocket knife or multitool, a headlight flashlight with the fresh batteries, the police whistle for signaling folk, a rain poncho, water purification tablets and some Snickers bars for comfort food.

All that, with the couple of water bottles in a cozy attached to your belt, or maybe that metal canteen with a nesting metal cup you got online, so you can filter water you might find through a handkerchief or undershirt and boil it three minutes, so you can keep hydrated, the hoodie you carried just in case it got chilly and that compass, map and GPS you remembered to frequently look at, and you know you are in good shape, for the shape you are in.

After all, you know that if you try to hike out at night, the distance which always seems to take twice as long as the map indicates even in the daylight, you may get totally lost, but, since you practiced in your back yard with all that junk in the fanny pack, you know what to and you know that all will be fine.

Plus you told two people where you were going and when you should be back, so someone would know that something went wrong if you didnt return. So someone might be looking for you, which is why you carried the whistle to blow in blasts on three, to get their attention. You remembered reading in the ALERT Newsletter to tell folk your plans, because if no one knows you are missing, no one will be looking for you. But, you did, so everything is copacetic.

That is unless you didnt bother to check the weather forecast from our friends on Weathervane Road aka the National Weather Service, and it starts bucketing rain and ice on you, but I know you did that also, so you are as good as gold.

You know you will be safe through the night, as the campfire will drive away the Boogey Man and those rabid man-eating raccoons, plus, you have a smartphone with a camera. Everyone knows that a camera is the best Bigfoot repellant ever invented. Even if you dont have a signal, which really doesnt matter anyway since you forgot to charge the durned thing and its battery died hours ago.

That crackling sound..a wolf perhaps? Nah… Remember the snakes and bears took care of them years ago. Supposedly around the same time those convicts escaped from the mental ward at the State Pen a few miles up the road, and all those gnawed bones started to appear.

Or so it is rumored anyway.

But not to worry, all is good.

No problems do I see.


The Birmingham Hamfest is now only five weeks away, March 2 & 3.
As mentioned in last months newsletter, this it will be a Friday & Saturday affair; instead of the Saturday & Sunday dates of years past.

This months meeting will be on February 13 at 7PM at the National Weather Service Forecast office at the Shelby County Airport.

If for some reason you cannot attend the meeting in person, you can still participate via telephone. The teleconference number is 1-877-951-0997 & and the participant code is 741083.

Hope to see you there!

Mark / WD4NYL
ALERT Newsletter

ALERT / National Weather Service Birmingham Coverage Area
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