Communications in the Field

A great many storm chasers in the past decade have shifted their communications loadouts to reflect the changing technological baseline.  As a matter of fact, the majority of new chasers since 2007 are hitting the field with only a cell phone and a tablet, and it would not surprise me at all if many of them are solely using a cell phone.  For many, this works well for baseline use, however this is short-sighted.  Should the cell signal be lost due to any number of factors, chase communications and data would be wholly unavailable, stripping the under-equipped chaser of radar data, the ability to communicate with other chasers, radar guides, the National Weather Service, and possibly location data as well.  Further explanation doesn’t need to bear as to why this would be an incredibly dangerous situation, especially if such a failure occurs “under the gun”.

A Globalstar GSP-1700 satellite phone.

Personally, my chase day communications loadout is rather heavy.  I do chase with others in my local area, I am involved in public safety in my local area, and I am involved with Skywarn in my local area, and I will travel for a good setup, so my loadout is rather large.  I carry a cell phone, an Aina Bluetooth PTT Responder, a satellite phone, two UHF portable two-way radios, and my chase vehicle is equipped with a WiFi hotspot with external antennas, an 800MHz digital radio, a UHF digital radio, a VHF digital radio, a digital trunking scanner, and a CB radio.  This allows me free communications with the Skywarn amateur radio networks that still cover our country and are still active, my local county 911 centers (as an authorized user), our own Zello push-to-talk network, allows me to access the internet in more places than those using a cell phone as a hotspot, lets me communicate with other storm spotters and chasers over ham, GMRS, and CB radio, gives me an ear to local emergency services in areas where I am not an authorized user, and to still make phone calls to NWS and others, in areas where cell service is non-existent.

A small part of my communications loadout. Left to right – Kyocera Duraforce Android smartphone, Motorola HT1000 UHF portable, Globalstar GSP-1700 satellite phone, Aina Wireless Bluetooth PTT Responder, Motorola XTS3000 UHF two-way radio with remote speaker/microphone.

While this is an incredibly heavy loadout, you too can have a more dependable communications system with failsafes for when the cell signal drops.  A complete dual-band mobile amateur radio installation can cost less than $250, and will give access to most Skywarn amateur radio networks in the country, and gaining an amateur radio license is easy.  Satellite phones are more affordable than ever before, with Globalstar offering monthly plans including a free phone.  The Aina Bluetooth PTT Responder unit is incredibly durable, and is a much safer way of using your smartphone while mobile, as there is no distracting screen, and gives access to Zello’s PTT app functions, speakerphone, voice dialing, and Google’s search feature, and can also be used with iPhone.  If you chase as a team, there is literally no reason to ever use a cell phone or GSM/CDMA-based PTT between cars, as FRS portable radios can be purchased for less than $30 each at a local Wal-Mart or Target, and can be used with no license.

An old view of my last mobile loadout. This version provided 800MHz and UHF communications, and digital trunk scanning.

A more robust communications solution is possible, if you know where to look.  Check out my facebook page to learn more, or see my youtube channel for instructional videos and product reviews, to make better-informed choices and save money!

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