The Ice Storm of 2008

Starting on early Thursday morning, December 11, 2008, rain commenced to fall across the northern New England area, with cold air trapped at the surface and warm air overriding it aloft. This was a perfect setup for bad icing conditions. Temperatures on the ground were in the mid 20's. Bad weather and heavy rains moved up the coast from Georgia, and by Friday noon, there were massive power outages as trees were covered with heavy ice loads. In my area the ice built up to almost 1 1/4" of radial ice. Guy wires and antennas had almost 2" of ice attached. We lost power here late Thursday night. When the rain stopped mid day on Friday, I took a few pictures of the damage. The following day, December 13th, it was safe to walk in the woods as long as you wore a hard hat. There was still ice falling on Saturday. All Friday afternoon, there were heavy limbs crashing down from overloaded trees. It sounded like cannons going off, followed by a "woosh" as the tree limb fell through the ice covered trees. It was unsafe to be anywhere near trees then, as falling limbs could cause serious injury or worse.

The first casualty noted was the demise of my trusty old 144 MHz EME array. This antenna was built in 1980 and was the subject of a QST Magazine cover back then. As the following photo shows, it is now scrap metal.

The remains of the 24 yagi 144 MHz EME array that first bombarded the moon with RF back in August of 1980.

Not a pretty sight! In the background lower left you can see a 5 element 50 MHz yagi and a modified CC 4218XL that managed to survive. This EME array has few undamaged antennas remaining out of the 24 total yagis it started out with!

All that remains of the best 144 antenna system I ever used. RIP! I remember working JA0JCJ who was running just 50 watts back in the '80's. I also had a funny QSO then with WB0QMN who had an EME station. He called me after I had called a CQ. I came right back but then he disappeared. The phone rang. It was Tom, and he was confused because he had forgotten to turn on his driver and final amplifier. His 10 watt signal from his multi mode exciter had fed through, and I heard him just fine. He could not believe what he heard. This was all on CW boys and girls, back in the old days when getting on 144 EME was not like it is today. Anyway, lots of memories from using this antenna. I will miss it.

The hilltop antenna farm suffered a bit more ice than at the house 200 ft lower in elevation. There was 1 1/4" of radial ice, enough to collapse the metal bracing on these Cushcraft 17B2 yagis. They have been in use since 1998, (The last very severe ice storm) and had suffered several problems when iced up before. In each case the braces failed. These antennas are the only non Directive Systems yagis left on the hilltop site. They are scheduled to be removed and beefed up to survive the bad weather better than they have in the past. I am getting tired of fixing them!

A closeup shot of the 144 MHz array. This was taken the following day, Saturday. As you can see much ice has melted, but plenty still remained. It was not until Monday that the ice melted completely off the antennas. Temperatures soared up to just over 50 degrees F for awhile!

The barely surviving ten meter yagi down at the house. Wouldn't you know it, this photo was taken just six hours before the ARRL Ten Meter Contest began. Needless to say, between having no AC power and all the ice, the Ten Meter Contest was not a rousing success. Note the TV yagi with the broken rear elements. The wind has spun it around as well. This ice storm was accompanied by some pretty strong winds.

The 8 X 432 25 element array came through with flying colors. It was heavily loaded with ice, but held up well. Some microwave loop yagis are visible on another tower in the background.

The new 222 MHz array built in 2008 did very well considering the booms are as long as the 144 array that buckled in the storm. The braces on this quad yagi are very rugged. It looks like some elements are missing, but it is an illusion as the ice is still on the antenna in places, and where it has fallen off, looks like the element broke there. All elements are intact. I think I found seven bent elements, with only one that was badly bent from falling ice. The heavy ice loading caused the H frame to flex and the antennas tilted up a few degrees from the excess weight on the back of the yagis. There were probably a few hundred pounds of ice on this array during the storm!

Another shot of the 222MHz tower, with the 8 X LVA antennas. You can also see a few 144 yagis pointing off in various directions. These yagis were twisted on the tower leg by the high winds. Normally they all point northeast.

The ice covered six meter array. Much time and effort was spent to strengthen the bracing, and the effort was worth it. On Saturday, we saw an undamaged array, still covered with some ice. That was a pleasant sight for sure!

The Microwave tower shows the 18 ft 903 MHz loop yagi array has been twisted in the wind, but all of the loopers came through with hardly a sag visible anywhere even during the height of the storm. This picture was taken on Saturday, the day following the storm, and some of the ice has fallen off. The bracing techniques used on the 903, 2304 and 3456 MHz Blowtorch versions worked perfectly. They never looked like there was any danger there at all. The 1296 MHz 2345LY 4 looper array was sagging, but not too badly. I was not worried as it has already survived the 1998 storm that had twice as much ice as this storm did. Both 1296 and 2304 arrays were in that 1998 storm.

All in all, I was very lucky this time. In the 1998 "Ice Storm of the Century", all of the big yagis came down here. The entire six meter 4 yagi array was demolished along with most of the old 144 and 222 MHz arrays. This storm, while severe was not too terrible here. Other spots to the West and Southwest had more freezing rain and ice thicknesses went up to 1 5/8" or even greater. KC1XX and K1TTT lost many HF antennas in the same storm. There are lessons to be learned from the results seen here. For starters, the new 222 MHz H frame needs some bigger cross arms, and the 144 antenna is not quite ready for these harsh New England storms.