Receiving HF Weather Fax Transmissions On Your iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch or Android Device

It’s markably easy to receive weather fax transmissions without a computer today, you just need an app for your smartphone or tablet, along with an appropriate shortwave radio. This can be extremely handy for mariners who do not have internet access at sea, but want to be able to receive weather charts to keep abreast of storms and other potentially dangerous conditions. It’s also a way for radio hobbyists to decode and view weather fax transmissions without using a computer.

For the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, there’s the HF Weather Fax app from Black Cat Systems, available on the iTunes store:

An Android version is also available on the Google Play store:

Under good reception conditions, very high quality weather fax images can be received (click the image to see a full sized version):

A radio capable of receiving the transmissions is also required. Most SSB marine radios should be able to do this, in addition there are many relatively low cost consumer radios that will also work, such as the Sony ICF-SW7600GR .

Next, you need to get the audio from the radio into the tablet or smartphone. While there are some patch cables that will work, weather fax is fortunately a rather forgiving mode to receive, and often just placing the device’s microphone next to the radio’s speaker (or better yet next to some headphones plugged into the radio) often works quite well.

Weather faxes are sent several times a day from dozens of locations around the world. NOAA has their online Worldwide Marine Radiofacsimile Broadcast Schedules listing them by region and country, and is an essential resource. The frequencies listed are carrier frequencies, to tune them in USB mode on your radio, subtract 1.9 kHz. For example, NMF from Boston MA transmits on a carrier frequency of 6340.5 kHz. Your radio should be set to USB mode, and tuned to 6338.6 kHz for proper reception.

Both of these apps will automatically detect the start of fax tone sent at the beginning of an image transmission, to properly align the image. They will also detect the end of fax tone, and use that to save the image, for later viewing. Note that relatively good reception is required for proper detection of the start and stop tones, a weak signal or lots of static or interference (or even audio pickup from the microphone) can cause the tones to be missed.

Here’s a short video made by a user of HF Weather Fax on the iPad:

And here’s a video showing the Android app:

Reducing Local QRM With A Few Ferrite Cores

One downside to an SDR is that you more easily notice the mysterious carriers and other local noise/RFI signals. After reading this article on Common Mode Chokes, I decided to see what I could do to improve my situation.

As a first step, I captured this baseline of the 6500-7000 kHz range, where I am most interested in listening (click to enlarge):

I then added a choke on the antenna input to the SDR, right where it enters the radio. It is 9 turns of the coax on a large toroid core, probably type 37 or 43 material, possibly a Fair-rite 5943003801:

The other coax cable next to the antenna input is the reference signal from the 10 MHz GPS reference. Adding ferrite to it had no effect. I’ll get to the orange toroid next. Here is the result (click to enlarge):

As you can see, there was a significant reduction in the number of carriers and other noise signals.

Next I added the orange toroid also pictured (unfortunately I have no idea what type of ferrite it was, it was from the junkbox), as well as two of the clamp on ferrites you often see on AC power or video cables to the ethernet cable that runs from the SDR to the computer, here are the results: (click to enlarge):

This got rid of a few more. Pretty much, what is left is an actual signal. I was able to identify these:
6604 New York Radio
6519 A voice transmission, perhaps another VOLMET
6660 The second harmonic of CHU 3330
6725 An RTTY transmission
6885 Israel fading in
6970 faded in and out, so it seemed to be a legit DX station

Here’s a slightly later shot of 43 meters (6800-7000kHz):

All in all, a significant improvement, for a few minutes worth of work!