NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards is a network of radio stations broadcasting continuous weather information directly from a nearby National Weather Service (NWS) office. It is operated by the NWS, an agency of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) within the United States Department of Commerce. NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts National Weather Service warnings, watches, forecasts and other hazard information 24 hours a day. It also broadcasts alerts of non-weather emergencies such as national security, natural, environmental, and public safety (see: AMBER Alert) through the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Emergency Alert System.
Known as the Voice of NOAA's National Weather Service, NWR is provided as a public service by the NOAA. As of mid-2009, NWR has more than 1000 transmitters serving 95% of the United States' population, covering all 50 U.S. states, adjacent coastal waters, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and Saipan. NWR requires a special radio receiver or scanner capable of receiving the signal.
The radio service transmits weather warnings and forecasts 24 hours a day. In addition to weather information, NWR works in cooperation with the FCC's Emergency Alert System, providing comprehensive weather and emergency information. In conjunction with federal, state, and local emergency managers and other public officials, NWR also broadcasts warning and post-event information for all types of hazards, including natural (such as earthquakes or avalanches), environmental (such as chemical releases or oil spills), and public safety (such as AMBER alerts or 911 Telephone outages).
Many television stations which have the capability (both commercial and public) will also air their local feed of NWR on their second audio program channel if they aren't carrying a program which features either a Spanish language translation or a Descriptive Video Service track for the visually impaired. Some digital subchannels which carry weather information may also have NWR airing in the background, while regular television stations carry the audio during times they are off-the-air and transmitting a test pattern, in lieu of a reference tone.
Most stations broadcast on a special VHF frequency band at 162 MHz, which has seven FM channels reserved to weather radio broadcasts. The original frequency was 162.550, with 162.400 and 162.475 being added later. In recent years, the proliferation of stations meant to make sure everyone has access to warnings has pushed that number to seven, now including the "intermediate" channels of 162.425, 162.450, 162.500, and 162.525 MHz. These channels (often numbered in that order) are receivable on special weather radio receivers, available by mail-order and at some retailers, on most marine VHF radio transceivers, Amateur radios, and on scanners. These "weather radios" are available for prices ranging from US$35 and up. In addition, many consumer electronics, such as two-way radios and CB radios, are now being sold with the ability to receive weather radio broadcasts. With the American digital television transition making most portable televisions obsolete and unusable, along with the need to provide a public service to their viewers and encourage the use of the system, many American television station weather operations cooperate with radio manufacturers and local retail outlets to offer weather radios at discounted pricing to viewers (especially in active tornado areas), where the service is often marketed as an essential warning device on par with a smoke detector for home fires.
There are two different channel numbering systems used by various weather radio manufacturers. The first is the chronological sequence that the radio frequencies were allocated to the service: 1=162.550, 2=162.400, 3=162.475, 4=162.425, 5=162.450, 6=162.500, 7=162.525. The second is in simple increasing radio frequency sequence: 1=162.400, 2=162.425, 3=162.450, 4=162.475, 5=162.500, 6=162.525, 7=162.550. In addition, it may be possible to receive weather broadcasts on more than one of the seven channels at a given location. The NWS suggests that users determine which frequency (as opposed to channel) is intended for their specific location so that they are assured of receiving correct information.
When a weather warning is issued for the area which a station covers, certain weather radios are designed to turn on or sound an alarm upon detection of a 1050 Hz tone, issued for ten seconds immediately before the warning message. The specification calls for the NWS transmitter to send the 1050 Hz tone for 10 seconds, and the receiver to decode it within 5 seconds (any extra tone time over and above the decode time is considered as part of the alerting mechanism). This system simply turns on the audio of every muted receiver within the radio horizon of the transmitter (i.e. any receiver within the transmitter's "footprint").
Newer radios can instead detect a digital-over-audio protocol called Specific Area Message Encoding or SAME, which allows the users to program their radios for specific geographical areas of interest and concern, rather than for an entire regional broadcast area. The SAME code is broadcast, followed by the 1050 Hz tone. This has the advantage of eliminating the numerous "false alarms" for the 1050 Hz weather alerts that may apply to an area 100 or 150 miles (240 km) distant. The SAME codes are mostly aligned along county lines using the standard US Government FIPS county codes. Most modern SAME equipped radios can be programmed to receive alerts for more than one FIPS code if the user is located along a county boundary.
Once the SAME receivers are programmed they will limit alarms to only certain warnings, and only to the actual section of the broadcast area which the listener is located prior to the broadcast of the 1050 Hz tone. Some receivers allow you to program in several codes so you can include the areas surrounding your location. For example, if an area has frequent storm warnings, and the storms usually come from the east, a receiver can be programmed with the code for its own area, plus the code for the area to the east. (This notification system was later adopted by the Emergency Alert System—the replacement for the earlier Emergency Broadcast System and even earlier CONELRAD) now required by the FCC for broadcast stations.
In September 2008, Walgreens announced that it would utilize the SAME/NOAA system to deliver local weather alerts via their system of LED billboards located outside of the drugstore chain's locations built or remodeled since 2000 to provide an additional avenue of weather information. Many national billboard companies (i.e. CBS Outdoor, Clear Channel Outdoor, Lamar, etc.) also use their color LED billboard networks to display weather warnings to drivers, while state-owned freeway notification boards, which utilize the EAS/NOAA infrastructure for Amber Alert warnings, also display weather warnings.
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The NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards network has a multi-tier concept for forecasting or alerting the public to all types of weather. Actual products vary by the area that the transmitter serves. The main public forecast products typically played during the day's program cycle are:
A typical hourly observation report updated twice hourly at the top of the hour and at eleven minutes past the hour heard over NOAA Weather Radio stations features the following:
Example from KWN-41 Shubert, Nebraska: "At 8 AM in Falls City, it was sunny. The temperature was 60 degrees, the dewpoint 59, and the relative humidity 97%. The wind was west at 6 miles (9.7 km) an hour. The pressure was 30.00 inches (762 mm) and steady." In some locales, in the event the main reporting weather station had missing data, or no data available, the following message would thus be played (example from KWO-37 Los Angeles): The report from Downtown Los Angeles was not available.
Example from KWN-41: "Across eastern Nebraska, southwest Iowa, and northwest Missouri, skies ranged from sunny to mostly sunny. It was 60 at Beatrice, 59 at Lincoln, 59 at Nebraska City, 57 at Omaha, 59 at Red Oak, and 62 at St. Joseph." Some cities would round up only sky conditions if temperatures in all reporting stations were within 5 degrees of each other. An example: skies ranged from sunny to mostly sunny, and temperatures were between 57 and 62 degrees.
Example from KWN-41: "Here are some observations from around the region. Fog was reported with a temperature of 60 at Concordia, Kansas, 57 at Grand Island, and 62 at Manhattan, Kansas. Haze was reported with a temperature of 63 at Topeka, and 61 at Kansas City. It was partly sunny with a temperature of 56 at Des Moines, and 50 at Sioux Falls." In some areas, a major city would always provide weather conditions; if unavailable, the message the weather conditions were not available would precede the city. (Note: Occasionally, the previous hour's observations may last as long as 15 minutes into the next hour, which in most cases when this occurs, the product may not be played at all after 15 minutes and will not play until the information is updated.)
A hazardous weather outlook is issued daily (usually twice a day at 7AM and Noon) addressing potentially hazardous weather or hydrologic events that may occur in the next seven days. The outlook will include information about potential severe thunderstorms, heavy rain or flooding, winter weather, extremes of heat or cold, etc. It is intended to provide information to those who need considerable lead time to prepare for the event, along with a call for action for trained weather spotters to be prepared to report their local weather conditions and/or damage reports back to the local NWS office. Other outlooks are issued on an event-driven basis, such as the Flood Potential Outlook and Severe Weather Outlook. Occasionally, the NWS WFO may update the Hazardous Weather Outlook while an event is ongoing or if forecast models denote changes from previous forecasts.
HAZARDOUS WEATHER OUTLOOK NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NASHVILLE TN 531 AM CDT THU MAR 29 2007 TNZ005>011-022>034-056>066-075-077>080-093>095-301045- STEWART-MONTGOMERY-ROBERTSON-SUMNER-MACON-CLAY-PICKETT-BENTON- HOUSTON-HUMPHREYS-DICKSON-CHEATHAM-DAVIDSON-WILSON-TROUSDALE- SMITH-JACKSON-PUTNAM-OVERTON-FENTRESS-PERRY-HICKMAN-LEWIS- WILLIAMSON-MAURY-MARSHALL-RUTHERFORD-CANNON-DEKALB-WHITE- CUMBERLAND-BEDFORD-COFFEE-WARREN-GRUNDY-VAN BUREN-WAYNE-LAWRENCE- GILES- 531 AM CDT THU MAR 29 2007 THIS HAZARDOUS WEATHER OUTLOOK IS FOR PORTIONS OF MIDDLE TENNESSEE. .DAY ONE...TODAY AND TONIGHT- HIGH RISK FOR SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS, THE MAIN THREAT WILL BE LARGE HAIL AND DESTRUCTIVE WINDS UP TO 85 MPH BUT A TORNADO CAN NOT BE RULED OUT .DAYS TWO THROUGH SEVEN...FRIDAY THROUGH WEDNESDAY SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS WILL BE POSSIBLE DAY TWO AND TOMORROW NIGHT WITH LARGE HAIL, DAMAGING WINDS, AND TORNADOES: MODERATE RISK FOR SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS SCATTERED THUNDERSTORMS ARE EXPECTED SATURDAY NIGHT AS A COLD FRONT APPROACHES. .SPOTTER INFORMATION STATEMENT... SPOTTER ACTIVATION MAY BE NEEDED TODAY AND TONIGHT THROUGH TOMORROW NIGHT
Text product issued by all WFOs to explicitly state expected weather conditions within each zone in their area of forecast responsibility through day seven.
Also known as the Regional Weather Summary, this product gives a brief recap of weather events from yesterday within the region, then gives listeners a glimpse on what is expected from the current time to the next few days.
NORTH TEXAS WEATHER SUMMARY NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FORT WORTH TX 1100 AM CST FRI FEB 19 2010 A DEVELOPING SURFACE LOW CENTERED OVER CENTRAL KANSAS AND OKLAHOMA EXTENDS A COLD FRONT THROUGH WESTERN OKLAHOMA...SOUTH TEXAS PANHANDLE ...INTO NORTH CENTRAL NEW MEXICO AND ARIZONA. A WEAK UPPER LEVEL DISTURBANCE ASSOCIATED WITH THE SURFACE LOW WAS MOVING QUICKLY TO THE EAST WITH LITTLE WEATHER. THE FRONT WILL MOVE THROUGH TEXAS TONIGHT AND SATURDAY. A DEVELOPING UPPER LEVEL LOW OVER THE SOUTHERN AREAS OF CALIFORNIA AND ARIZONA WILL CLOUD US UP TONIGHT AND FOR THE WEEK END. RAIN SHOWERS AND ISOLATED THUNDERSTORMS WILL PUSH ACROSS TEXAS SATURDAY AND SUNDAY BEHIND THE COLD FRONT AND ASSOCIATED WITH THE UPPER LEVEL LOW. THE REST OF TODAY WILL SEE INCREASING CLOUDINESS AND SOUTH WINDS OF 10 TO 15 MPH WITH GUSTS MAINLY DURING THE AFTERNOON AND EVENING TODAY. TEMPERATURES OVER THE REGION ARE IN THE UPPER 40S AND LOWER 50S WITH HIGHS EXPECTED TO BE IN THE MID TO UPPER 50S REGION WIDE. TONIGHT WILL BE CLOUDY WITH WITH LOWS AROUND 50 DEGREES. THE WEEK END WILL BE CLOUDY...WET AND NEAR NORMAL FOR TEMPERATURES. HIGHS ON SATURDAY ARE EXPECTED TO BE IN THE LOWER 60S AND SUNDAY IN THE MID 60S. A SLIGHT CHANCE OF RAIN SHOWERS AND ISOLATED THUNDER STORMS ARE EXPECTED SATURDAY AFTERNOON THROUGH SUNDAY WHERE A GOOD CHANCE IS EXPECTED.
This is a general information product comprising three separate products:
The following are forecast products that are not available in all NOAA Weather Radio stations or are only played as conditions warrant (Forecast products of any kind [with the exception of Short-Term Forecasts] will be preempted during the occurrence of severe weather):
Sometimes referred to by some stations as a Regional Weather Discussion or the NOW-Cast, and as a Local Update when used by The Weather Channel during their local forecasts in the mid-late 1990s, this is a localized, event-driven product used to provide the public with detailed weather information during significant and/or fast-changing hydrometeorological conditions during the next six hours. This product on-air will often mention the position of precipitation as detected by NEXRAD radar. This is the one of the few forecast products that is permitted to air during severe weather in addition to routine forecast program cycles.
This is a general seven-day public forecast of hydrometeorological conditions for the entire WFO area of responsibility. This forecast is not part of the regular program cycle, and will only be played on all stations within the WFOs area of responsibility in the event the CRS is down due to technical difficulties or system maintenance.
This is a product which announces information on tied or newly set records for coldest/warmest maximum and/or minimum temperature and maximum precipitation. This forecast product is routinely updated when such events occur.
This is a text forecast for local beaches issued by coastal WFOs, including coastal hazard information such as that pertaining to rip currents. These products are issued year-round at the Los Angeles/Oxnard, San Diego, and New York City offices, and seasonally at most other coastal offices.
Daily river forecasts are issued by the 13 River Forecast Centers (RFC) using hydrologic models based on rainfall, soil characteristics, precipitation forecasts, and several other variables. Some RFCs, especially those in mountainous regions, also provide seasonal snow pack and peak flow forecasts.
This is a text product issued by most WFOs in the Great Lakes region to explicitly state expected weather conditions within their marine forecast area of responsibility through day 5. Also addresses expect wave heights.
This is a text product issued by all coastal WFOs to explicitly state expected weather conditions within their marine forecast area of responsibility through day 5. Also addresses expect wave heights.
This is a text product that provides forecast and warning information to mariners who travel on the oceanic waters adjacent to the U.S. coastal waters through day 5. Issued by the Ocean Prediction Center (OPC).
NOAA Weather Radio has a special day and time to test the Emergency Alert System. The NOAA Weather Radio conducts a weekly warning/watch tone alert test every Wednesday between 10:00 am and Noon. Some NWS Offices conduct a second test in the evening hours, usually at 7:00 pm. If there is a threat of severe weather that day in the NOAA Weather Radio listening area, the test will be postponed until the next available good weather day. The weekly test will replace regular NOAA Weather Radio programming. The SAME Header is sent, followed by the 1050 Hz tone, the text message, and the SAME End Of Message (EOM) burst. The text of the test message reads, with variations:
"This is the National Weather Service office in (city). The preceding signal was a test of the warning alarm system of National Weather Service radio station (call sign of station) in (location). During potential or actual dangerous weather situations, specially built receivers are automatically activated by this signal to warn of the impending hazard. Tests of this signal and receivers' performance are usually conducted by this Weather Service office on Wednesdays at (time[s]). When there is a threat of severe weather, or existing severe weather is in the area on Wednesday, the test will be postponed until the next available good-weather day. (Alt. the test will be cancelled, and a short message stating the reason for the cancellation will be broadcast.) Reception of this broadcast, and especially the warning alarm signal, will vary at any given location. The variability, normally more noticeable at greater distances from the transmitter, will occur even though you are using a good quality receiver in perfect working order. To provide the most consistent warning service possible, the warning alarm will be activated only for selected watches and warnings affecting the following counties: (list of counties. N.B. When more than one state is involved, the name of the state comes before the list of counties; for example, on KID-77 in Kansas City, it runs: "in Missouri: Cass, Clay, Jackson, Johnson, Lafayette, Platte, and Ray; and in Kansas: Johnson, Leavenworth, Linn, Miami, Wyandotte, and Douglas.") This concludes the test of the warning alarm system of NOAA Weather Radio (call sign). We now return to normal programming."
Before 1997, the bulk of NWR programming was via human voice, with a meteorologist recording each message and setting up a looping broadcast cycle. As the NWS added more transmitters to provide better radio coverage, WFO staff had difficulty keeping broadcast cycles updated in a timely fashion, especially during large severe weather outbreaks. The NWS then installed a Console Replacement System (CRS) in every forecast office, which introduced a synthesized voice to read text announcements. Because of the large number of geographic terms routinely used in NWR broadcasts, Concatenative Synthesis was not suitable. Instead, an unlimited-vocabulary phonetic synthesizer was employed. This male voice was named "NOAA's Perfect Paul" or simply "Paul", although it quickly acquired several nicknames for its mechanically awkward pronunciation and intonation, including "Igor", "Sven", "Arnold", and Mr. Roboto. Other National Weather Service offices, including Seattle, Oxnard , Fort Worth and Las Vegas, used a low-tone voice, known as "Harry".
In 2002, the National Weather Service contracted with Siemens Information and Communication and SpeechWorks to introduce improved, more natural voices . The Voice Improvement Plan (VIP) was implemented, involving a separate computer processor linked into CRS that fed digitized sound files to the broadcast suite. The improvements involved one male voice ("Craig"), and one female voice ("Donna"). Additional upgrades in 2003 produced a greatly improved male voice nicknamed "Tom", which can change intonation based on the urgency of a product; "Donna" was altered as well. Due to the superior quality of the "Tom" voice, most NWS offices use it for the majority of broadcast products. Occasionally, "Donna" can be heard voicing a few products, and the original "Paul" or "Harry" voice usually announces the current local time, some river warnings and in some WFO's, the station identity as required by the FCC (Example: "Station KEC-55, serving the Dallas/Fort Worth listening area"). Full statements will occasionally be heard in the "Paul" voice if the VIP processor gets overloaded with products or a failure occurs.
A few WFOs have had some fun with their synthesized voices by staging contests whereby their listeners can choose a name for the voices. The WFO in Wichita, KS, for example, gave the "Paul" voice the name "Chance Storm"; when the VIP voices came along, they chose the "Donna" voice to broadcast routine products and gave her the name "Misty Dawn". (Incidentally, they have never had such a contest for "Craig" or "Tom", whom they use for urgent products.)
Human voices are still heard on occasion, but sparingly, mainly during station identification, public forecasts, National Ocean Fishery Service messages, Public Information Statements, Public Service Announcements, weekly tests and severe weather events. The capability exists for a meteorologist to broadcast live on any transmitter if computer problems occur or added emphasis is desired.
Three forecast offices in the continental United States broadcast weather in Spanish: San Diego and El Paso use a male Spanish synthesized voice, "Javier" for full broadcasts. The Albuquerque weather forecasting office uses "Javier" for repeating weather alerts in Spanish.