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WEATHER RADIO: A Lifesaver for the Cost of a Pair of Shoes
May 10, 1999
tornadoes that struck Oklahoma and Kansas were devastating, but
the loss of life could have been greater. The National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Weather Service
issued timely warnings which helped residents take cover. In addition,
NOAA Weather Radio was there to broadcast the warnings of severe
conditions. Vice President Al Gore has set a goal to make NOAA
Weather Radio receivers as common as smoke detectors in American
A family is awakened in the middle of the night by an alarm on
its weather radio. The special receiver carries a tornado warning
advising listeners to seek cover. The family retreats from its mobile
home to a nearby shelter moments before a twister tears through
the community, scattering lives and mangled aluminum in its wake.
vehicle owner in a campground picks up a flash flood alert on his
weather radio and moves his RV to higher ground. Minutes later a
wall of water sweeps through his former campsite.
On a December
trip from Washington, D.C. to Cleveland, a saleswoman learns of
a severe winter storm warning when an alarm sounds on the weather
band of her CB radio. She changes her route and averts a delay of
many hours due to road closures.
In two cases,
lives are saved, and in another, a winter storm is bypassed, all
thanks to a small radio receiver available for about the cost of
a new pair of shoes.
and warnings like those mentioned above are broadcast directly to
special radio receivers around the clock by the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Weather
Radio network, the "Voice" of the National
Weather Service (NWS). Some weather radios have the capability
to receive a tone alarm signal, triggering a built-in alarm to warn
listeners of severe weather announcements.
real-life stories like those mentioned above, NOAA Weather Radio
remains one of the best kept secrets in the United States.
NOAA Weather Radio advises people of severe weather watches and
warnings, buying extra time for people to react before dangerous
storms hit their areas. When you're in the path of something like
a tornado, minutes and seconds can mean the difference between life
offices tailor their NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts to suit local
needs and commercial interests. For example, broadcasts in New England
may focus on marine weather conditions for recreational boaters
and fishing and shipping vessels.
is updated every one to three hours, and the broadcasts continuously
repeat. Weather service offices immediately interrupt regular reports
when a severe weather situation requires a live alert or warning.
Reports air on one of seven VHF high-band FM frequencies between
162.400 and 162.550 megahertz (MHZ).
Radio broadcasts began in the 1950s when the old Weather Bureau
started broadcasting weather information over two stations. In the
1960s, stations were added for the marine community, and by the
late 1970s, the system included more than 300 stations.
Now more than 475 transmitters are within the listening range of
most of the Nation's population. In 1975, NOAA Weather Radio became
the only government-operated radio system for providing direct warnings
to private homes for weather and other significant hazards. It's
also the primary source of information for activating the Nation's
Emergency Alert System.
National Weather Service is modernizing, building a network of improved
radars, satellites, automated weather observing systems, supercomputers
and telecommunications capabilities aimed at saving lives and preserving
forecasting technology and accurate warnings and forecasts are of
little value if people who need the information don't get it in
a timely manner. That's why the Weather Service also is modernizing
the NOAA Weather Radio network. Additional transmitters funded through
partnerships with local industry and government agencies, are expanding
the system's coverage to unserved areas. New audio consoles with
programmable, computer-based systems will automatically convert
weather messages directly from electronic text to speech and broadcast
them at appropriate times.
All NWR transmitters
are now equipped with Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME)
technology. SAME technology provides direct activation of the Emergency
Alert System, the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) replacement
for the Emergency Broadcast System, on commercial radio, television
and cable outlets. In addition, SAME technology will allow for direct
warnings of severe weather in a specific locale (county or subcounty
level) to those who have radio receivers programmed to receive SAME
broadcast signals. A digital audio code (quick high-pitched tones
similar to what is heard on some telephone transmissions) precedes
every severe weather alarm broadcast by the National Weather Service
over NOAA Weather Radio. The digital code identifies the type of
warning being sent and denotes the specific geographic segment of
the listening area receiving the alarm. New SAME-capable receivers
now on the market can be programmed by consumers to screen out alarms
for areas they don't want. The technology change has no effect on
older NOAA Weather Radio receivers.
tornado that killed more than 20 people in a rural Alabama church
on Palm Sunday in 1994, Vice President Al Gore set a goal to make
NOAA Weather Radio receivers as common as smoke detectors in American
homes and to extend the coverage provided by the NOAA Weather Radio
transmitter network to 95 percent of the United States.
Since the Gore
NOAA Weather Radio initiative began, the National Weather Service
and other members of the Gore task force -- the National Partnership
for Reinventing Government-- have been actively promoting public/private
sector partnerships to provide the needed resources. More than 75
new weather radio transmitters have been installed since 1994 through
grass roots partnerships combining resources of private enterprises,
associations, and local, state and federal government agencies.
The NWS also
broadcasts non-weather emergency information, making NOAA Weather
Radio an "all-hazards" network. All-hazards broadcasts
air warning information on earthquakes, volcano activity, and man-made
hazardous conditions will be used for communicating relief information
after such disasters.
The goal of
the NOAA Weather Radio Initiative is to someday have a NOAA Weather
Radio in every home, and in all schools, hospitals and other public
gathering places, to give people the kind of information they need
to safeguard themselves and their homes during a disaster.
on Buying a NOAA Weather Radio Receiver: