This document was downloaded and archived from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) site at:  on May 18, 2001.

NOAA WEATHER RADIO: A Lifesaver for the Cost of a Pair of Shoes

May 10, 1999 — 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.

A recreational 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.

Weather reports 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.

But despite 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 and death.

Weather service 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.

Routine information 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).

NOAA Weather 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.

Currently the 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 property.

But state-of-the-art 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.

Following a 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 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.


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