The Detroit Post
Monday, 29 November, 2021

How Do Weather Radios Work

James Smith
• Thursday, 26 November, 2020
• 14 min read

The National Weather Service issues messages only on certain frequencies that cannot be picked up by a standard radio. There are plenty of weather radios around, some with more features, others just basic, but they are all capable of receiving the important messages sent by NOAA.

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Some weather radios are capable of switching to the needed frequency in case an alert is issued, but the above information may help you if you do not have such a device. In general, weather radios currently sold on the market have good reception, but there can be situations where you may not be able to receive the messages as clear as you may want.

For instance, if you live in an area that is more mountainous, getting an extra antenna to improve reception quality is quite a must. Luckily, this is not possible, for the simple reason that weather radios will emit a 1050Hz tone alarm when an alert is issued.

What is the typical broadcast range of a NOAA Weather Radio transmitter? I live in an area where I can’t receive NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts.

Is there another system in place for me to get forecasts and warnings directly form the National Weather Service? My NOAA Weather Radio often alarms when you issue watches and warnings that are far from my area.

The broadcasts include warnings, watches, forecasts, current weather observations, and other hazard information, 24 hours a day. Working with the Federal Communications Commission's Emergency Alert System, NOAA Weather Radio is an “all hazards” radio network, making it the single source for the most comprehensive weather and emergency information available to the public.

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Known as the “Voice of the National Weather Service,” the NOAA Weather Radio network has more than 750 transmitters, covering nearly 90% of the 50 states, along with the adjacent coastal waters, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the U.S. Pacific Territories. NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts in the VHF public service band (between 162.400 and 162.550 megahertz (MHz)) and hence you need a special radio receiver or scanner in order to pick up the signal.

Where are the NOAA Weather Radio stations in this area, and on what frequencies do they broadcast? Our office broadcasts using eight transmitters, from: Philadelphia, Hibernia Park and Allentown in Pennsylvania; Atlantic City, Harrison Township, and Howell in New Jersey; Lewis in Delaware; and Guntersville in Maryland.

There are other transmitters operated by neighboring News offices which some listeners may also be able to receive. Click here for a map showing all the NOAA Weather Radio stations in the area, as well as the frequencies on which they transmit.

What is the typical broadcast range of a NOAA Weather Radio transmitter? The normal broadcast range of a full-power transmitter (1000 watts) over level terrain is approximately 40 miles.

Before you buy a Weather Radio receiver, make sure that your area is covered by one of the transmitters. The Canadian system uses concatenated English and French voices (where words and phrases spoken by an actual person are spliced together).

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NOAA WeatherRadios range in cost from $25 up to $100 or more, depending on the quality of the receiver and the number of features it has. NOAA Weather Radio receivers come in many sizes and with a variety of functions.

Many radios can receive an alarm tone, triggered when the News issues severe weather announcements or emergency information. Most NOAA Weather Radio receivers are either battery-operated portables or AC-powered desktop models with battery backup, so they can be used in many situations.

This allows you to have the radio turned on but silent, listening for a special tone that is broadcast before watch and warning messages. During an emergency, National Weather Service forecasters will interrupt routine weather radio programming and send out special tones that activates the WeatherRadios in the listening area.

The latest generation of Weather Radio receiver allows you to preselect the National Weather Service alerts you want to receive according to local geographic areas (counties, or in some cases, portions of counties). Such a receiver is capable of turning itself on from a silent mode when the digital code for the preselected geographic area is broadcast.

In addition, a good receiver should be able to operate on batteries during times when electrical services may be interrupted. Several manufacturers of car radios (e.g., Audio, Clarion, and Panasonic) sell in-dash units capable of receiving them.

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Other states, such as Pennsylvania and New York, often rebroadcast NOAA Weather Radio at Interstate rest areas. The hearing and visually impaired can also receive warning alarms by connecting a specially-designed weather radio to other kinds of attention-getting devices like strobe lights, bed-shakers, personal computers and text printers.

Large bodies of salt water tend to greatly increase range. Reception in cities may be reduced due to steel and concrete, while higher elevations will enhance the signal.

Moving even a few feet can change a weak signal to a strong one. It may help to be near a window facing the direction of the station, away from other electronic equipment, and on an upper level of a house or office building.

Generally, the least expensive Weather Radio models are the ones most susceptible to reception problems. I live in an area where I can’t receive NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts.

Is there another system in place for me to get forecasts and warnings directly form the National Weather Service? Tune in to your local radio and television stations for the latest weather forecasts, watches and warnings.

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Delivery of data across the Internet, however, cannot be guaranteed because of potential interruption of service. Another low-cost method for receiving National Weather Service's (News) essential information is now available on a wireless data system.

Simple mouse clicks immediately retrieve the latest weather and hydro logic warnings, watches, forecasts, statements, observations and other data in text format, along with a sub-set of weather graphics including the national radar summary and some satellite imagery. The Edwin weather information is free; the only cost is for the receiving equipment and inexpensive commercial software.

This digital data stream is available nationwide directly from several satellites and, in an increasing number of locations, in an easier and less costly manner using local radio rebroadcasts and other techniques. This approach provides the necessary redundancy for reliable data reception by a wide variety of users.

Edwin was designed to be a low-speed (currently 1200 bits per second, but expected to increase), low-cost alternative for emergency management officials and others that have no access to weather data or have few resources to afford such data. Even at this current low speed, over 5000 pages of information can be received each day.

Innovative partnerships between the News, industry, and state and local governments are fueling this expansion. For more information concerning developing a partnership with the News, contact our office at 609-261-6615 between 8:00 AM and 4:00 PM weekdays, or e-mail

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In April 2002 a Weather Radio station was installed on the upper Eastern Shore of Maryland near Guntersville. In 2005 a new low-power transmitter was installed in Hibernia Park, PA, western Chester County, which covers the rest of the area no longer served adequately by the Philadelphia station.

The male voice that reads most of the public forecasts and observations on our transmitters is called “Tom”, while the female voice that reads the marine forecasts is called “Donna”. The initial computerized voice that is still heard giving the time announcement is called “Paul”.

“Paul” is based on the Dental system, initially developed by (then) Digital Equipment Corporation in the 1980s. He is completely synthesized, meaning that the computer algorithms produce all the sounds from scratch and put them together to form the words and phrases you hear.

“Tom” and “Donna” are newer voices, based on the Speech works product Speechify. They are examples of concatenated-synthesized speech, where recordings of actual voices are parsed into the parts of syllables (iPhones), then put back together using computer algorithms to sound more life-like than a purely synthesized voice like Paul.

They also try and pronounce words according to context (i.e., where they are placed in the sentence), to give the broadcasts a more true-to-life sound. Unfortunately, our forecasts are not always written in complete sentences, which can confuse the algorithms that drive the voices and result in less than perfect intonations.


There are two main reasons why “real” voices aren’t heard all the time. Automated recordings reduce that time to seconds, which could mean the difference between life and death if you are in the path of an oncoming severe thunderstorm or tornado.

The second reason is that our office has eight separate NOAA Weather Radio transmitters, each with its own specific broadcast suite. Years ago, when our office only broadcast on one transmitter, it wasn’t that difficult to keep it updated manually.

The initial computerized voice we began using in 1999 (aka “Paul”, with the Scandinavian accent), was not received warmly by many NOAA Weather Radio listeners nationwide. Critical warning information (e, .g., where and/or when) could be missed if the radio voice was not immediately understandable.

Speech works has also developed a Spanish voice for NOAA Weather Radio, which has been used by some offices beginning in 2003 (but not here) where there is a significant Spanish-speaking population. With eight different transmitters playing over hundreds of separate products each and every day, it’s not possible to continuously monitor all the broadcasts to ensure everything is being pronounced properly.

Unfortunately, especially with “Tom” and “Donna”, the advanced algorithms will sometimes try to change the pronunciation of a word or phrase based on context, even if is has been entered manually in the system. The computer algorithms will just try and read the word the way it appears, with unexpected results.

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You may either call our Public Service line at 609-261-6615 between 8:00 AM and 4:00 PM weekdays and pass along the problem word to the person who answers the phone, or send an e-mail to Either way, please let us know which transmitter you were listening to, the approximate time you heard the problem word or phrase, which voice said it, and if possible, which product it was in (e.g., public forecast, winter storm warning, marine forecast, etc.

My NOAA Weather Radio often alarms when you issue watches and warnings that are far from my area. With the addition of the Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) technology, life-saving messages broadcast on NOAA Weather Radio can be targeted to a more specific area, like a county or portion of a county, to bring more hazard-specific information to the listening audience.

A special feature of the NOAA Weather Radio system that evolved in the 1960s was the transmission of a single tone at 1050 Hz prior to the broadcast of any message about a life or property threatening event. When this type of radio detected the Was, it automatically turned on the speaker allowing the message to be heard without the need for the owner/user to do anything.

In the Spring of 1974, the largest recorded outbreak of tornadoes in the nation’s history occurred. Conclusions of a survey following the disaster recommended the expansion of the Weather Radio network and to designate it as the only Federally operated broadcast system to communicate life and property threatening information “directly” to the public.

This system was also tasked to disseminate nuclear attack warnings and other national emergencies. Techniques were developed allowing warnings broadcast over the Weather Radio to be rebroadcast over commercial radio and television stations as part of the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS).

The analog Was technology served the Weather Radio network well until the mid 1980s, when the rapid expansion of cable television and the automation of commercial radio and television began to isolate the public from local sources of warning information. Typically, the Was was transmitted for any watch or warning over an area of approximately 5,000 square miles, or about seven to ten average-sized counties.

Without staff at media facilities to manually evaluate the need to rebroadcast a Weather Radio message using the EBS, automatic rebroadcasting of all messages preceded by just the Was was unacceptable and impractical. Even if stations and others with that type of need were willing to allow for this type of automatic capture, assuming the events for activation were critical, there was no way for automated equipment at the station to know when the message was complete and restore it back to normal operation.

Starting in 1985, the News began experimenting with putting special digital codes at the beginning and end of any message concerning life or property threatening event. The intent was to ultimately transmit a code with the initial broadcast of all Weather Radio messages.

This system evolved into what is known today as NOAA Weather Radio Specific Area Message Encoding (Nor SAME). Full scale implementation was funded by the News in early 1996 when the SAME technique was adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as part of its new Emergency Alert System (EAS) that replaced the EBS in January 1997.

The NOAA Weather Radio was an officially designated source for EAS messages from the News. The SAME process was originally achieved using an encoder panel consisting of a number of buttons representing the functions to be performed, types or content of messages, the affected areas, and valid time of the message.

A microprocessor in the panel interpreted button active status and created the proper codes and places them at the beginning and end of each message. These include technological accidents (e.g., chemical releases, oil spills, nuclear power plant emergencies), AMBER alerts (for abducted children), and terrorist attacks.

Can I program more than one geographic SAME code into my NOAA Weather Radio receiver? Most new SAME-capable NOAA Weather Radio receivers allow for multiple SAME codes to be entered.

If that’s important to you, make sure to check for that functionality in whatever brand of SAME-capable receiver you look at before you buy. First, ensure that you have the proper SAME code entered into your radio, and that your county is in the broadcast area for the transmitter.

Second, your radio may not be able to pick up the tones if the overall signal reception is poor. If the signal fades in and out over time, you might try connecting an external antenna to your receiver.

Third, if you purchased your radio locally, take it back to see if a knowledgeable person there can check the programming or has other suggestions. Generally, only those watches and warnings associated with an immediate or short-fused event are toned and alarmed.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in conjunction with the National Weather Service and other agencies, has proposed additional SAME event codes which are scheduled to take effect later in 2004. According to the FCC proposal, all new SAME radios manufactured after August 1, 2003, must be capable of receiving these new codes.

The broadcast schedule can also be heard during the full station ID, which normally plays at the top of every hour on all of our transmitters. However, the forecast is updated between the regularly scheduled times as needed, often in the late morning (9-11 AM) and evening (8-10 PM).

The climate summaries (on those stations that play them), are issued twice a day, in the early morning and late afternoon. All the statements, watches, and warnings that play on the radio are issued on an as-needed basis.

Statements concerning longer-term potential weather are often issued at about the same time as the public forecasts. On our three coastal Weather Radio stations (Atlantic City, Southward, and Lewis) the marine forecasts are scheduled to play every cycle, along with the short station ID, public forecast, current conditions, and any statements that might be in effect at the time.

This is done to limit the amount of air time that the marine forecasts take up, while still making it relatively easy for those who want to hear them (they just need to tune in at :15 or :45 after the hour). Those who don’t want to hear the marine forecasts should try to listen at other times during the hour.

Note that if a short-fused warning (e.g., Tornado or Severe Thunderstorm) is issued, it will interrupt any message that is currently playing and be immediately broadcast. The full station ID takes between two and three minutes to play around the top of every hour on our transmitters.

It contains the station location, power, coverage area, and broadcast schedule, as well as contact information for our office. Much of that information is mandated by the Federal Communications Commission, while some of it is for the convenience of our listeners.

Degree days are a measure of the departure of the average daily temperature (high+low divided by 2) from a given standard or base. Likewise, in the summer, total air-conditioning use over a season is related to the number of cooling degree days.

What are the meteorological seasons, and how do they differ from “regular” winter, spring, summer, or autumn? The astronomical seasons that people are most familiar with begin and end on the solstices and equinoxes (which normally occur around Mar 21, June 21, Sept 22, and Dec 22).

The three normally the coldest months in the Northern Hemisphere are December, January, and February, and are called “meteorological winter”. The three normally the warmest months are June, July, and August, and are called “meteorological summer”.

Mean lower low water (abbreviated Mlle) is a tidal datum, or reference level against which the tide height is measured. It is the average of the lower of the two low water heights of each tidal (or lunar) day over a reference 19-year period.

A 19-year period was chosen since it represents a full lunar cycle. The astronomical tide represents the height of the tide due solely to the gravitational effects of the sun and moon, without any effects of wind, temperature, air pressure, ice cover, or other meteorological phenomena.

The height of the astronomical tide (along with the times of high and low tides) is forecast for many locations along the coast, along with major bays and inlets and the tidal sections of large rivers. A knot is a speed of 1 nautical mile (roughly 6076 ft) per hour.

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