Dun Dun DUN!

UPDATE:Turns out it was nothing…

Hurricane Joaquin, 1800 UTC, October 3, 2015
National Weather Service, Hurricane Joaquin, October 3, 1800 UTC

Could be something. It might be nothing. Better top of the fuel tanks just in case…

National Weather Service, Hurricane Joaquin, September 30, 1800 UTC
National Weather Service, Hurricane Joaquin, September 30, 1800 UTC

On top of all the other scheduled projects taking place, we have a bad generator fuel transfer pump at one of the E911 sites that should be replaced before Monday, apparently.

The efficacy of the computer generated voice

I was just listening to the latest broadcast of severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings rolling in across WXL-37 for upstate NY:

Trouble is a brewing
Trouble is a brewing

It looks a little bit hairy to the north.  There is a lot of rumbling around to the west of us and we are prepared to head for the basement in event of a tornado in this area.

At some point in time, somebody decided that computer generated voices were exactly right for emergency communications. Never mind some of the quirks that can be encountered.  These are mostly pronunciation errors for places like Saugerties, normally spoken as Saw-ger-tees but the NOAA computer voice says S-ouw-jer-tees.  That is understood well enough, but frankly, there are other place names that go by so fast that I cannot make sense of what the computer is saying.

Another good example of this is the Coast Guard’s computer voice confusion around the word “November.”  In the military (NATO) phonetic alphabet, November is the word used to express the letter N.  For some reason, the word itself seems to be a bit of a mystery to the computer, which sometimes renders the word November as “NOVEMBER OSCAR VICTOR ECHO MIKE BRAVO ECHO ROMEO.”  For those of us who have been in the military, this makes perfect sense.  Why just say “November” when you can say much more, waste time, and confuse the unaware.  This particular computer voice is nick named “Iron Mike.”

Computer generated voices can be hit or miss.

Then there is the computer voice from Shannon VOLMET:

Even on HF Single Side Band, that voice is clearly more understandable than the NOAA voices in use today. The issue is, many broadcast stations now use the NOAA computer voice to broadcast weather alerts to their listeners.  If I were driving in my car with lots of background noise, I likely would not get most of the information being relayed by the broadcast station via EAS.  I suppose gone are the days of a professional broadcaster’s voice clearly imparting information and comforting the listeners during time of calamity.  Sigh.

Upgrading National Weather Service Radio transmitter

If you have ever wondered about those ubiquitous NOAA all hazards radio (formerly National Weather Service radio) station, wonder no more. These stations transmit on one of five frequencies in the 162 mhz band with power ranges between 250 and 1,000 watts.  There are over 1,000 transmitters scattered throughout the country including outlaying territories like American Samoa, Guam, Northern Marianas, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

The original 1958 plan was for these stations to transmit Aviation and Marine weather forecasts.  The system was expanded for use by the general public in the early sixties.  Since that time, it has been slowly expanding until, with the most recent survey concluding that NOAA weather radio station can be received by 95% of the US population.

One of those stations in my neck of the woods is due for a transmitter upgrade. WXL-37 uses two Scientific Radio Systems SR-416P  transmitters, as a main and a standby.  The programming audio comes from the NWS office in Albany, New York, via TELCO line.  The old transmitters are tube type made by in 1976.   They are reliable transmitters, however, after 34 years of continous use, they are getting a little tired.  They are also big and bulky and since Scientific Radio Systems went out of business, not supported.

This year, NOAA is replacing these transmitters with a Nautel NG1000.  I have worked with Nautel’s military grade transmitters before and found them to be extremely rugged.  Those transmitters are what the original AMPFET design was based on.  Nautel is not the only vendor that NOAA is using however, others include Armstrong Transmitters and Crown Broadcast.

Scientific Radio System SR416P transmitters
NOAA Scientific Radio Systems SR416P VHF transmitters

The Nautel NG1000 is a little thing, taking up about half an equipment rack  with an outboard cavity filter and dummy load.  There are two drawers, a controller an antenna switch and a remote control.  Each drawer is it’s own 1 KW transmitter.  The GUI is a on a laptop, which is what I prefer.  If there must be some sort of computer driven GUI, then make it removable, so that when lightning strikes the 1,000 foot steel lightning rod 25 feet away, it doesn’t get blown up.  Each transmitter is connected to a 30 AMP 240 Volt breaker via a 4 prong twist lock plug.

Nautel NG1000 transmitter
Nautel NG1000 NOAA transmitter

The antenna for this station near the middle of this 1,000 foot tower, thus the station gets excellent coverage with a TPO of 1,000 watts.

American Tower, Highland, NY
American Tower site, Highland, NY

On a related side note, the computer synthesized voices normally heard on NOAA stations took several years to evolve.  Remembering when this began back in the mid 1990’s with “Paul.”  Several years later, “Craig” and “Donna” were introduced.  Finally, “Tom,” which is able to change voice inflections for emphasis.  When I was in the Coast Guard, we did high seas synopsis and forecast on HF without aide of computers.  At times, especially during typhoon season, it got a little busy in the weather broadcast position.  There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods.  Personally, I’d rather hear a human voice, especially in a crisis.