NOAA weather ra­dio has been alert­ing Rich­mond area for 40 years

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - WEATHER DESK - BY JOHN BOYER Check Rich­mond.com/weather for John Boyer’s videos and fore­cast updates. Con­tact him at JBoyer@times­dis­patch.com.

June 9, 1978: Disco ruled the air­waves, most weather re­ports lasted about as long as a jin­gle, and se­vere weather too of­ten caught peo­ple by sur­prise.

But at 10 a.m. that day, Rich­mond’s nerdi­est ra­dio sta­tion be­gan a marathon broad­cast of cur­rent tem­per­a­tures, boat­ing con­di­tions, river lev­els and shrill but life­sav­ing alerts of im­pend­ing tor­na­does and floods.

The ra­dio voice of the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice is now in its 40th year of serv­ing cen­tral Vir­ginia.

The “NOAA Weather Ra­dio All Haz­ards” sta­tion WXK65 covers Rich­mond, the Tri-Cities and sur­round­ing coun­ties with a non­stop loop of weather data and fore­casts from the lo­cal NWS of­fice in Wake­field.

When con­di­tions turn dan­ger­ous, the sta­tion trig­gers the re­gion’s Emer­gency Alert Sys­tem, ac­cord­ing to Jeff Or­rock, the me­te­o­rol­o­gist in charge there.

“We push the con­cept that this is sim­ple tech­nol­ogy and acts like a smoke de­tec­tor for se­vere storms,” Or­rock said.

The sta­tion broad­casts out­side of the usual AM and FM broad­cast bands (it’s at 162.475 mega­hertz, to be ex­act), so a lis­tener needs a spe­cial kind of ra­dio to pick up the sig­nal.

For­tu­nately, weather ra­dios are now fairly in­ex­pen­sive and car­ried by most big re­tail­ers.

Newer mod­els can also be set up to sound off only when a par­tic­u­lar county is un­der a warn­ing.

Many schools and pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties keep a weather ra­dio in the of­fice, and it’s still a good idea for house­holds to have one around even in this in­creas­ingly dig­i­tal era.

If the power is blacked out and cell net­works are jammed, a bat­tery-op­er­ated weather ra­dio will still beep when a warn­ing is is­sued by the me­te­o­rol­o­gists in Wake­field — or let you know that you’re in the clear.

An ex­tra ad­van­tage of the weather ra­dio is that an alert comes through the in­stant the NWS sends it out, while some third-party app no­ti­fi­ca­tions and text mes­sage alerts can be sig­nif­i­cantly de­layed.

It can also no­tify the pub­lic of non-weather emer­gen­cies such as nu­clear ac­ci­dents, chem­i­cal spills, 911 out­ages and child ab­duc­tions.

NOAA weather ra­dio grad­u­ally caught on and ex­panded across the coun­try be­tween the 1960s and 1990s. To­day, there are more than 1,000 sta­tions from Utqi­agvik, Alaska, to Guam.

Me­te­o­rol­o­gists voiced the updates on each sta­tion un­til the 1990s, when a syn­thetic com­puter voice took over the task.

If you haven’t lis­tened in sev­eral years, you’ll now hear an up­graded ver­sion of the voice that’s more life­like and eas­ier to un­der­stand.

The NWS in Wake­field now uses a mi­crowave link to send its pro­gram­ming to a tower at the Vir­ginia State Po­lice head­quar­ters on Mid­loth­ian Turn­pike just west of Rich­mond. From there, it rip­ples out to the rest of cen­tral Vir­ginia.

Other sta­tions cov­er­ing sur­round­ing ar­eas may pro­vide a bet­ter sig­nal (or a backup) for your town:

♦ North­ern Neck and Mid­dle Penin­sula: WXM57 in Heathsville at 162.400 MHz

♦ Fred­er­icks­burg area: WZ2527 at 162.425 MHz

♦ Hamp­ton Roads: KHB37 at 162.550 MHz

♦ South­side Vir­ginia: WWG33 from Mar­garettsville, N.C., at 162.450 MHz

♦ Char­lottesville and western Pied­mont: KZZ28 Covesville at 162.450 MHz (cur­rently off-air await­ing re­pairs)

In­for­ma­tion on non­ver­bal use of weather ra­dios for the deaf and hard of hear­ing is avail­able at nws.noaa.gov/nwr/ info/spe­cial_needs.html.

TIMES-DIS­PATCH

Me­te­o­rol­o­gist Hur­tis Smith put a car­tridge into the broad­cast­ing con­sole at the lo­cal weather ra­dio sta­tion that launched in 1978.

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