NOAA All-Hazards Weather Radio Show Transcript - Broadcast 10/26/2006
You are listening to a special live NOAA All-Hazards Weather Radio broadcast from the National Weather Service in Hastings, Nebraska. My name is Jim Reynolds, and during this approximately 30 minute-long program, I will be providing answers to questions about the weather, as well as how the National Weather Service works to serve the public. These questions were submitted to our office by people that saw our request for questions on our web site in September and earlier this month, and from those that learned about this program from an advertisement heard on the NOAA All Hazards Weather Radio frequency you are currently listening to.
Following the conclusion of this show, the transcript for this entire show will be made available on the Hastings National Weather Service web page. You will be able to access the transcript by first going to the web page at:
After you have gone to the web page, click on the "NOAA All-Hazards Weather Radio Show Transcript" headline that will appear toward the center of the top of the page.
Additionally, on the same page where the transcript will be located, you will have the opportunity to leave feedback about the show. Please drop us a line and tell us if you enjoyed the show and what you liked about it, or tell us how you think we could improve on this type of show for the future. Your feedback is greatly appreciated and we would be very glad to hear from you.
Our first question comes from a resident of north central Kansas. Actually, this person asked several questions about the choice of informational programming on the NOAA All Hazards weather radio transmitters in south central Nebraska as well as north central and northeastern Kansas. This person asked: Why does the NOAA All Hazards weather radio transmitter in Superior, Nebraska run the Hazardous Weather Outlook for Topeka's area of jurisdiction when Superior only claims Republic County? Also, I don’t think people in Roseland or Bladen that are listening to the Superior broadcast are probably concerned about what is expected in Anderson County, KS. Concordia's NOAA All Hazards weather radio station claims Jewell and Mitchell counties, yet it never plays the Hazardous Weather Outlook from Hastings, nor anything for those two Hastings counties, other than warnings. Having Topeka's Hazardous Weather Outlook on the Superior transmitter, in my opinion, may cause confusion among NOAA All Hazards weather radio listeners, especially come this winter when winter storms bring 14 inches of snow to Clay County, Nebraska and 2 inches to Republic County, Kansas.
The explanation to this series of questions begins with some information about the somewhat imperfect nature of establishing NOAA all hazards weather radio transmitter sites across the country. Because there are not unlimited Federal nor private sector dollars to pay for enough NOAA all hazards weather radio transmitters to cover every square mile of land in the United States, different initiatives have extended NOAA weather radio coverage as much as possible. The United States Department of Agriculture used to maintain one particular initiative for NOAA weather radio expansion, however, this has been discontinued. The good news for us is that NOAA weather radio coverage is nearly 100 percent in the local area.
Now let me try to be a little more exact with answers to the questions that our listener submitted. The NOAA All Hazards weather radio transmitter in Superior runs the Hazardous Weather Outlook issued by the Topeka National Weather Service office for Republic county because this county is in Topeka's area of jurisdiction. Beyond this, what informational products that are played on a NOAA weather radio frequency is up to the discretion of the office which maintains the particular NOAA weather radio transmitter. The person submitting the questions I am addressing now thought that people in Roseland and Bladen wouldn’t really be concerned about what the expected weather was in Anderson County, KS. For our listeners that are not completely familiar with the region, it should be noted that Anderson County, Kansas lies at the far southeastern end of the Topeka area of jurisdiction. If the Topeka National Weather Service office does not split its Hazardous Weather Outlook into smaller groups of counties, then the forecast will appear in one big block from Anderson County all the way north and west to Republic County.
Lastly, our submitter states that Concordia's NOAA All Hazards weather radio station claims Jewell and Mitchell, yet it never plays the Hazardous Weather Outlook from Hastings, nor anything for those two Hastings counties, other than warnings.
Again, NOAA weather radio programming is at the discretion of the National Weather Service office that maintains the particular transmitter.
Our next series of questions comes from a resident of Grand Island. This person wanted to hear about the history of the local National Weather Service office, including when it was first opened and where it was located. Additionally, this person asked when the Doppler radar was installed near Blue Hill, Nebraska.
The local National Weather Service office was initially established on January 1, 1929 at the Grand Island Central Airport. At this time, a full compliment of weather instruments had been installed and this allowed meteorologists to begin recording high and low temperatures, wind speed and direction, as well as precipitation types and the duration of the precipitation. In the 1920’s, the present-day National Weather Service was referred to as the United States Weather Bureau. From January 1, 1929 to March 1, 1938 the U.S. Weather Bureau office was housed in the Bureau of Air Commerce at the Central Airport. On March 1, 1938 the office was moved to the Grand Island Municipal Airport’s Administration Building where it remained until March 1, 1971. In 1953, the U.S. Weather Bureau office endured roughly a month-long scare between May 6 and June 11 when the U. S. Government ordered the office closed to conform to budget cuts by the new administration that were to go into effect on July 1 of that year. Interestingly, a telegram was received on June 11 stating the weather station would remain open, just 30 minutes before the office was slated to close for business forever.
In 1970, the U.S. Weather Bureau was placed under its current parent agency called the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA for short. At the same time, NOAA became a sub-agency of the Department of Commerce. Additionally, the Grand Island Weather Bureau office was renamed the Grand Island Weather Service Office. On March 1, 1971 the Grand Island Weather Service Office was moved into the Weather Service Building at the Grand Island Airpark.
In 1991, construction began on a modernized Weather Forecast Office in Hastings, next to the KHAS TV station. On October 1, 1992 the Automated Surface Observing System, or ASOS for short, was commissioned at the Hall County Regional Airport. In 1992, the new Hastings Weather Forecast Office was opened. Dual operations between Grand Island and Hastings commenced from November 1992 through January 2, 1995. At this later date, the Weather Service Office in Grand Island was closed and the Weather Forecast Office in Hastings singularly assumed forecast and warning responsibility for its pre-assigned area of responsibility. Today, the National Weather Service office in Hastings is home to approximately 16 meteorologists, 4 computer and equipment technicians as well as an administrative assistant. The office is staffed 24 hours a day - 7 days a week - 365 days a year and provides severe weather watches, warnings, advisories and forecasts for 24 counties in south central Nebraska and 6 counties in north central Kansas.
In 1993, the Hastings National Weather Service Doppler radar was constructed at Blue Hill. The radar’s useful range is approximately 250 miles from its location and provides constant coverage of all 30 counties in the Hastings National Weather Service area of jurisdiction, unless it is down for some type of regular or emergency maintenance.
This is an excellent time to mention that the person who submitted the previous set of questions about the history of the National Weather Service in Hastings is a trained weather spotter for our office. To explain a little bit, weather spotters are volunteers who typically have an avid interest in the weather and contact the National Weather Service whenever severe weather impacts them at home or at their place of employment.
Weather spotters are the “eyes on the ground” when it comes to observing weather that otherwise may go unseen by satellite imagery, Doppler radar and airport weather observing systems. While many spotters submit severe weather reports to the office by phone, a National Weather Service Internet program called E-spotter allows spotters to submit their reports through a personal computer. People interested in becoming a weather spotter are asked to attend a 1 to 2 hour training session and then they are considered to be trained as a weather spotter. Severe weather spotter trainings are conducted across the area in multiple locations during the late winter and early springtime period. A schedule of spotter training times and locations is posted on the National Weather Service Hastings web site in the early part of each new year and before the start of the trainings. To learn when a severe weather spotter training session will be conducted in or near your area, simply go to the National Weather Service Hastings’ web site, which is located at:
Due to the fact that many weather spotters live in or around larger cities or towns, we are constantly looking for volunteers that live in more rural locations so that we can close gaps in our area of forecast and warning responsibility. But even if you happen to live in or near a city or town, we encourage you to inquire more about the program. The commitment level to be a spotter can remain low, if you want it to. Spotters are asked to participate only when they are willing and able to. We realize that people get sick from time to time, and everyone needs a vacation once in awhile. You don’t need to be available to observe the weather every minute of every day. If you are interested in becoming a weather spotter for the national weather service in Hastings, call our office and ask to be connected with the warning coordination meteorologist. Our telephone number here at the National Weather Service in Hastings is area code (402) 462-4287. Press 5 to speak with a member of the staff when prompted.
Our next question comes from a resident of Kansas. This person has asked why tornadoes occur more frequently in the central and southern plains states, as opposed to many other locations around the United States. To begin with, it can easily be said that the central and southern plains more frequently experience the world’s most severe weather with this region having aptly been given the nickname of “tornado alley”.
Extreme and frequent severe weather occurs in this portion of the United States for the main reason that the three ingredients needed for the production of strong thunderstorms are frequently available. The first of these three ingredients is moisture. Especially from March to October, large amounts of moisture in the form of water vapor can be brought into the region from the Gulf of Mexico. The presence of moisture available for thunderstorm production is most often felt any time between late spring and early fall on very warm or hot days when we say it is “sticky”, “muggy” or “humid” outside. Moisture alone, whether we feel its presence or not, is not necessarily enough to produce a thunderstorm. The atmosphere must also be unstable. When we say that the atmosphere is unstable, this means that if air is pushed upward into the atmosphere, it will continue to rise higher on its own until it meets up with a cold and dense layer of air very high in the atmosphere at which point the rising air will not be able to rise any further. An unstable atmosphere will help to cause warm and moist air near the ground to be lifted into the atmosphere. As this warm and moist air rises higher into the sky, it will encounter colder and colder air above it. This colder air ends up cooling the warm and moist air that has been drawn up from near the ground, which causes a dramatic increase of relative humidity to a point that clouds begin to form. If an unstable atmosphere causes enough warm and moist air to condense into clouds, then a shower or thunderstorm may form. Low pressure systems, cold fronts and warm fronts, as well as daytime heating are mechanisms that help to provide instability, or lift, in the atmosphere.
Even at this point, however, one last ingredient is needed to cause a storm to be long-lasting and very dangerous. This last ingredient is wind. Winds that increase in speed and which blow from a clock-wise direction as you go higher in the atmosphere, cause “wind shear” to develop. Wind shear helps to give additional lift to a storm as well as provide rotation that a storm needs to produce tornadoes. Interestingly, all of the three elements of moisture, instability and wind shear must be in balance for long-lived tornadic thunderstorms to be produced. Too little moisture will starve a thunderstorm and keep it from growing. Too much wind will rip a developing thunderstorm apart.
It must be noted that the biggest player in the process of producing severe thunderstorms in the central plains is the Rocky Mountain chain to our west. The Rocky Mountains prevent both cold and warm air from spreading to the west and cause cold and warm air masses to maintain their separate distinctive qualities. It is the clash of these two different types of air masses, in combination with the previously mentioned moisture, instability and wind shear, which makes for supercell thunderstorms so typical to the plains.
Our next question comes from another one of our weather spotters. This person has heard National Weather Service meteorologists sometimes use the term “upper level” low when they refer to areas of low pressure in the atmosphere. This person would like to know what the difference is between an “upper level” low and a “regular” low pressure system.
Here is the answer. As meteorologists, our job is to understand what is going on with the weather from the ground all the way up to the top of the atmosphere. Over the years, we have determined that it is most useful to concentrate on certain levels of the atmosphere to get a good idea of what is going to happen with the weather. While there are basically an infinite number of levels in the atmosphere that could be studied, we as meteorologists frequently focus on what is occurring near the ground, or what we call the surface, and also what happens at around 5000 feet, 10, 000 feet, 18,000 feet and 35,000 feet. If a low pressure system is very identifiable at 18,000 feet and above, then it is sometimes referred to as an “upper level” low because this area of low pressure resides in the middle or upper part of the atmosphere. However, when there is a sufficient area of low pressure in the middle or upper part of the atmosphere so that it can be referred to as an “upper level” low, there is usually some sort of low pressure component evident at the surface. This will typically be found in the form of a cold or warm front or both.
“Regular” low pressure systems, as a whole, frequently have both an upper level component and extend down to the ground where we experience a surface component such as a front. The use of the “upper level” level low term and the “low pressure system” term basically depends on what language each meteorologist is most comfortable with when describing the meteorological situation.
A resident of Gothenburg submitted our next question to be answered. This person says that they have heard that rings, or rainbows, around the sun or moon mean that the weather is going to change. They have also heard that rainbows around the sun are called sun dogs. This person would like to know what causes rainbows around the moon or sun, and also, does the appearance of these rainbows mean that the weather is going to change. And if the weather changes, what will it change to?
To begin with, rings, or halos, around the sun or the moon are an indication that sunlight (or moonlight) is being bent by thin ice crystal clouds called cirrus high up in the atmosphere. Cirrus clouds frequently precede the arrival of a low pressure system and weather conditions may change abruptly and become quite stormy in the next 24 to 48 hours after these cirrus clouds are first noticed. However, cirrus clouds do not always indicate that a low pressure system will approach. Cirrus clouds can simply exist in the upper parts of the atmosphere with no connection to a large-scale low pressure system at all. To add to this, jet airplanes frequently leave contrails high in the sky which are actually made up of thin ice crystals, similar to the ones found in cirrus clouds, that form from the moisture left over in jet engine exhaust. These contrails can cause rings, or parts of rings, to form around the sun or the moon, but when these rings form, they are not usually nearly as striking as rings formed when sunlight or moonlight shines through large cirrus cloud decks. Sun dogs, also called mock suns, are colored, luminous spots that form in the halo around the sun in a horizontal line on either side of the sun. Sun dogs are most easily seen when the sun is at a low angle relative to the horizon of the earth when we look into the sky.
A weather spotter from Stockton would like to know what other emergency information, besides weather information, we are prepared to broadcast on NOAA all hazards weather radio. Additionally, the spotter would like to know if we are tied into Homeland security…the Nebraska department of roads, the Nebraska state patrol, the Kansas highway patrol or the bureau of land management?
The answer to this question can be found in the very name of this broadcast. The NOAA weather radio broadcast is now defined as an “all hazards” radio broadcast as you have already heard me mention a few times before now. Because of our ability to get messages out to a very large audience, we have made agreements with several federal, state and local agencies where the agencies can call the national weather service and ask us to broadcast the important safety information they want to disseminate. This includes Amber alerts and information about hazardous materials releases.
Our spotter has also inquired about digital readout abilities on NOAA weather Radio units. This person wants to know if radios with digital capabilities differ greatly from radios with only audio broadcasts. This question was asked because our spotter knows someone with a NOAA weather radio that can give updates on things like tornado warnings without triggering the alert tone.
The type of NOAA weather radio this person is referring to has something called SAME (that’s s-a-m-e) technology built into it. SAME, or specific area message encoding technology allows the NOAA weather radioowner to program into the NOAA weather radio unit only those codes for geographic areas they are interested in staying informed about the weather. National Weather Service warning information for areas not included in someone’s choice of radio coding will not be broadcast, or alerted for, on their radio. For assistance with programming your NOAA weather radio unit, please feel free to call us here at the National Weather Service office in Hastings at area code 402-462-4287, and when prompted press 5 to reach a member of our staff.
Our last topic has been added for a gentleman that called the office just this past Tuesday afternoon. He called to inquire if we could repeat the hourly temperatures for Grand Island and Hastings at the end of the product cycle or at the conclusion of the hourly weather product.
To this gentleman I would like to say that we have spoken to our Information Technology Officer and we have been told that there is a repeat functionality we can use to get this accomplished. Please look for this to be added to the programming cycle soon.
Our time for this live NOAA Weather Radio show has come to an end. As previously mentioned at the beginning of this program, we encourage you to submit feedback to us as to whether or not you liked this program. Also, we would be interested in hearing your ideas as to how to make this type of program better if we are to do it again in the future. To submit your feedback, please go to the Hastings National Weather Service web site at: weather.gov/hastings after accessing the site, click on the “NOAA All-Hazards Weather Radio Show Transcript" headline that will appear toward the center of the top of the page. This will take you to a page where you can leave your feedback, as
well as read the entire transcript from this show.
Additionally, we are interested in receiving feedback regarding any of our products and services you use throughout the year. Feedback just helps us to do our jobs better and provide you with more of the things you can use. Please contact us by phone, mail or through electronic methods when you want to get a hold of us. As previously mentioned, our phone number is area code 402-462-4287. If you would like to send us a letter through the mail, I will tell you the address in a moment after giving you a chance to get some paper and something to write with. Our address here at the weather office is:
National Weather Service
6365 Osborne Drive West
Hastings, NE 68901-9163
Also, you may send an email to the Hastings National Weather Service web master at:
Before signing off, I would like to tell you about Winter Weather Awareness days. These will be conducted on November 9th in Nebraska and on November 15th in Kansas. Please refer to the Hastings National Weather Service page in the next week or two for more information about this upcoming event.