NOAA/NWS to stop 'yelling' at the public in their forecasts

From NOAA Communications: National Weather Service will stop using all caps in its forecasts

Farewell teletype, hello mixed-case characters



New forecast software is allowing the agency to break out of the days when weather reports were sent by  “the wire” over teleprinters, which were basically typewriters hooked up to telephone lines. Teleprinters only allowed the use of upper-case letters, and while the hardware and software used for weather forecasting has advanced over the last century, this holdover was carried into modern times since some customers still used old equipment.

Better late than never, but the slow change was not for lack of trying. The National Weather Service has proposed to use mixed-case letters several times since the 1990s, when widespread use of the Internet and email made teletype obsolete. In fact, in web speak, use of capital letters became synonymous with angry shouting. However, it took the next 20 years or so for users of Weather Service products to phase out the last of the old equipment that would only recognize teletype.

Recent software upgrades to the computer system that forecasters use to produce weather predictions, called AWIPS 2 (The Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System), are allowing for the change to mixed-case letters. The switch will happen on May 11, after the required 30-day notification period to give customers adequate time to prepare for the change.

“People are accustomed to reading forecasts in upper case letters and seeing mixed-case use might seem strange at first,” said NWS meteorologist Art Thomas. “It seemed strange to me until I got used to it over the course of testing the new system, but now it seems so normal,” he said.

Three forecast products will transition to mixed-case use on May 11, including area forecast discussions, public information statements and regional weather summaries. Severe weather warnings will transition this summer, with other forecasts and warnings transitioning to the new system through early next year.

Upper case letters in forecasts will not become obsolete – forecasters will have the option to use all capital letters in weather warnings to emphasize threats during extremely dangerous situations. Certain forecast products with international implications, such as aviation and shipping, will continue to use upper case letters, per international agreements that standardize weather product formats across national borders.


72 thoughts on “NOAA/NWS to stop 'yelling' at the public in their forecasts

  1. ..So they just want to make their ” DIRE ” predictions look more…..DIRE, by standing out ??

  2. Wow, graduating beyond upper case into mixed case. Can’t graduate into the 21st century too quickly.
    Hopefully they’ve upgraded from punch cards and vacuum tubes as well.

    • Perhaps they’ll start using UNICODE and give the forecasts in Klingon, where everyone should yell!

  3. I’ve lived through VACUUM TUBES and PUNCH CARDS and FORTRAN as the language of choice for most numeric computing, and DECWRITERS and CASSETTE BASIC and DOT MATRIX PRINTERS and $538 for a 30 meg drive. And the NWS is just getting around to this?

    • Mark – me too (trained as a radio tech 1963-7), but I know why the upper case text is still here – I used to work for an aviation authority from the late 60s and their flight plans and weather forecasts were all sent globally by telex. Then they computerised the telex ‘exchange’ at major airports in the late 70s, but I guess for simplicity retained the 5-hole alphanumeric format from the telex machine, and the message headers, footers and routing codes. The military did the same, using the NATO ACP127 military messaging standard which also enshrined the old telex format. I worked on a project in the 90s to update a military ACP127-based military messaging system to use email technology, but it stalled because email (Sendmail) uses personal names and addresses, rather than roles, and they didn’t have an identity management system that could securely match names to roles. Reminds me of the story about the link between Roman chariots and the Saturn rocket design!

      • The military and many civilian systems have real issues just because of all the different equipment/OS’s/software in use. Lower level programmers (Air Force initiated) at one time tried to get the Pentagon to switch to open source Linux OS’s so they could internally manage without having to screw with MS proprietary code. The Pentagon’s argument was that Microsoft was cheaper but then came all the OS/software breaks and failures and constant upgrades which were always at odds with other systems not up to date. Lots of money funneled to MS and didn’t look so cost effective after all. BUT many retired top level types rewarded with lucrative jobs later.
        Then there was ADA, which was mandated at one time, but gradually fell by the wayside. However some software managers required ADA courses for their engineers as they claimed it taught programming discipline resulting in more efficiency in the long run.

      • MS proprietary code
        as a condition of selling Windows into China, MS had to provide the Chinese with a copy of their source code. Yet the US government has not been able to negotiate such a deal. The US military uses Windows, but the Chinese have the source, while the US military doesn’t. Go figure.
        Any wonder the Chinese can hack any Windows installation. The Chinese probably were reading Hillary’s emails before she was.
        And people wonder why Trump says US politicians have no idea how to negotiate.

      • Since we’re talking about yelling FORTRAN yes. ADA no. Ada is named for Ms. Lovelace Ada was supposed to fix military software overruns. Didn’t work out so good. The market finally won

  4. I liked the idea of responding in CAPS to a text so that it would be clear what was original and what was me writing.
    Then this SHOUTING thing got started with uncalled for nastiness. Too Bad.
    I have asked the NWS about the discussions wherein a word in their glossary is shown as a link in the text. For example, the word ‘trough’ might appear a dozen times per page and each time it will be highlighted as a link. The first time is enough.
    Can they please fix that too?

  5. We love to snicker with things like this, but there was a wisdom here.
    If it’s not broke, do not fix it.
    Ponder, if you will, how reliable the far flung NWS system would have been if it had been converted to be an exclusively MS-Windows based system, in perhaps 1995.

  6. In this age of the internet, it’s surprising to see that old teletype formatting. Must be holding onto that much like some hold onto their 8-track tapes as the latest word in technology.
    So us poor suckers have to switch from analog to digital TV at government fiat but they can stick with the old because there are some nooks and crannies out there still using only teletypes?

    • Maybe it wasn’t a typo.
      Nowadays every weather event seems to “inducted” into The Hall of “Change”.

  7. I believe it was none other than Al Gore who predicted, right after he invented the Internet, that Global Warming would produce a decrease in the use of upper case letters.

    • …and yet, it was worth the time for this illuminating comment.
      Don’t you just hate it when some inconsiderate blog owner makes a decision regarding content on his blog that isn’t even close to what we were hoping we would find to help us find truth in the world. But rather he makes us waste our valuable time reading this content and then forces us to help others to understand how much of our valuable time was wasted by such an irrelevancy, which I couldn’t possibly avoid?
      Just sayin’…
      oops almost forgot… /sarc

  8. I also understand that NOAA is going to place a Morse code header on all new messages like the good old days of News broadcasting:
    Example— ‘For immediate release .. – .. … .– — .-. … . – …. .- -. .– . – …. — ..- –. …. -‘

    • What is that? It doesn’t help that html mashes some of the characters together. When I copied it onto a text editor it complained about non-ascii characters.
      I used to be competent at morse. I am aware of railroad morse. What you have given us looks like neither.
      ..  –      .-..  —  —  -.-  …      .-..  ..  -.-  .      -.-.  .-.  .-  .–.      –  —      —  .      .-.-.-
      The above renders properly in my browser. YMMV

      • … but it clearly didn’t survive wordpress.
        dit dit   dah
        dit dah dit dit   dah dah dah   dah dah dah   dah dit dah   dit dit dit
        dit dah dit dit   dit dit   dah dit dah   dit
        dah dit dah dit   dit dah dit   dit dah   dit dah dah dit
        dah   dah dah dah
        dah dah   dit   dit dah dit dah dit dah

  9. well perhaps the “weathermen” will stop with the “severe” this and that along with the weather map color scheme that has 70 degrees F looking like an uncomfortable burning orange-red. When did 70F become an uncomfortable temperature for humans?
    PS – I have sent many emails and letters to the local stations to ask them to stop the hyperbole but alas they blame it all on NWS and the feds….

    • Most of the terms used on official weather forecasts have specific agreed upon meanings and conditions of use for uniformity. There is a published lexicon for most weather reporting terms. The problem for weather forecasters is how to avoid trivializing a weather event when it presents. If a potential event is not presently severe, but the potential exists, a forecasting conundrum exists – how much warning time is publicly appropriate in the transition from non-severe to severe? The timeline can be minutes, even seconds. If nothing materializes, forecasters are accused of “crying wolf”. If they don’t warn early enough, they’re accused of failing to warn. Some advance warnings suggest conditions that will take significant, potentially long term, preparation by the general public, but the actual severe event may be hours away from materializing and may not even, depending on what the atmosphere is up to.

  10. Now I wonder how many hundred years it will take them to be able to use bold [I can’t do it here!] to emphasize a vital message?

    • Why wait until May 11th? Why not start now – today. I can talk into my I Phone in English and it comes out in Spanish (in upper and lower case, where appropriate). Maybe NOAA can install an app to rectify the situation (NOW).

  11. I don’t know where the notion/convention began that caps equals SHOUTING. It’s silly & dumb. Bunch of thin skins getting their panties in a knot over nothing. Maybe they like them in knot and any excuse will do.

    • caps equals SHOUTING
      so how come everyone still shouts the first letter of every sentence? those in the know now recognize that I’ve avoided capitals for years not because I’m too lazy to press the shift key, except when the spell checker does it for me, but strictly as an example to the climate challenged of exceedingly good net-manners.

      • As I’ve lived the entire history of The Net, I can report that: the “caps as shouting” is a relatively new thing (post HTML). Caps originally meant the same as bold or an abbreviation, (especially in the days when bold and fonts were not available, like pre-Apple… yes, there really was a time B.A….) and as the HTML tags are a PITA on a pseudokeyboard tablet, I STILL use caps for bold like emphasis.
        Folks who consider it to always mean shouting as just such noobs… IMHO, of course… 😉

      • It is not caps per se, but exessive caps. Similarly with bold. Emphasis where appropriate is fine and useful, but if we use all caps, or all bold, it does not help with understanding but gets in the way, like shouting. Using all bold is similar to using all caps in my opinion. OF COURSE USING BOTH IS THE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS AND INDICATES MY WORDS ARE IMPORTANT Not

  12. Still produced using QWERTY key boards even if no longer upper case only. For the same reason the world did not convert to ESPERANTO as the ‘rational’ international language. The inertia equivalent thingy in human social learning.
    So, according to social media, did I just shout qwerty and esperanto? If so another reason not to socialize via asocially inpersonable ‘social’ media where trolls hide behind avatars.

    • It’s probably more to do with Esperanto being dysfunctional and about as “rational” as Quenya. Possibly less so.

  13. “However, it took the next 20 years or so for users of Weather Service products to phase out the last of the old equipment that would only recognize teletype”
    Hmm 20 years. So wouldn’t that length of time qualify them for Climate?

  14. I think there should be even more possibilities to intensify the warning. First stage would be Capital Initial Letters. Next stage would be ALL CAPS. Third stage would ALL CAPS, BOLD TYPE. Fourth stage would be BRIGHT RED, ALL CAPS, SOUNDTRACK WITH SIRENS AND GUNFIRE. The fourth stage would, of course, be reserved for truly cataclysmic events, such as snow squalls on the Super Bowl or a rainstorm on the Indy 500.

  15. I remember, as a boy scout in the ’50s visiting “Wold Chamberlain” airfield. It’s now the MSP international airport. The things that impressed me the most were the teletype machine, printing words as fast as you could read (as a fifth grader) and actual weather maps from the facsimile machine (a “fax”). Even more impressive was in 1965, when the Dominion Observatory in Ottawa intercepted the Russian transmissions from the moon, and produced “fax” images from THE MOON.

  16. Interesting, but inconsequential. I never had any difficulty reading or understanding text in all capitals, and I do not consider it as shouting. On the other hand, conforming to the accepted standards of grammar is a good thing. If the conversion can be accomplished with a minimum of expense, I am in favor.

  17. Upper/lower case does not exist in Morse Code – the earliest mode of weather broadcasting.

  18. You mean people are so inflexible they couldn’t adapt to someone using all caps? Scary, it is.
    (Honestly, I never noticed. I read the words, not the case of the letters.)

  19. Who cares if its upper or lower case – I’d just want them to get a three day forecast correct once in a while.

  20. People forget that a lot of the older “telex” type communications is/was sent by HF radio, for both maritime and aviation needs. Until the advent of satellite communications with its SHF capability, HF didn’t have bandwidth capacity to efficiently handle the “internet” type comms like TCP/IP. There was a lot of HF equipment, including automated relay stations scattered around the world, in place to facilitate the global network of weather and other data. Maritime AMVERS and other systems are slowly changing all of that but it’s not quite a rapid and linear change.

  21. Everybody knows 8-bit ASCII is just a fad and we’ll be back to 7-bit Baudot very soon. There’s a 97% concensus that Baudot is superior to ASCII. Just ask anybody stuck with a Model 15 Teletype machine taking up space in his hamshack….(c;]
    On a more serious note off topic, this weeks average termperatures in Charleston, SC, is 10F below normal. This isn’t funny any more! My heater is running!


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