TEXARAKANA, Texas -- As State and Federal emergency management officials begin to reflect on the human impacts and knowledge gained from the May 4 tornadoes in northeast Texas, the benefits of advance warning became clearly evident. "Early tornado warning broadcasts to residents of northeastern Texas counties on May 4 undoubtedly saved lives," said Ed Laundy, State Coordinating Officer for the Texas Department of Emergency Management.
"A lot of credit has to go to the greatly improved ability of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio Network to alert local electronic media, the public, and community emergency agencies in a timely manner" added Robert Teeri, Federal Coordinating Officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
It is the National Weather Service's goal to someday have NOAA Weather Radios in every home, school, and public facility. NOAA Weather Radios can be purchased at most electronic outlets or by mail order. A very desirable feature is an alarm tone. This allows you to have the radio turned on, but it remains quiet until a special signal is received that activates an audible warning.
On January 21, 1999, Dr. Keith Williams, Superintendent of the Beebe, Arkansas school district, was in his office when the alarm on his NOAA Weather Radio sounded at 2 p.m. Williams continued monitoring the strong line of thunderstorms that was heading his way all afternoon. It was a potentially dangerous situation. That evening, the school was to be the site for several high school basketball games. When the first game began, the National Weather Service had issued tornado warnings associated with the strong line of thunderstorms approaching Beebe.
By half time, around 6:30 p.m., NWS had issued "upstream" tornado warnings. Although it was an unpopular decision, Williams cancelled the game and evacuated the 300 to 400 fans and players. Many fans were angry about the decision, since they had paid admission for two games. However, when the tornado that completely destroyed the gymnasium struck, everyone had been evacuated. No lives were lost; no one was injured.
Weather reports and warnings like those mentioned above are broadcast directly to special radio receivers around the clock by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio network, the "Voice" of the National Weather Service (NWS). Some weather radios have the capability to receive a tone alarm signal, triggering a built-in alarm to warn listeners of severe weather announcements.
But despite real-life stories like those mentioned above, NOAA Weather Radio remains one of the best kept secrets in the United States. NOAA Weather Radio advises people of severe weather watches and warnings, buying extra time for people to react before dangerous storms hit their areas. When you're in the path of something like a tornado, minutes and seconds can mean the difference between life and death.
Weather service offices tailor their NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts to suit local needs and commercial interests. For example, broadcasts in New England may focus on marine weather conditions for recreational boaters and fishing and shipping vessels. Routine information is updated every one to three hours, and the broadcasts continuously repeat. Weather service offices immediately interrupt regular reports when a severe weather situation requires a live alert or warning. Reports air on one of seven VHF high-band FM frequencies between 162.400 and 162.550 megahertz (MHZ).
Now more than 475 transmitters are within the listening range of most of the Nation's population. In 1975, NOAA Weather Radio became the only government-operated radio system for providing direct warnings to private homes for weather and other significant hazards. It's also the primary source of information for activating the Nation's Emergency Alert System....