BREAKING NEWS: National Weather Service to send out super-res reflectivity and velocity products on or about December 1, 2021

WSR-88D Radar
Want super-res level 3 radar reflectivity and velocity products? Soon, it will be available to everyone!

On August 4, 2021, AllisonHouse was informed of an upcoming planned major change by the National Weather Service (NWS) and the Radar Operations Center (ROC). Behind the scenes, I have requested this to happen for a *decade*, and now, it’s finally happening!

Beginning on or about December 1, 2021, “standard definition”, or standard resolution level 3 base reflectivity and velocity products, will no longer be sent on the National Weather Service primary data feed, known as NOAAport. We receive this feed from our satellite dish in Oklahoma City in real-time.

If the planned change is executed without incident or delay, super-res base reflectivity and velocity products will replace those lower-resolution products on December 1, 2021. If you subscribe to AllisonHouse, the change should be largely transparent and without issue, with the following caveat: I am quite sure that new versions of your favorite Level 3 radar display software may be needed to decode these new products. Keep watching your app support/social media pages for the latest information.

We will be losing Echo Tops from the data feed, but these can still be found on the NWS raw data websites, and we will likely be pulling that product from there.

So, an obvious question: Why do we need AllisonHouse now if the super-res products will be available on public NWS servers?
Remember, we bypass the clogged NWS data servers that now have download restrictions on them. We also have redundant ways to get the radar, by the fastest methods possible. Not to mention, all of the other data you get such as ENTLN and GOES GLM lightning, watches, advisories, warning, statements, GOES-16/17 imagery, and much more, making us an incredible value!

ANY weather software producer that handles level 3 radar data (including GRLevel3 and RadarScope) will need to update their software to be able to handle the new data. I can reassure you, that generally will not be a problem for them, but it might be for you as you will have to update your software as soon as it becomes available. We’ll have updates closer to the switchover date. However, I suspect this might be delayed somewhat past December 1, as some other vendors may not be able to handle this in time for the deadline. But, hopefully, IF it is delayed, it may only be by a few months. We will see!

The future of NOAA Weather Radio backhaul? Cellular

The National Weather Service is changing how they get the NOAA Weather Radio audio to their transmitter sites. Douglas Fehr/Unsplash

The National Weather Service (NWS)’ NOAA Weather Radio gives you life-saving weather alerts from blizzard to tornado, flash flood, and severe thunderstorm warnings. But, do you know how that audio and those alerts reliably gets to your weather radio?

It starts at your local National Weather Service office. From there, it traditionally goes from copper phone lines to fiber at the local phone switching center, then back to copper in the closest switching center to the transmitter, and then to the transmitter itself, where the dual copper phone line gives the audio to the transmitter that you hear on your radios.

But, this is now 2021. Many broadcast towers just have fiber to them. And many more don’t even have that: the phone and Internet on the cell tower are received, or “backhauled”, via a microwave antenna…and that microwaved signal is received from a phone switching center many miles away.

So what happens when the National Weather Service needs to move their NOAA Weather Radio station to a new tower that has no copper connections? They’ve been asking that question to reduce costs and increase reliability. We now know the answer to that question.

On May 28, 2021, NOAA Weather Radio station WXJ-76 in Champaign, Illinois became one of the first (there are a few others that beat them) NOAA Weather Radio stations to receive the broadcast using cell phone technology. Here’s what the National Weather Service (NWS) says about it:

“The broadcast originates at the NWS office in Lincoln, Illinois. The signal is sent from the NWS Lincoln office through cell towers to reception equipment at the tower site. WXJ-76 is one of the first NOAA Weather Radio sites in the country to use cellular phone service to relay broadcast signals (most weather radios rely on landline phone service).”

But, you might protest, won’t this affect reliability? The answer is that it shouldn’t. The cellular receive antenna for WXJ-76 is far better than on the best smartphone you can buy. If one tower goes down, it can pick up the signal from several other towers. Storm chasers know that with a signal booster, cellular signals in west Texas are known to go out over 40 miles! With an external antenna, a 20 mile range is doable. Is overloading a concern? Even if a tower becomes overloaded, prioritized traffic can still get through, even when, for consumers, they may be out of luck. I was in Galena, IL on a Memorial Day weekend, and I had *zero* bars of coverage. Oh, my provider has multiple cell towers there; they were just overloaded. But priority traffic can and will still get through.

Furthermore, in the next 3 years, 5G will be everywhere. As it is, the NOAA cellular broadcast is mostly just going over their provider’s network connection. And, with 5G, there is no “voice” channel on the cell towers, just the data/Internet channel. That’s it. With 5G, the cell towers become glorified 5-10 mile radius Wi-Fi hotspots (larger range with an external antenna, as mentioned above). And since copper phone lines are being abandoned, and with 5G being able to handle a lot more capacity, the future for data transmission to remote towers is via microwave antennas on the tower, sending and receiving the Internet “signal”. And, that’s happening in many cases already, right now. Do you see a big circular dish (or more than one) on a cell tower? That tower is getting the 4G voice and Internet and, where the equipment has been installed, lower-end 5G signal via that microwave antenna.

Adding to the changeover to cellular: analog landline/Internet and low-end fiber connection prices (think DSL) are going through the roof for commercial customers this year, and that is intentional so that users are forced to switch to a much more modern and faster technology….cellular! An FM radio station with a tower just southeast of Kirkland, IL out in the middle of a cornfield just switched to cellular after their DSL Internet costs to get the audio to their transmitter site more than tripled in one month. The station sounds better than ever on cellular, and the downtime has been zero. They use two cellular providers for redundancy, and they never have had issues since the switchover.

Welcome to the future of NOAA Weather Radio, in getting the audio to the transmitter sites (known as a “backhaul” feed, or how you get the signal to the transmitter). By being available to nearly every tower, the Weather Service now has more options if a tower becomes abandoned, unusable, or is no longer wanted by the hosting party. And look for improved audio clarity and fidelity, along with high reliability. The future looks (and sounds) good for NOAA Weather Radio!

GOES-T will replace GOES-17…next year!

It’s now official: GOES-T will replace GOES-17 next year.

As many weather enthusiasts may know, GOES-17, aka GOES-WEST, has a problem with its cooling system. It has a faulty design that is seen in both GOES-16 and GOES-17, but thanks to debris inside the cooling system, the issue is worse in GOES-17. In GOES-16, temperatures get very warm, but not hot enough to cause problems with the image sensor. But on GOES-17, it gets very hot…to the point where, during various weeks of the year, the imager has to be shut down for 8 hours a day.

Enter GOES-T and GOES-U. GOES-T was scheduled to launch in 2020, and GOES-U is still scheduled to launch in 2024. But, after the problems with GOES-16 and 17 were discovered and replicated here on Earth, the cooling system had to be redesigned, and tested on both satellites.

And then, COVID struck.

So now, workers had to stop work, and then take extra precautions in working on the new satellite. Thankfully, a redesign of the cooling system didn’t take too long, and NOAA announced on June 24, 2021 that they will launch, weather and satellite permitting, GOES-T into space on December 7, 2021. And, they also announced that after successful testing and positioning, it will then become GOES-WEST early in 2022. GOES-17 will then be shut down and placed into standby mode.

That is an incredible 4-year timeline acceleration plan! GOES-T/GOES-18 was supposed to be launched in 2020, and then put into storage for 4 years before replacing GOES-17. But, the problems with GOES-17 have necessitated pushing up that schedule dramatically.

Of course, you may have this question: So, what’s different about GOES-17, versus GOES-T, aka the upcoming new GOES-18? Well, there *generally* isn’t a difference to the casual user. It won’t be like going from GOES-15 to GOES-16, the latter of which, of course, blew our minds and also accelerated the shutdown of GOES-15. 30-second imagery for hurricanes was just pure eye candy…and a huge help to meteorologists. Furthermore, we got a lot more channels to see things like fires, haze/fog, and we also enjoyed a much higher resolution of imagery versus what was available on GOES-15. The differences between GOES-15 to GOES-16 was nothing short of a revolution in satellite meteorology.

The difference between GOES-17 and GOES-18 is an evolution. Even so, here are the key improvements you’ll see:

1. Space weather monitoring. OK, this actually IS a revolution. It has a much improved magnetometer, so we will be able to monitor sunspots, flares and other shenanigans on the sun considerably better than we can right now. For those who watch the Northern Lights, this will help us see eruptions of sunspots and flares better that hit our planet and cause the streaks and bands of light we love. It also can better tell us if those flares are benign, or dangerous to our planet, and give us better warning.

2. Is your boat or ship in distress? Chances are you’ll use SARSAT in the open waters of the Pacific to contact help. GOES-T/18 has an improved receiver on it, which means that even with a low power radio, you’re more likely to be heard from the satellite.

Otherwise, the spatial and temporal resolution of the ABI imager remains exactly the same. Still, these improvements are significant, and will be nice, if all goes well (pun intended!), to have imagery 24/7/365 without wondering if the satellite will have an issue.

The scheduled launch date of GOES-T is December 7, 2021 at 4:40 PM ET from Cape Canaveral’s SLC-41 launch pad. We’ll be watching!

GOES-17 satellite artist image