New tower should keep county alert to bad weather

Just south of Abilene is a new red and white tower standing weather guard and ready for service for a multiple-county area, including Marion County.

“I wouldn’t be without one,” said Brad Seacat, owner of Marion’s True Value. “They provide you with peace of mind.”

The Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides a weather radio service as part of a public service program.

NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) is a nationwide network of radio stations which broadcast continuous weather information direct from a National Weather Service office.

A special radio or scanner is required to pick up the signals. Broadcasts are found in the public service band between 162.400 and 162.500 MHz.

The service, working with the Federal Communications Commission’s new Emergency Alert System, is the single source for the most comprehensive weather and emergency information available to the public.

According to Cora Friesen, manager of Radio Shack/Quick Flick in Hillsboro, in addition to weather warnings and watches, NWR also broadcasts warnings and post-event information for all types of hazards such as earthquakes, volcano activity, chemical releases or oil spills.

Known as the “Voice of the National Weather Service,” NWR’s network has more than 480 transmitters which cover all 50 states, adjacent coastal waters, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the U.S. Pacific Territories.

Previously, the two nearest weather towers transmitting weather information were located in the Wichita area and Concordia. The new tower near Abilene should send even stronger signals into this area.

“The tower signals we had before didn’t work as well as we had hoped,” Friesen said. “I think this new tower will help the signals come through much clearer.”

NOAA Weather Radio receivers come in a variety of sizes, styles and prices, ranging from $30 to $100 or more depending on the quality of receiver and the number of features.

Probably the most important feature would be the alarm tone. This allows the radio to be quiet until a watch or warning is broadcast, at which time the alarm will sound.

“It’s so nice,” said Seacat, “to have it be quiet, and only go off when there’s something you need to know about. It will wake you out of a dead sleep.”

Many newer receivers have the Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) option, which means the receiver will turn itself on from a silent mode when the digital code is broadcast before the alarm tone is sounded for the geographic area that has been preselected.

“People like to be able to select their areas,” Friesen said. “They can choose whatever counties they are concerned about, and not have to worry or listen to what is happening out in western Kansas.”

Friesen also pointed out that families living away from cities with tornado sirens benefit from weather radios, as do families who do not use radios or televisions. For them, it becomes a safety tool.

Several automobile manufacturers, including BMW, Mercedes, Range Rover and Saab, equip their cars with radios capable of receiving NWR broadcasts.

Manufacturers of citizen-band radios with NWR channels include Cobra, Maxon, Midland, Radio Shack and Uniden.

Some weather radios are designed to be attached to other attention-getting devices such as a strobe light, bed-shakers, personal computers and test printers for the hearing and visually impaired.

The NOAA Weather Radio Network has several plans for the future, including placing NOAA Weather Radio receivers in local schools and other public gathering places.

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