Space & Innovation

National Weather Service to Forecast More Gently

The National Weather Service said today it will no longer deliver the forecast in ALL CAPS. Continue reading →

Stop the presses: The National Weather Service announced today that it's going to stop issuing weather reports in ALL CAPS. Believe us, we're as shocked as you are - well, probably more - because we've gotten used to the format even thought it seems RATHER ALARMING no matter WHAT'S BEING REPORTED.

AFTERNOON SHOWERS? Alarming. CLASS 5 HURRICANE. Very alarming. WINTRY MIX. OK, I'm typing from under my desk now -- and I've got enough provisions for three days.

The move, says the NWS, closes the book on "the days when weather reports were sent by ‘the wire' over teleprinters, which were basically typewriters hooked up to telephone lines."

10 Things You Didn't Know About Tornadoes

National Weather Service reports are obviously the gold standard in protecting us from dangerous weather hazards. But their delivery is frequently ... shall we say less than straightforward for the casual observer.

Here's the opening for today's weather outlook:

"VALID 112000Z – 121200Z ...THERE IS AN ENH RISK OF SVR TSTMS SOUTHEAST OK..."

Oh rly? It seems designed for a pager, though it's admirably tweetable. NOAA says their all caps delivery "was carried into modern times since some customers still used old equipment."

NASA Snaps 3-D Pics Of Weather From Space

The service had been trying - and this is true - to incorporate mixed-case letters since the 1990s, which is 20 or so years by my count.

The breathlessly awaited mixed-case changeover takes place on May 11 on most platforms, such as regional forecasts. That said, severe weather alerts won't make the change until this summer.

"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, reading from a ticker tape spouted out from under a glass dome (I made that last part up).

NWS meteorologists will be still be able to choose to use all caps to warn people of dangerous threats -- which all kidding aside -- seems like a sensible way to get your attention.

This image shows how the size and distribution of raindrops varies within a storm. Blues and greens represent small raindrops that are 0.5-3.0 millimeters in size. Yellows, oranges and reds represent larger raindrops that are 4-6mm in size. A storm with a higher ratio of yellows, oranges, and reds will contain more water than a storm with a higher ratio of blues and greens.