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Weather service to stop shouting

Apr 14, 2016

NWS

As everyone who uses email or the Internet knows, writing in all caps is the cyber equivalent of SHOUTING AT YOUR READERS. Yet, long after the pervasive use of electronic communications, the National Weather Service continues to demonstrate rude behavior: text-based weather forecasts are still distributed in all caps format. That will finally change on May 11, 2016, however, when NWS will transition to using both upper and lower case letters. 

The reason for all caps rests in the equipment and protocols of many decades past when forecasts were distributed over telephone lines using the teletype signaling techniques. The teletype format used electromechanical typewriters that received analog voltage pulses via phone lines (another example of voltage pulse device is a rotary dial phone). The pulses were based on 5-bit Baudot codes that were limited to sending only upper case letters. The U.S. version of the Baudot code was called ITA2 and was used exclusively for teletype until 7-bit ASCII coding was developed in 1963. 

NWS has wanted to change over to combined upper and lower case forecasts for years, but legacy software and hardware in the forecast distribution system, plus older teletype equipment still employed by some users prevented it. Now, the system has finally been updated throughout the distribution stream. As NWS stated in a press release: 

"Recent software upgrades to the computer system that forecasters use to produce weather predictions, called AWIPS 2
(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." 

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