Storm warnings take new tone of voice

From Orlando, Fla., at a meeting of the American Meteorological Society

In January, the National Weather Service began testing new computer-generated voices for the agencys broadcasts of severe weather warnings. By the end of March, the new voices will replace the computerized voice thats been used since 1997.

The service, a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), provides on NOAA Weather Radio general forecasts, severe weather warnings or watches, and hazard warnings for lakes and other bodies of water. Those broadcasts are generated in 121 forecast offices and are beamed from more than 650 transmitters nationwide. More than 92 percent of the U.S. population, including residents from Puerto Rico to Guam, can hear the broadcasts, says Jack Kelly, director of the National Weather Service.

The service automated its radio voice in 1997, which enabled the agency to get severe-weather warnings on the air in as little as 15 seconds. Before then, when forecasters had to record the warnings on tape, the process took as long as 2 minutes, Kelly notes. That gain, however, came at a price. The synthesized voice used in the broadcasts since 1997–officially dubbed Paul but which some NOAA personnel refer to as Igor because of its mechanical pronunciation–can be difficult to understand.

NOAA is testing the new voices at forecast offices in Mt. Holly, N.J., Melbourne, Fla., Des Moines, Iowa, Portland, Ore., and Atlanta. The computer databases that generate those voices–a male dubbed Craig and a female named Donna–include options to produce phonetic pronunciations and can therefore be fine-tuned for each region.

But dont expect the voices generated at Texas or Georgia forecast offices to have a drawl or say, Yall.

Kelly says the databases will be adjusted primarily to ensure that Craig and Donna correctly pronounce some geographical names from Native American or other non-English languages.

Craig and Donna–and, for now, Paul–can be heard on the NOAA Weather Radio Web site at

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