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NOAA Transmitter Failure During Hurricane Florence

rescue161

KE4FHH
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#1
Well, we made it through the storm. My wife and I remained in our house during the event and although I've been through many hurricanes and typhoons, this one stands out as one of the worst. Our house is 8 air-miles to the beach and sits in Onslow County, NC. We had a generator with 35 gallons of fuel, which was enough to power a small TV, the refrigerator, a window unit air conditioner and a few low-wattage lights for almost 4 days. We had enough water for 4 days and a pool in the back with 10800 gallons of water if we needed to flush the toilets, etc. I have a Midland WR-120EZ weather radio that always works whenever the SAME alerts go out. That weather radio did not function during the worst of the worst of Hurricane Florence. Below are the details of the events leading up to my finding out about the failure.

13 Sep - Wind was picking up throughout the day. Late in the afternoon, my neighbor's trees began to lose large branches of about 8 inches in diameter; some being 20 feet in length. We remained in the house, but moved to the center of the house away from the outer walls due to the potential of falling trees. At 2010, the power went out. I started the generator and we ran the small TV on an antenna and the fridge. Normal local news TV OTA channels are 7, 9 & 12. Channel 12 studio flooded and they went off the air and remained off-air until after the storm several days later. We did not sleep all night as the storm increased in intensity throughout the night and into the next day. Our weather radio alerted several times early in the day, as did our cell phones. My Wife asked if the weather radio would alert with the power off and I assured her that it had backup batteries and would function for 3 days without power. I moved the radio to the room where we were so we could hear it if it alerted as the wind and rain was very loud in the house. While I was moving the radio, I hit the monitor bar and noted the squelch hash instead of the normal NOAA digital voice. I passed my concerns to the ARES Coordinator and he then notified the NWS that their Newport transmitter was down. One of my neighbors, two houses away, lost the entire roof of their two-story home.

14 Sep - Wind was very strong all day. We could no longer pick up Channel 9, so channel 7 was our only means of news. They were reporting tornado warnings just North of us throughout the day. We have a brick house and it sounded like our roof was being blown off, but what really scared me was the floor was shaking in the house. Channel 7 began to go in and out, but the tornado warnings were getting closer to our location. I then got very worried as we were no longer picking up channel 7. I tried to access the internet on my phone, but there was no signal. That would have been a great time to have the NOAA radio to let us know if tornados were getting close, but it was still out.

15 Sep - Still very windy, rainy and no power, no cell, no internet and no NOAA broadcasts. Lots of damage on roof. A lot of missing shingles and small leaks.

16 Sep - Ran out of fuel for the generator. Gas was scarce as most stations did not have power and ones that did have generator power ran out of gas quickly. Lines were very long and frustrations were growing fo everyone. Found gas and restarted the generator. NOAA still not working. No power, no internet, no cell coverage. No tarps available anywhere that was open.

17 Sep - Got more gas. Can't find tarps anywhere. No power, no NOAA, no cell, no internet.

19 Sep - Finally got power, but cell service, internet and NOAA still down.

21 Sep - Finally got cell service. Cable TV and internet still down. The NOAA transmitter is still not functioning.

I realize that there are things that happen, but I work in the communications industry and being without critical infrastructure is not the right answer. You always have a backup to the backup. I have no idea what happened to their transmitter, but I find it unacceptable to leave Eastern North Carolina without some means of notification of deadly weather. As of right now, the NOAA radio is still not picking up the Newport transmitter.
 
Joined
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Messages
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Location
Cary, NC
#2
What is the next closest transmitter to you besides the one that was down? I'm in Raleigh and can pick up the Garner and Chapel Hill transmitters easily.
 

lou9155

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shamong nj
#3
that must have been an unbelievable experience...i just cant imagine....sounds like you and your wife made it thru unhurt. hows the home?...any flooding or roof/window issues?....my wife would have been impossible to deal with..a nervous wreck in that situation lol.....
 
Joined
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Messages
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#5
Here in Orlando I used to have my weather receiver set to alert on loss of signal. Unfortunately it alerted all the time as the 162.475 weather transmitter in Melbourne FL proved to be very erratic.

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rescue161

KE4FHH
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Hubert, NC
#6
Roof suffered some damage. Loss of a bunch of shingles and felt/tar paper. Exposed wood in some spots with small leaks. Insurance adjuster said it could be up to two weeks before they could get to us, so we put tarps over the damage. Luckily, my neighbor evacuated to Mississippi, so he was able to grab some tarps on his way back. There were a lot of power lines down. Our power company put out an email this morning that stated that 71,000 people lost power due to Florence and as of last night, they had reduced that number to 450! Those linemen worked their butts off and we thank them for everything that they did and are still doing. There was significant flooding and storm surge, some of which washed out a portion of the road that we are on three houses down.

As far as the NWS transmitter goes, both of the transmitters that serve our area went offline. I think they are Newport and New Bern. The next closest is Wilmington, but it would not pick up unless I used an outside antenna and even then, they were not alerting or sending SAME codes to Onslow. Our Sky Warn spotters were having difficulty getting in touch with the NWS in Newport. A lot of people were relying on their cell phones, but as cell towers lost their power and their connection to their data centers, then all bets were off.

This was my Wife's second storm, the first being Matthew two years ago. It was very difficult for her, but we are glad that we stayed. I don't think that our house would have survived a CAT 4 as they were predicting. We were prepared to evacuate, but once it "down-graded" to a CAT 2, we decided to stay. It just took forever to move on. We saw boarded up windows with slogans, but one caught my attention. It read, "BLO SLO FLO" and I'm sure if the person that painted that board had to do it over again, he would have come up with something else...LOL
 
Joined
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Messages
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#7
...I realize that there are things that happen, but....being without critical infrastructure is not the right answer. You always have a backup to the backup...
With all due respect - In an ideal world, yes; but in a practical one, no. Very few governmental budgets are lavish enough to allow having "a backup to the backup"; and many are barely able to afford keeping a single later of infrastructure up. I'll venture a guess that NWS is much closer to the latter than the former.
 

rescue161

KE4FHH
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#8
I understand budgets, but when a government agency advertises a service, especially an emergency service, there had better be backups to backups. There is zero excuse for NWS to not have a technician on duty or other resource to fix their transmitters. The transmitters are still down as of right now.
 
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#10
Frankly, I'm not surprised that it is still down. Budgets, personnel and Murphy's Law are and will continue to be factors to be considered.
 
Joined
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Messages
547
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Tampa, FL
#11
Good luck getting super star technician to fix a submerged transmitter or no power available at the site. Even if the power is on and the transmitter is dry, if the telco infrastructure is submerged, then no link from the NWS office. Who is willing to pay another percent or 2 on their fed taxes to fund this? Unfortunately, you are solely responsible for your comfort and safety. Anyone offering to insulate you from the bad times should not be relied upon...... TT
 

rescue161

KE4FHH
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Hubert, NC
#12
That is true about responsibilities and I take sole responsibility for my actions, but there are many people out there that still think their weather radio is working great and just hasn't alerted yet. There is a false sense of security and that in of itself is dangerous. We just now got cell service back yesterday and internet today. There are a lot of folks out there that won't have power or communications services for a while and they are depending on something that isn't working and I have no doubt that they think it is working.
 

ResQguy

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#13
If it makes you feel any better, New York City - KWO35 162.550 mHz has been off the air since November 27th 2017. I’d say this is not considered high priority anymore. Which is deeply concerning.
 
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Messages
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#16
I suspect that it isn't as big a deal for the average citizen as it might be for people who frequent this board, or one of those 20 million would have stepped up with a suitable site for that transmitter.
 

rescue161

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#17
I guess it hits home for me because we volunteered to program these radios for folks as part of the WCTI TV station's "Weather Radio Wednesday" events. We've coordinated with WCTI for several years now and it is all over the news on channel 12 for several weeks at the beginning of the hurricane season. So, now the public expects this to work and when it doesn't, it not only makes the NWS look bad, it makes channel 12 and our organization look bad.

Once the public loses confidence in NOAA Weather Radio, the NWS could lose funding.
 
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#18
If it makes you feel any better, New York City - KWO35 162.550 mHz has been off the air since November 27th 2017. I’d say this is not considered high priority anymore. Which is deeply concerning.
It is a shame that the NWS isn't taking this seriously. A few years ago during hurricane season, a local radio talk show personality was bragging how his preparedness revolved around his "smartphone" to receive streaming weather alerts and news. I would hate to rely on something so complex for hurricane or tornado warnings.

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Joined
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#19
Unless there is a technical compatability issue, NWS should just pay the going rate for the lease. There are 20 million people in the area.
The cause is not reassuring for the 20 million citizens in the metro area.
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Joined
Feb 1, 2010
Messages
547
Location
Tampa, FL
#20
Rescue161,
Could I recommend your organization (Channel 12?) volunteer to house the backup (or primary) transmitter at your broadcast location? The transmitters are small, typically 2ea 5ft racks for the 1kw stations (light blue or teal green in color). Hopefully, you have decent footprint and backup power? Maybe a way to get the feed from the NWS office to your transmitter site? What do you think? TT
 
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