Winds of warning

New transmitter keeps residents on top of imposing weather

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When a Dinosaur man saw a funnel cloud touch down and cross Highway 40 in September, he called the National Weather Service.

This was the first tornado warning ever issued in Northwest Colorado.

However, those days of warnings sent out by telephone are now over.

A new National Weather Service transmitter began operating Oct. 13 in Northwest Colorado, a device that drastically improves upon the archaic process once used to spread the word about imposing weather.

Next week, the system will complete its 30-day trial period and become an officially authorized radio station. The station's call letters will be KWN 56.

The broadcasts, which contain standard weather information from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, originate at an NOAA station in Grand Junction and are broadcast from atop Walton Peak in Routt County.

In an emergency, a special signal is sent that will activate emergency weather radios across the broadcast area. The radios warn residents of approaching blizzards, potential floods, and severe thunderstorms.

The transmitters will not set off the radios for normal winter storm warnings, said Jim Pringle, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

"Normally, the station plays weather information in a five-minute repeating broadcast," Pringle said. "In an emergency, it signals radios set in an 'alert mode' to broadcast warnings of the impending danger."

Pringle said the system was conceived in 1977, and, one by one, the emergency towers began warning listeners of weather dangers. The newest tower near Rabbit Ears Pass is the 11th in a proposed 12-tower system for Colorado.

The Walton Peak tower reaches an area that includes Moffat, Routt, Grand, Jackson, and Summit counties.

The signal is broadcast at 162.525 megahertz, and emergency weather radios cost about $20 to purchase.

Regular radios cannot pick up the weather report signal.

Pringle said that in a non-weather emergency the broadcast could be used for other purposes.

"Emergency managers can contact us and we will activate the Emergency Alert System," he said.

Radios can be programmed to alert only when a specific county is on weather alert, or for specific weather events, such as when a flash-flood warning is broadcast.

There are currently 900 weather stations broadcasting across the United States.

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