Jock satisfies his inner radio nerd with a deeper dive into NOAA weather radio

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott, who shares the following guest post:


Perhaps the ultimate radio nerd story . . .

by Jock Elliott (KB2GOM)

Perhaps I am the only guy on planet earth with a “kinda” interest in DXing NOAA weather radio, but there you have it, and this led me down an interesting rabbit hole in the world of radio.

Earlier this year, I found myself in Sodus, NY, in the western part of the state, near the shores of Lake Ontario. I had with me the following: an Icom V80 2-meter handy-talkie with a sharply tuned commercial antenna that works great on my home repeater (146.94) in Troy, NY; a Uniden BC125AT scanner with a Diamond 77 antenna, and a CCrane Skywave SSB. All receive the NOAA weather channels.

In the early morning, I checked www.wunderground.com for weather in the Sodus area. Snow was expected overnight. So I grab the Uniden 125AT, activate the weather scan function, and found that it received NOAA weather radio channels 1, 2, and 3, and the audio sounded great through my headphones. I tried stepping through the weather radio channels on my Icom V80 and found that it received channels 1, 2, and 3, but with just a wee bit of static in the background. I tried switching the antennas between the 125AT and the V80, and there was no appreciable difference.

Now, here’s the interesting part: I tried the same trick on the CCrane Skywave SSB with its telescoping whip fully extended, and it received weather channel 1 just fine with excellent audio through the headphones. But channel 2 was way down in the soup, a hair above “barely audible.” I tried waving the Skywave around, point the whip antenna in different directions and orientations to see if I could improve the signal. I succeeded only in nulling it out. Weather radio channel 3 was not audible at all, but channel 4 was coming in well, and so was channel 7 . . . and the other two radios were not receiving channels 4 and 7 at all.

Frankly, I didn’t know what to make of this. To be clear, I was able to hear that forecast that I needed to hear — for Wayne County, NY — on all three radios. But why would there be such a stark difference between the CCrane Skywave SSB and the other two radios?

At this point, I was really curious what the answer might be.

The V80 and the 125AT “agreed” with each; both were receiving NOAA weather radio channels 1, 2, 3. The CCrane Skywave SSB appeared to be the anomaly, receiving channels 1, 2 (barely), and 4 and 7, which the V80 and 125AT did not receive.

I checked, and the NOAA weather radio frequencies occupy a fairly narrow spread: each channel represents one of seven frequencies between 162.400 MHz to 162.550 MHz.

All three radios were tested in my lap at the same location and then tested again in another room within inches of each other. I turned one radio on, checked the channels it could receive, turned it off, then tested the next radio, etc. Same results in both cases.

After posting the problem on Radio Reference, one of the members, Chill1971, asked: “Did you check the actual frequencies received on the radios? Some radios number the channels from lowest to highest frequency and others use the NOAA assigned channel numbers.”

To this I replied: “Hmmmm. Interesting idea.”

This started a research project on the internet.

Modern Survival Blog reveals that NOAA weather channels may be displayed in two different ways, depending upon the manufacturer: chronological or in increasing frequency order.

The Uniden displays Channel numbers and frequencies, so: Ch. 1, 162.550; Ch. 2. 162.400; Ch. 3 162.475, etc. The Icom V80 lists only channel numbers, but no frequencies. However, it receives the same channels as the Uniden.

This appears to be the chronological sequence – the sequence to which the radio frequencies were allocated over time to the NOAA weather radio service. This is the ordered sequence used by some weather radio manufacturers:

1=162.550 Mhz
2=162.400 Mhz
3=162.475 Mhz
4=162.425 Mhz
5=162.450 Mhz
6=162.500 Mhz
7=162.525 Mhz

The CCrane Skywave SSB lists only channel numbers. But, if it follows the weather radio channels in increasing frequency, the result would be:

1=162.400 Mhz
2=162.425 Mhz
3=162.450 Mhz
4=162.475 Mhz
5=162.500 Mhz
6=162.525 Mhz
7=162.550 Mhz

If that is so, this would square up with my NOAA weather radio receiving results in Sodus, NY: the CCrane receives Ch 1, 162.400 (which is Ch. 2 on the other two radios); Ch 2, 162.425 faintly (Ch. 4 on the other radios), Ch 4, 162.475 (Ch. 3 on Uniden and Icom), and Ch 7, 162.550 (which would be Ch. 1 on the other two radios).

So all three radios are receiving the same frequencies, but with different channel numbers assigned to them . . . and the CCrane appears to be a hair more sensitive, also receiving the 162.425 channel very faintly.

As Inspector Clouseau would say: “The case is sol-ved.”

You now know more about NOAA weather radio (probably) than you ever wanted to know!

But if, like me, you think NOAA weather radio is really neat, here are a couple of resources that you might find informative and interesting:

Nationwide Station Listing Using Broadcast Frequencies

NWR Station Listing

County Coverage Listings by State

County Coverage By State

Click on the station callsign highlighted in blue for additional details, including a propagation map.

Finally, I would like to recommend a book by a fellow whose blog I read (he didn’t ask me to do this, and I have no financial interest in making the recommendation). Mike Smith was a TV weatherman who ultimately started his own weather consulting firm that helped companies (like railroads) keep their valuable rolling stock out of harm’s way. The book is Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather (SWLing Post affiliate link).

Smith was a pioneer in the use of radar to warn the public of impending tornadoes. The book is my favorite combo: a ripping good read and an excellent science story. I’ve read the Kindle version at least three times and recommend it highly to anyone with an interest in the weather.

— Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

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22 thoughts on “Jock satisfies his inner radio nerd with a deeper dive into NOAA weather radio

  1. Mario

    Jock, you are no means alone. I do the same and look for the NOAA frequencies that have the weakest signals. Using an SDR dongle is my preferred technique since I can monitor the signal of all seven NOAA channels simultaneously on SDR#’s spectral display and waterfall. Some days the very weak channels are much stronger than usual and that makes ID’ing easier.

    Interestingly, some of the Traveler’s Information Stations in the 1610 – 1710 KHz band run continuous loops of their local NOAA station’s weather broadcast.

    Great post and good luck with your DX’ing.

    Reply
  2. KV Zichi

    You don’t list (and finding an up to date reference isn’t easy!) the EnvironmentCanada stations that are assigned to the same frequencies. Those also provide weather and marine conditions but FINDING the calls and locations is somewhat haphazard from my experience (for example, Goderich Ontario recently changed frequencies and I see NO ‘web’ resources that disclose that fact.

    Does anyone know of a resource?

    Reply
  3. Tom Servo

    DXing the WX band is an unusual but no less fun aspect of our hobby! I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who does it. It doesn’t succumb to skip nearly as much as the regular FM broadcast band, but e-skip, ducting and the like CAN still happen this far up. And when it does, it’s a good bet the VHF-high TV band may be affected, too!

    Of interest is that most ham radios with wideband receive coverage make excellent WX receivers, too, because of their increased sensitivity and external antennas.

    I’m halfway between Mobile and Pensacola and can hear the weather radio channel from Mobile clearly with my desktop weather radio, while the Pensacola broadcast is very weak. But on my handheld 2m radio with a car-mount antenna, I get both very clearly as well as weaker broadcasts on the other 5 channels. If conditions are particularly good I can hear one of the coastal Louisiana broadcasts over the saltwater path to my location. I think it’s about 120-130 miles as the crow flies.

    When I lived further inland I did snag a few ~200 mile hops but it was very rare.

    Reply
    1. Jock Elliott

      Tom, I, too, am glad to know I am not alone. Your experience with Wx radio sounds really neat. Makes me wonder what a fellow could do with a small, properly tuned Yagi atop a mountain . . .

      Reply
  4. Peter L

    The first list you list has a history – that’s roughly the order that the channels were populated. 162.55 was first (in the 1970s), then 162.4 and (possibly at the same time) 162.475. The other 4 were added much later.

    A cruise through radioshackcatalogs.com might pin down the dates as they’d surely have touted that that their latest model received “all 7 channels” (and probably “no additional crystals needed!”). I just dug up the PDF of my c.1996 RS weather radio (first model with SAME!) and it lists them in frequency order.

    I’m not sure either of the listings has any official standing. I guess the NWS would be the final arbiter but I’m not sure what difference it makes … unless you could hear one that was in a different County Warning Area better than one in your own CWA. That could be a problem.

    Also, the World TV/FM DX Association publishes weather radio logs in their newsletter – https://www.wtfda.org – $10/year for an e-newsletter.

    Reply
    1. Mike N7MSD

      “The first list you list has a history – that’s roughly the order that the channels were populated. 162.55 was first (in the 1970s), then 162.4 and (possibly at the same time) 162.475. The other 4 were added much later.”

      Nail on the head! My first weather radios were from Radio Shack and they had 3 channels. The cheap one was a cube but had no crystal while the more expensive one looked like an intercom but did have the rock. Both had a switch at the bottom (had to flip the radio over) to switch between the 3 channels you list. I remember the 7-channel radios appearing sometime in the mid 80’s I think.

      There are 10 or 12 channels now; the last 2 are only in Canada for now, if I remember reading right on the EC web page.

      Finally, like any continuous transmission, I find the weather radio stations a great proxy for what’s happening on 144 & 223 MHz as well as FM broadcast (being much more narrow band). If you live where weather is bad its probably a good idea to be able to DX distant stations for no other reason than they have a tendency to go down and stay down (not many listeners & funded by 3rd parties). Many stations currently listed in the down page of NOAA have been that way for a couple of years or more now!

      Reply
  5. Troy Riedel

    Awesome, Jock – this post is much appreciated. And as an educated [and retired] synoptic weather forecaster, I also appreciate the book suggestion. I just ordered it, via the SWLing Post affiliate link.

    Reply
  6. grantbob

    “You now know more about NOAA weather radio (probably) than you ever wanted to know!”

    Yes, but I’m glad I know! Thanks!

    Reply
  7. David

    The C Crane Skywave WX channel assignments (frequencies) are listed in the instruction manual for the radio (Ch1 = lowest freq, as shown in the post).
    Environment Canada doesn’t seem to refer to the “channels”, they just list the frequencies for Canadian WX broadcasts.

    Reply
    1. Jock Elliott

      You, sir, are absolutely right. I had not looked there before, but on page 27 of the CCrane Skywave SSB manual, the Weather Band channels and frequencies are clearly presented. Thanks pointing that out.

      Of the three radios I used in that experiment, the Skywave appears to be the most sensitive on NOAA weather radio. I find it fun, when I am in a new location, to see how many weather channels I can receive and whether they are reporting forecasts for different geographic areas.

      Reply
  8. Robert Gulley

    Excellent info! That may explain my experience with seemingly receiving the same stations in different orders. Thanks!

    Reply

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