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The Commons
News

'Extended outage' begins for weather alert station

National Weather Service hopes for new transmitter site within 30 to 60 days

Originally published in The Commons issue #426 (Wednesday, September 20, 2017). This story appeared on page A1.



MARLBORO—On Sept. 15, a southern Vermont weather-alert transmission station, WXM68, went silent.

Federal officials say the removal of the Ames Hill transmitter in Marlboro will lead to “an extended service outage” for some residents who use radio receivers to hear National Weather Service alerts.

Officials are working to finalize a replacement transmission site, and other towers in the region will broadcast weather alert information. But some places likely won’t have a signal for at least 30 days, said Stephen DiRienzo, warning coordination meteorologist in the weather service’s Albany, N.Y., office.

“We’re sorry that it’s going off the air,” DiRienzo said. “We wish it wasn’t.”

The outage affects the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s “all hazards” radio broadcasts. Billed as “the voice of the National Weather Service,” the service sends out alerts, forecasts, and other meteorological information around the clock.

Such information is available in a variety of ways — including via radio and television broadcasts; online at www.weather.gov/aly; and through Vermont’s VT-Alert system.

But some still use special radio receivers to tune into the federal government’s 24/7 weather alert service, though DiRienzo said that may have become a “small user group” in areas not affected by severe weather like tornadoes and hurricanes.

A VY connection

WXM68, the weather service’s Marlboro station, broadcasts on the frequency of 162.425 MHz and has been serving parts of Windham, Bennington and Windsor counties in southern Vermont, as well as portions of five other counties in northern Massachusetts and southwestern New Hampshire.

The site also had a Vermont Yankee connection, and that’s part of the reason for its demise.

The Vernon nuclear plant had maintained the Marlboro transmitter as part of the alert system for its emergency planning zone. But Vermont Yankee shut down at the end of 2014 and its 10-mile emergency zone was eliminated in April 2016, so Entergy, the plant’s corporate owner, no longer had any need for the transmitter at that point.

The National Weather Service subsequently picked up the tab, but officials decided that renting the Marlboro site from a private landowner had become “cost prohibitive,” DiRienzo said.

“We’ve been searching around for an alternate site for about a year, roughly,” he said.

That new site likely will be just south of the Vermont border in Leyden, Mass. But it’s not ready yet.

In the meantime, the weather service continues to broadcast from other transmitters in the area, including the Windsor transmitter (WXM44 at 162.475 MHz) in Vermont, Mt. Greylock in northwest Massachusetts (WWF48 at 162.525 MHz), and the Pack Monadnock site in southeast New Hampshire (WNG575 at 162.525 MHz).

Those transmitters, however, will not reach all of the areas that have been served by the Marlboro site.

The Windsor station covers nearly all of Windham County, except for the Deerfield River valley. The Pack Monadnock station comes in best in the towns in the Connecticut River valley. The Mount Greylock station will likely come in best in the hilltowns of Windham County.

“I don’t know how long this outage is going to be,” DiRienzo said. “It will be at least 30 days ... maybe more like 60 days.”

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