Cantwell-Cruz Bills to Modernize Nation’s Weather Alert Radio, Instant Messaging Service Head to Senate Floor

May 10, 2023

Bills would expand National Weather Service radio alert coverage to reach 98-99% of the United States


Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, unanimously passed two national weather bills aimed at modernizing the nation’s weather communication and radio service as the country faces increased weather disasters. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio Modernization Act and the National Weather Service Communications Improvement Act were introduced by Chair U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Both bills now head to the Senate floor.

“As severe weather events, wildfires and climate-related emergencies increase across the nation, local communities need reliable, real-time alerts to keep their families safe and homes secure,” said Sen. Cantwell. “Together, these bipartisan bills would upgrade the National Weather Service’s transmission technology, expand radio alert coverage in rural communities and repair weather radio stations across the country, including 17 stations in the State of Washington.”

“When severe storms take out communications systems in Texas and other states, Americans need a reliable hazard communication system to inform them about how to stay safe. These bills would modernize NOAA’s Weather Radio so that we have fully functioning, reliable early warning systems and the ability to reach Texans with the information they need during disasters,” said Sen. Cruz.

The NOAA Weather Radio Modernization Act would:

  • Require upgrades to outdated weather radio technology to provide reliable and continuous weather and emergency alerts.
  • Expand radio coverage to rural areas that do not currently have access to the National Weather Radio alert system.
  • Increase National Weather Radio coverage to reach 98-99% of the United States population.
  • Update National Weather Radio infrastructure and reduce reliance on copper wire transmissions – which are increasingly unreliable because copper is impacted by extreme temperature changes and severe weather.

The National Weather Service Communications Improvement Act would:

  • Improve the National Weather Service’s internal instant messaging system.
  • Implement a modern cloud system to accommodate more users and faster service. 

As many states continue to battle severe weather — several communities have faced weather radio outages, including earlier this year when National Weather Service weather radio transmitters in Nashville and Knoxville went down and were unable to send critical weather alerts to residents during storms. In 2022, the United States experienced 18 weather and climate-related disaster events that exceeded one billion dollars in damages each, resulting in nearly 500 deaths and $171.5 billion in damages.

NOAA’s National Weather Service operates a nationwide network of public radio stations that broadcast weather warnings, forecasts and emergency information 24/7. NOAA Weather Radio includes more than 1,000 transmitters, covering all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the U.S. Pacific Territories. Broadcasts include warnings, watches and forecasts for natural disasters like storms, fires, earthquakes, avalanches and even environmental hazards such as chemical or oil spills. According to NOAA, more than 400 National Weather Service transmitters will need to be replaced in the next five years.

Sen. Cantwell is a champion for climate and weather technology and authored $3.3 billion in NOAA investments in the Inflation Reduction Act to help communities prepare for and adapt to climate change, boost science needed to understand changing weather and climate patterns and invest in advanced computer technologies that are critical for extreme weather prediction and emergency response. Last year, Sen. Cantwell introduced the Fire Ready Nation Act to establish a fire weather services program within NOAA – authorizing engagement in wildfire response activities and providing funding for science and technologies to forecast weather conditions that cause and spread wildfires, as well as weather products needed on the ground to inform and protect first responders during a fire. The bill was passed out of Committee in May 2022.