Starting in mid-May, your weather forecasts might seem a little nicer.
That’s not just because of warmer weather: The National Weather Service has decided to discontinue its all-caps weather forecasts, swapping in mixed-case letters by May 11.
NWS plans to deploy new forecast software that uses mixed-case letters. For decades, weather reports were sent through teleprinters -- "basically typewriters hooked up to telephone lines" that only allowed upper-case letters, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration blog post.
NWS, part of the Commerce Department, upgraded its software several years ago to accommodate mixed-case lettering and integrate information from forecasting models and weather observation into one screen, through a contract awarded to Raytheon, according to the agency. But it waited until outside partners -- which include small TV channels and the Weather Channel -- upgraded their own equipment to be able to receive and process the mixed-case lettering.
The first phase of the transition will update area forecasts, public information statements and weather summaries. Severe weather warnings will change over the summer, and the remaining forecasts and warnings will transition early next year.
“People are accustomed to reading forecasts in upper-case letters and seeing mixed-case use might seem strange at first,” NWS meteorologist Art Thomas said in the NOAA blog post. “It seemed strange to me until I got used to it over the course of testing the new system, but now it seems so normal.”
Those who will miss the stern tone of the all-caps forecasts shouldn't despair.
“Upper-case letters in forecasts will not become obsolete," the blog post said. "Forecasters will have the option to use all capital letters in weather warnings to emphasize threats during extremely dangerous situations,” such as warnings about aviation and shipping.
Thomas told Nextgov that the change isn’t just a cosmetic one -- it’s also about safety. Mixed-case lettering is more readable, he said. “We’re hoping it’ll allow our products to be better understood by the public, so that when we do issue severe tornado warnings or whatever, they understand what’s happening."