Wakefield, Va. - When severe weather moves through Hampton Roads, like the tornadoes that struck Hampton and Isle of Wight County Saturday, people rely on all kinds of technology to get information to stay safe.
But if you use a NOAA Weather Radio to alert you of severe weather, you may or may not get those watches and warnings to your device over the next three to six weeks.
"Right now, if you have a weather radio in the Hampton Roads area and you turn it on, you're going to get dead air," said Jeff Orrock, Meteorologist in Charge at the National Weather Service Office in Wakefield.
He says a major hardware failure, about 600 feet high at its transmitter tower in Driver, has caused the NOAA Weather Radio System to go off the air. That system serves most of the Hampton Roads area.
"Water got into the cables awhile back evidently, and we got that real cold snap when we got almost record cold temperatures. The water froze into ice, expanded, and actually cracked the cable," said Orrock.
But if severe weather were to happen before the problem is fixed, the National Weather Service could still send alerts through the weather radio system.
"The only good news is that we can turn the system back on. The other day when we had the tornadoes come through, we did turn the weather radio system back on. It's running in a very degraded mode. The signal is garbled. We were able to send out the emergency alert tones for the tornado warnings. The catch-22 is when we turn it on in this degraded mode, it can damage the transmitter itself and cause even more damage," said Orrock.
In fact, on Saturday, when the transmitter was turned on briefly, it only covered about 15 miles at times.
So to avoid this failure in the future, crews will wire new cables and install a new antenna, which will take weeks to do just in time for severe weather season this spring.
Orrock says you can still access NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts, forecasts, and watches and warnings from apps on your mobile device or at the NWS Wakefield Office website at www.weather.gov/wakefield.