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animation slide show of photos from ribbon cutting ceremony
Photos taken at the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for the Spanish Language Early Weather Alert/Warning System, held at NWS Brownsville/Rio Grande Valley, September 3, 2014.
Spanish Language Early Weather Alert/Warning System is On the Air!
Two New Spanish–Only NOAA Weather Radio Transmitters Cover the Rio Grande Valley
Ribbon Cutting Ceremony Celebrates State, Local, and Federal Partnership to Make System Reality

BROWNSVILLE, Texas, September 3, 2014 - Elected officials, state, local, and federal government employees, and local English and Spanish language media met at National Weather Service (NWS) Brownsville/Rio Grande Valley to formally launch the Spanish Language Early Weather Alert/Warning System for residents of the Rio Grande Valley who speak or understand Spanish as their primary language. The system, which consists of two new NOAA Weather Radio transmitters located in Pharr and Harlingen, Texas, will cover all of the primary Spanish–speaking population of Hidalgo, Willacy, and Cameron County with tone alerted hazardous weather and non–weather warnings. The two transmitters join those in El Paso, Tex., Coachella, Calif., and Hialeah, Fla., making five dedicated NOAA Weather Radio stations that broadcast solely in Spanish.

The launch of the Spanish Language Early Alert/Warning System was a collaborative project that began back in 2012 with meetings among Texas State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr., U.S. Congressman Filemon Vela (TX-34th District), the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, the Texas Department of Public Safety/Texas Division of Emergency Management, the Cities of Weslaco and Donna, Texas, and the NWS (Brownsville/Rio Grande Valley, Southern Region Headquarters, and National Headquarters). A Hazard Mitigation Grant and local government and private sector contributions of a little more than $125 thousand provided the equipment, infrastructure, and human resources to successfully complete the project.

Many of those human resources included NWS employees; without them, successful implementation does not happen. These include members of the Awareness Branch of the Performance and Awareness Division of the Office of Climate, Water, and Weather Services, who shepherded the project from the National dissemination level; NWS Southern Region Headquarters, Meteorological Services Branch/Dissemination section (Melinda Bailey), who worked closely with LRGVDC and NWS Brownsville/Rio Grande Valley technical staff to ensure transmitter placement, connections, and testing were completed to specifications; and staff at NWS Brownsville/Rio Grande Valley, who:

  • Completed the implementation of phone lines and tested the connections for broadcast (Paul Schaafsma)
  • Configured the Spanish Language translation software and tested hundreds of cases to ensure successful broadcasts of routine and hazardous weather information (Pablo Gonzalez)
  • Configured the Spanish NOAA Weather Radio broadcast cycle for each location, and monitored/helped fix errors and other issues (Kirk Caceres, Douglas Butts, and Blair Scholl)
  • Listened to the test broadcasts and reviewed the translations to improve grammar, diction, and overall quality of the information (Maria M. Torres)
Front page of the invitation to the awards ceremony
Invitation to the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and Reception. Click for full size image.

A mix of elected officials, public safety and community leaders, NWS Brownsville/Rio Grande Valley Staff, and Midland Radio Corporation (image, below) spoke at the 45 minute ceremony, which was followed by the official ribbon cutting in front of the NOAA Weather Radio console in the office's operations area. Perhaps on cue, torrential rains from the outer bands associated with 2014’s Tropical Storm Dolly, drummed on the tin roof of the office as forecasters kept a vigilant weather watch for local flooding. The ceremony was yet another example of the strong relationships NWS Brownsville/Rio Grande Valley has formed and maintained over the years.

"I am delighted to see the continued growth of our early weather warning system to include the Spanish language community. It is an invaluable resource for ensuring our majority Spanish-speaking region is kept safe. Having lived through calamitous weather events like Hurricanes Dolly, Gilbert, and Beulah, our community knows too well how critical receiving prompt and accurate emergency information is to preventing loss of life and property," said Lucio, whose Texas District 27 includes Cameron, Hidalgo, and Willacy counties. "I again thank all the business and community interests that stepped up to make the system possible. I especially thank Texas Department of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd, who first alerted me to the need for this system and whose thoughtful leadership is foremost responsible for an ingenious coordinated response," Lucio said.

Steve Drillette, Meteorologist–in–Charge of the NWS Brownsville/Rio Grande Valley office, said: "NOAA Weather Radio remains a vital component of the National Weather Service mission to save lives. In a world where residents can receive hazardous weather notifications from numerous sources, NOAA Weather Radio is still the most reliable source to wake people in the middle of the night when tornadoes, floods, wind, or hail storms are imminent. We are truly grateful for the trusted relationships we have established with our local and state partners, and for their tremendous effort and dedication that made this potentially life-saving project possible."

Forecaster and Spanish Language Program Leader Maria M. Torres and Warning Coordination Meteorologist Barry Goldsmith added (translated from Spanish): "We now have two more transmitters exclusively broadcasting weather information in Spanish to alert communities, especially in some of the most vulnerable areas we serve, in the language the residents understand best. The time saved by understanding the message without translation could be enough to trigger life–protecting action during a fast moving event."

Project Garners Innovation Award!

The National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) recognized the Spanish Language Early Weather Alert/Warning System for a 2014 Innovation Award. At the 2014 NADO Annual Training Conference in Denver, Colo., a certificate was presented to the LRGVDC in honor of their efforts to bring weather and other hazardous information into communities where English is not the primary spoken language. NWS Brownsville/Rio Grande Valley Meteorologist–in–Charge Steve Drillette and Science Operations Officer Doug Butts were on business in the Denver/Boulder area, and joined Manuel Cruz, Director of Homeland Security and Criminal Justice for LRGVDC, at the event.

Manuel Cruz poses with Steve Drillette and  Doug Butts of NWS Brownsville/Rio Grande Valley at the 2014 NADO Innovation Awards Ceremony in Denver, Colo.
Innovation Award presented at the 2014 NADO Annual Training Conference. From left: Steve Brewer, Member at Large, LRGVDC Board of Directors; Manuel Cruz, LRGVDC, Peter Gregory, NADO President; Steve Drillette and Doug Butts, NWS Brownsville/Rio Grande Valley. Click for full size image.
Sequence of events for ribbon cutting ceremony
Schedule and list of speakers at the Spanish Language Early Weather Alert/Warning System ribbon cutting ceremony. Click for larger version.

Poster showing coverage areas of the new NOAA Weather radio Spanish Language transmitters
Poster showing coverage areas of the Spanish Language Early Weather Alert/Warning System, used at the ribbon cutting ceremony. Click for larger version.