NOAA Weather Radio Reception Report: Northport

VHF Marine Band radios, protocol, radio communication theory, practical advice; AIS; DSC; MMSI; EPIRB.
jimh
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NOAA Weather Radio Reception Report: Northport

Postby jimh » Sun Jul 31, 2022 8:28 am

I recently installed a three-element low-noise loop-fed vertically-polarized Yagi antenna at my cabin in Northport. The antenna is oriented with its main lobe pointing due East, and it is located in the attic, about 35-feet above the level of Lake Michigan at the shoreline. I bought this antenna several years ago to use at my home about 20-miles from the Detroit River to listen to AIS transmissions from ships in the river. The antenna was no longer in use for that purpose, so I decided it would better serve me in the Summer in northern Michigan.

The antenna is optimized for 162-MHz for AIS reception, but this works very well for NOAA Weather Radio reception, too. The driven element of the Yagi is a loop. This tends to reduce electrical noise getting into the antenna by eliminating the high impedance of the ends of a conventional Yagi element. Away from the resonant frequency, the loop element works more like a dead short across the antenna transmission line than as an antenna.

The gain of the antenna is probably in the region of 5-deciBel compared to a dipole. In VHF Marine Band antenna terminology 9-deciBel gain.

To preserve signals, the transmission line from antenna to receiver is 55-feet of Times Microwave LMR-240UF cable. The estimated loss in the transmission line at 150-Mhz is only 0.5-dB. This transmission line cost about $100 with the necessary connector costs and shipping cost from the vendor.

The VHF Marine Band Yagi antenna joins two other antennas in the attic: a long UHF Yagi television broadcast band antenna and a dipole antenna for the FM Broadcast band. Without those two antennas television and FM broadcast reception would be impossible at my location.

The receiver is an older Standard-Horizon GX1500 VHF Marine Band radio, now relegated to a monitoring radio for VHF Marine Band and NOAA Weather Radio reception.

Here is a summary of NOAA Weather Radio stations received with sufficient signal strength to clearly copy their forecast and their station identification; the list is in order of the channel numbers on my particular receiver, the frequency in MHz, the FCC callsign, the weather office producing the broadcast information, and the transmitter location:

  • WX-1 162.550 KIG74 Sault Ste. Marine; Tx at Dafters
  • WX-2 162.400 KIH22 Gaylord; Tx at Traverse City
  • WX-3 162.475 WNG572 Petoskey; Tx at Good Hart
  • WX-4 162.425 WZ2515 Marquette; Tx at Grand Marais
  • WX-5 162.400 WNG576 Marquette; Tx at Newberry
  • WX-6 162.500 WWF70 Gaylord; Tx at Waters
  • WX-7 162.525 WNG701 Detroit; Tx at Bad Axe

The time of day and weather conditions affect radio propagation. Listening early in the morning after a calm night with little wind seems to be conducive to enhanced propagation, likely due to temperature stratification in the atmosphere affecting refraction of VHF radio signals. About two hours after sunrise the weaker signals on the longer paths fade into the noise.

On WX-1 162.550 KIG74 in Sault Ste. Marine is generally good copy with some enhanced propagation. There is a lot of water in the 104-mile path from the transmitter at Dafters to Northport.

Depending on propagation at any particular time, reception on WX-1 at 162.550-MHz of KIG83 in Alpena may be possible; I heard a weak signal from them one afternoon.

Surprisingly, WX-2 at 162.400 KIH22 from Traverse City is very weak, which I attribute to the heading for this path being about 90-degrees off the main lobe of the antenna; there must be a deep null in the antenna pattern at that particular azimuth. The propagation prediction for KIH22 shows good coverage at my location.

The strongest signal is WX-3 WNG572 transmitting from Good Hart, almost an all-water 41.8-miles path to my location; it is solid and noise-free copy around the clock. Ironically, the modulation on this station is marred by significant hum on the audio.

On WX-4 162.425-MHz W2515 from Grand Marais in the Upper Peninsula requires some enhanced propagation to be heard.

On WX-5 162.400 WNG576 from Newberry in the Upper Peninsula also requires enhanced propagation to be heard.

On WX-6 162.500 WWF70 Gaylord with transmitter at Waters is generally solid copy at all times although with some noise.

On WX-7 162.525 WNG701 at Bad Axe was a complete surprise to hear on a very calm early morning. The path is a very long, all-terrain path from Bad Axe to Northport, and this reception will likely only occur sporadically.

With seven stations on the first seven channels of the weather band, this is very good reception; the usefulness of NOAA Weather Radio Broadcast stations as a means of verifying the general working of the antenna, the transmission line, and the receiver is also demonstrated by this "full house" of seven stations being heard.

I also discovered that in order to reduce local radio noise and allow reception of marginal stations, I had to unplug the charging cord from a nearby MacBook Pro 15-inch laptop. At first I thought the computer was generating the noise interference, but with some further investigation the noise was being created by the charging cord. If I had been monitoring with the laptop powered on and being charged, I would have not noticed two or three of the weaker signals. An electrically-quiet receiving location free of locally generated radio frequency noise is essential for weak signal reception.

Nothing was heard on the channels WX-8, WX-9, and WX-10. Weather Band channels, WX-8 and WX-9, are usually used in Canada.

WX-8 is 161.650-MHz. In the legacy VHF Marine Band channel plan, this was the shore station transmit frequency for semi-duplex communication to ship-to-shore on Channel 21. Channel 21 was a split channel, with ship stations transmitting on 21-A at 157.050-MHz and shore stations transmitting on 21-B at 161.650-MHz. This allowed semi-duplex operation, with the shore station operating at full duplex, that is, able to receive and transmitting simultaneously without interference, and the ship station operating at simplex, that is, only able to transmit or receive, one at a time. The old ship channel (21A) is redesignated Channel 1021 at 157.050-MHz with use in the USA reserved for the U.S. Coast Guard. The old shore station channel 161.650-MHz(21B) is now for Continuous Marine Information Broadcasts. These broadcasts are common in Canadian waters, in include weather information, sometimes in MAFOR code, along with Notice to Mariner readings.

In a similar manner the 161.775-MHz frequency was once part of Channel 83. Ships transmitted on 157.175-MHz (83A) and shore stations transmitted on 161.775 (83B). The 157.175-MHz frequency is now simplex channel 1083, with use in the USA reserved for the U.S. Coast Guard. The old shore station channel 161.775-MHz (83B) is now allocated for Continuous Marine Information Broadcasts.

A tenth weather channel is at allocated at 162.275-MHz for NOAA Weather Radio, but I don't recall ever hearing a station on that channel.

As far as I know there is no "official" assignment of channel numbers to these weather broadcast channels, but many VHF Marine Band radios follow the numbering convention mentioned above. The WIKIPEDIA.COM article on "weather radio" goes into more history and details: see

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weather_radio

ASIDE: we used to spend most of our time boating in Canadian waters, and we enjoyed listening to the Continuous Marine Information Broadcasts, which in those days were often read by actual human beings instead of automated voices. The Canadian stations in Ontario usually had a radio operator with a Scottish accent, which added to the notion of being in a foreign country. We got all our weather data from those broadcasts. This was long before the internet and getting an internet WiFi connection in every marina.

Our favorite station was Wiarton Coast Guard Radio, which broadcast on several frequencies simultaneously. We were always in range of their signal throughout the North Channel and Georgian Bay of Lake Huron.

jimh
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Re: NOAA Weather Radio Reception Report: Northport

Postby jimh » Tue Aug 02, 2022 9:08 am

I was monitoring the radio with it tuned to WX-1 about 4 p.m. on August 1, 2022, and I was hearing a NOAA Weather Radio signal that was fading up and down, from solid copy to very noisy copy. There appeared to be two signals fighting to capture the receiver's FM demodulator. As I was listening, the broadcast voice would appear to switch in mid-sentence to a new sentence.

Because all these NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts are now using an automated voice, and using the same automated male voice, they all sound the same. I could not tell if those odd jumps in the sentences were due to some glitch in the playback of the automated voice at one station, or if the jumps were caused by a second station fading up to be stronger than the initial station.

I had to listen for about 25-minutes before I heard a station identification. That is unusually long. Normally the stations include an identification every five to eight minutes. But with the signal fading up and down, the station ID might have occurred when the signal was down in the noise; or, the station ID might have been missed because the two signals were fighting to capture the receiver, and the switch from station to station was occurred in a time frame that kept causing me to miss the station ID on both signals.

Eventually, I did get clear ID that I was listening to NOAA KIG74 in Sault Ste. Mare and transmitting from a tower in Dafter, Michigan. After 30-minutes of listening to noisy weather radio, I had enough static for one day. I will revisit WX-1 again to see if I can copy the other station, KIG-83 in Alpena, which I am guessing was the other NOAA station I was hearing sporadically mixing with the Saute Ste. Marie station.

I know there are two signals coming it,because I can hear the heterodyne effect of the two almost same-strength signals fighting for the receiver's capture.

jimh
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Re: NOAA Weather Radio Reception Report: Northport

Postby jimh » Tue Aug 02, 2022 9:27 am

Figure 1 shows the antenna as installed.

yagiVHF.jpg
Fig. 1. A three-element loop-fed Yagi antenna as installed in the attic.
yagiVHF.jpg (182.48 KiB) Viewed 18818 times


The antenna was made for me by G0KSC in the United Kingdom as a bespoke design for 162-MHz. The antenna is mounted to 1-1/2-inch PVC pipe. The pipe is secured to the rafters with conduit clamps.

The large coaxial cable transmission line seen is RG-214A/U, a Military Specification double-shielded premium coaxial cable which is attached to the antenna terminals and also formed into a three-turn choke balun. There is an N-series male connector just out of frame. The transmission line then connects to a N-series female cable jack on the LMR-240UF transmission line. I had to use a smaller diameter cable in order to fit the transmission line into the existing one-inch conduit from the attic to the basement. There were already two runs of RG-6/U cable in the conduit, and the RG-214 was too large to be added to the conduit.

Actually, pulling the LMR240 through the crowded conduit was a chore. The outer vinyl jacket of LMR240 has a rubbery or sticky finish, and pulling that cable through the crowded conduit needed much greater force than anticipated. I should have used more liquid synthetic wax as the wire lubricant.

Working in the attic space during the Summer was not pleasant. Even though the outdoor ambient temperature was in the low 70-degree-range, the temperature in the attic felt like it was over 100-degrees. I won't be doing any tweaking on the antenna until the Fall, when the outdoor air temperature is more like 50-degrees.

jimh
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Re: NOAA Weather Radio Reception Report: Northport

Postby jimh » Sat Aug 06, 2022 9:52 am

As mentioned above, in my listening for NOAA Weather Radio stations I suspected that on WX-1 162.550-MHz there was a second station vying to capture the FM demodulator. On August 6, 2022 at about 8:30 a.m. I happened to be listening again, and on WX-1 I heard KIG83 coming in very nicely from Alpena, overriding any other signal on that frequency.

The propagation to the north must not have been enhanced at that moment, because there was no sign of WZ2515 from Grand Marais on WX-5, and on WX-6 there was a barely audible signal, probably from WNG-576 in Newberry. Both locations are north of me and in Michigan's upper peninsula. Those conditions are probably why KIG74 in Sault Ste. Marie was not being heard on WX-1.

jimh
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Re: NOAA Weather Radio Reception Report: Northport

Postby jimh » Mon Aug 08, 2022 11:12 am

Finding NOAA Weather Radio Transmitter Sites

As a corollary topic, I will show my method of finding the actual transmitter locations for NOAA Weather Radio stations, and I will use station KIG83 in Alpena, Michigan as an example.

The first step to finding the transmitter location is to get a hint from NOAA themselves. The stations are often listed by the largest city they serve, as is the case with KIG83. The transmitter location is probably not in Alpena, because Alpena is a town on the coast of Lake Huron. NOAA is not specifically trying to cover Lake Huron, but to cover the land area in the vicinity of Alpena. NOAA provides a big hint for the transmitter site in their webpage about KIG83. The URL is

https://www.weather.gov/nwr/sites?site=KIG83

You can plug in almost any NOAA station callsign and get a similar page about the station. The station-oriented web page provides a lot of information. There is a coverage map shown, and surprisingly in the case of KIG83, it shows no coverage expected anywhere close to my location in Northport. The real hint about a transmitter site comes in a table under the heading heading "Transmitter Details." A value is give for "Site Location." In this case, it is the relatively unheard of village or township of Herron, Michigan.

Armed with the location "Herron, MI", my next step is to open Google Earth Pro. I plug in the site location in the SEARCH box. Google Earth Pro immediately shows me the geographic coordinates of Herron: Latitude 45-01-23-N Longitude 083-38-49-W.

Step three is to move to the FCC website search for tower structures, called the Antenna Structure Registration Search:

https://wireless2.fcc.gov/UlsApp/AsrSea ... Search.jsp

I choose the "Search by Tower Location" method, and plug in the latitude and longitude of Herron, and also a search radius of five miles.

In the search results, I am hoping not to find too many towers. In the case of my KIG83 search, I find there are ten registered tower structures within 5-miles (8-kilometers) of Herron. That is somewhat unusual, but my strategy for distinguishing a likely tower for NOAA is to look at who owns the tower, and how tall the structure actually is. Another approach is to reduce the radius dimension in the search.

Changing the search radius to 5-kilometers cut down the results to one tower. Unfortunately, that tower is a cellular provider's tower, and the tower height is rather low, only 60-meters above ground. It is back to the wider search.

Looking again at the 5-mile-raidus search results, there is an interesting candidate as a possible NOAA weather radio site: an FM Broadcast Station WHSB's tower. It is a very tall tower, 152-meters (500-feet) above ground, and located on a hill that is 277.4 meters (910-feet) above sea level. Also, I know from my own experience that NOAA transmitter sites are often co-located with broadcast stations. Even if I am wrong, there are two other very tall towers in very close vicinity: this hill must be the best spot around the Alpena area for putting a radio transmitter. The road that approaches the site is called Manning Hill Road.

Finally, returning to Google Earth Pro, I use the RULER tool to draw a line from the suspected tower location to my location, giving me the radio path distance. In this example, the path length is 92.8-miles. And the heading is essential due East, which is exactly where my directional antenna is pointed.

For final confirmation, I call the FM radio station and try to speak with their engineer. He will know if NOAA is also on their tower.

Of course, this procedure works best for transmitter sites in rural locations. If the transmitter site is in a big metropolitan area, it may be much harder to find the tower.

Some NOAA broadcast sites also announce their tower location as part of their station identification. The usually mention the location of the weather office that is originating the information being broadcast, as well as a hint to the tower location. This is not universal, but some stations use that format for their station identification. For example, KIC63 serving the Detroit area would identify the office location as Pontiac and mention, "We are transmitting from tower located in Southfield." Station KIG74 mentions they are transmitting from "the Cloverland Electric Cooperative tower." All of these hints can help locate the actual transmitter site.

jimh
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Re: Receiver Testing with NOAA Weather Radio Broadcasts

Postby jimh » Sun Jun 18, 2023 10:19 am

UPDATE ON STATIONS HEARD

Over several months I have received nine different NOAA Weather Broadcast stations on seven channels. In the list below the distances are approximate because I have not always known the exact transmitter location for the station. The headings are to the nearest compass point.

WX Radio DX Summary from Northport

WX-1, 162.550, KIG83,  Alpena, 93-miles, East
WX-1, 162.550, KIG74, Saute Ste. Marie, 110-miles, NNE
WX-2, 162.400, KIH22, Traverse City, 30-miles, South
WX-3, 162.475, WNG572, Good Hart, 40-miles, NE
WX-4, 162.425, WZ2515, Grand Marais, 105-miles, North
WX-5, 162.450, WNG572, Newberry, 85-miles, North
WX-6, 162.500, WWF70, Gaylord, 45–miles, East
WX-7, 162.525, WNG701, Bad Axe, 155-miles, SE
WX-7, 162.525, WNG684, Manistique, 65-miles, North


Due to the directivity of the antenna, the presence of uphill terain to the West for several miles, and the 50 to 70-miles of open water of Lake Michigan, no NOAA Weather Broadcast signals are received from the West.

Curiously, the closest station and the one which would be my local station, Traverse City’s KIH22, has a marginal signal, again due to the antenna directional pattern having a deep null to the South and some shadowing terrain in the 30-mile path.

The strongest signal is on WX-3 from WNG572 at Good Hart, where the 40-mile path is practically entirely by water. Second strongest is heard on WX-6, where WWF70 in Gaylord on a 45-mile path over water and terrain is always a solid signal.

On WX-1 the two signals fade up and down, with KIG83 93-miles to the East in Alpena heard more often than KIG74 110-miles to the NNE, probably aided by the greater antenna gain in the main lobe.

On WX-4 and WX-5 the signals from Grand Marias and Newberry need enhanced propagation to rise out of the noise.

On WX-7 I can occasionally get a terrific signal from WNG701 in Bad Axe, the most distant station received at a distance of 155-miles, but it can only be heard on early mornings when there are unusually calm wind conditions and temperatures in the atmosphere that produce enhanced tropospheric ducting. WNG684 from Manistique 65-miles north shows up as a noisy signal on occasion.

The reason for mounting the antenna for vertical polarization is to match the polarization of ship stations. The NOAA stations are also transmitting their signals in vertical polarization.

Cf.: https://www.weather.gov/abq/nwrreception#:~:text=Extending%20the%20wire%20horizontally%20along,out%20perform%20a%20horizontal%20one.


The receiver used in these tests was a Standard-Horizon GX2150. The SENSITIVITY menu was set to DISTANT.

jimh
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Re: NOAA Weather Radio Reception Report: Northport

Postby jimh » Fri Jun 30, 2023 10:51 pm

I was checking band conditions a few days ago, and I heard a new station. I had to listen for about 40-minutes to get a positive copy on the very brief station identification announcement, as the signal was slowly fading up and down. Finally a fade-up occurred simultaneously with the station ID. Here is the tenth NOAA station received:

WX-7, 162.525, KZZ33, Grand Rapids, Tx in Mt. Pleasant, 115-miles

jimh
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Re: NOAA Weather Radio Reception Report: Northport

Postby jimh » Tue Aug 08, 2023 9:15 am

Checking the NOAA weather stations this morning, I found a new signal on CH-02, 162.400 giving the weather report in French, which would be a very strong indicator of originating from Canada. Later the broadcast switched to English and finally identified as station XMJ373, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

I found a great resource for Canadian Environment Canada station locations at

https://www.qsl.net/ve7hce/weatherradio.htm

This resource also lists the transmitter location latitude and longitude. Using Google Earth Pro, I found the path length from transmitter to my receiving antenna was 130-miles.

Here is an updated list of weather broadcasts received in Northport, now a total of 11 stations:

WX Radio DX Summary from Northport

WX-1, 162.550, KIG83,  Alpena, 93-miles, East
WX-1, 162.550, KIG74, Saute Ste. Marie, 110-miles, NNE
WX-2, 162.400, KIH22, Traverse City, 30-miles, South
WX-2, 162.400, XMJ373, Sault Ste, Marine, 130-miles NNE
WX-3, 162.475, WNG572, Good Hart, 40-miles, NE
WX-4, 162.425, WZ2515, Grand Marais, 105-miles, North
WX-5, 162.450, WNG572, Newberry, 85-miles, North
WX-6, 162.500, WWF70, Gaylord, 45–miles, East
WX-7, 162.525, WNG701, Bad Axe, 155-miles, SE
WX-7, 162.525, WNG684, Manistique, 65-miles, North
WX-7, 162.525, KZZ33, Mt. Pleasant, 114-miles, SSE