The Weather Wind-Up

By , May 30, 2012

The radio broadcast that has the most impact on our lives comes from NOAA Weather Radio. It is almost always the first broadcast we tune into each day, and we frequently consult it throughout every day. While primarily a source of information, it often becomes a source of entertainment as well. Most of this comes from the voices on the broadcast, which are not human, but computer-generated.

Computer-generated voices have delivered our weather forecasts for years. Since we’ve moved to the homestead, a system upgrade significantly improved the voice quality. Formerly, a male voice with a strange, syllable-swallowing accent dominated the broadcast. He was replaced by male and female voices that are almost indistinguishable from human. Oddly, the early voice appears to deliver the current time just before the marine forecast.

The new voices are so good that when they make mistakes, it’s rather comical. Usually, this comes from too-literal readings of the typed forecast. Individual slashes in the text are commonly broadcast as the word “slash.” The Canadian forecast, which is used to help cover the passes to the north, have some sort of discrepancy in the word “sun” that makes the computer read it as an abbreviation for Sunday. This leads to predictions of “mixed Sunday and cloud,” leading us to joke that the wind will be so strong it’ll blow us into next week.

Place names cause a lot of strange mistakes, which is odd, because NOAA seems to have the ability to “teach” the voices correct pronunciation. The new voices never seem to have trouble with Haida Gwaii, although the same can still not be said for some of our local, live announcers. And yet, Kenai (“KEEN-eye”) gets pronounced “Ken-EYE” by the computer, so it’s a mixed bag.

Lately, the computer has begun confusing the word “wind,” as in air movement, with the word “wind,” as in “wind a watch.” I believe the problem comes from a change in wording in the forecasts. Where they used to say “South winds to X knots,” they now say “South winds up to X knots.” The voice program apparently finds it statistically more probable that the word “wind” followed immediately by “up” will be pronounced with a long i rather than a short i.

I don’t know how long it might take for them to catch and correct this. In the meantime, it’s a bit of entertainment to go along with our information.

6 Responses to “The Weather Wind-Up”

  1. Jessie S. says:

    I’ve been prounouncing Kenai wrong! Learned something from your blog today.

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Glad I could help, Jessie. While I’m at it, I may as well throw in that we pronounce Alaska’s town, Valdez, like “Val-DEEZ.” Like all good Americans, we scramble our Spanish pronunciations!

  3. Jessie S. says:

    I had Valdez right, most likely from hearing the news stories about the Exxon Valdez spill. I’m from Washington so we have a lot of hard to pronounce cities as well.

  4. Mark Zeiger says:

    Yeah! Much of my dad’s family centers around Puyallup. I’ve heard Washingtonians mess that one up!

  5. Jessie S. says:

    They mess up Puyallup all the time. Sequim is another one that gets people.

  6. Mark Zeiger says:

    Can’t fault them for Sequim. For years I called it “SEE-quim.” That town is LOADED with Alaskan ex-pats. I understand they have an Alaskan reunion picnic every summer.

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