Cantwell Introduces Legislation to Modernize Nation’s Weather Radio, Deliver Real-Time Emergency Alerts

In 2022, the United States experienced 18 weather and climate-related disaster events that exceeded one billion dollars in damages each, resulting in nearly 500 deaths and $171.5 billion in total damages

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, introduced the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio Modernization Act and the National Weather Service Communications Improvement Act, two national, bipartisan bills aimed at modernizing the nation’s weather communication and radio service as the country faces increased weather disasters.

“As severe weather events, wildfires, and climate-related emergencies increase across the nation, local communities need reliable, real-time alerts to keep their families safe and homes secure. Together, these bipartisan bills would upgrade the National Weather Service’s transmission technology, expand radio alert coverage in rural communities, and repair weather radio stations across the country, including 17 stations in the State of Washington,” said Sen. Cantwell.

The NOAA Weather Radio Modernization Act would:

  • Require upgrades to outdated weather radio technology to provide reliable and continuous weather and emergency alerts.
  • Expand radio coverage to rural areas that do not currently have access to the National Weather Radio alert system.
  • Increase National Weather Radio coverage to reach 98-99% of the United States population.
  • Update National Weather Radio infrastructure and reduce reliance on copper wire transmissions – which are increasingly unreliable because copper is impacted by extreme temperature changes and severe weather.

The National Weather Service Communications Improvement Act would:

  • Improve the National Weather Service’s internal instant messaging system.
  • Implement a modern cloud system to accommodate more users and faster service. 

In 2022, the United States experienced 18 weather and climate-related disaster events that exceeded one billion dollars in damages each, resulting in nearly 500 deaths and $171.5 billion in total damages. In recent years, the State of Washington has experienced several extreme weather events, including the 2021 heat dome, which brought record-breaking temperatures across the state and resulted in more than 150 deaths. Later that year, Northwest Washington experienced historic flooding, damaging over 2,000 homes and businesses in Sumas. In 2022, 14 large wildfires burned more than 84,000 acres across the state. Last October, smoke from wildfires in the Cascades caused Seattle to have the worst air quality of any city on Earth.

There are currently 17 National Weather Radio transmitters in Washington state. Each transmitter location, call sign, and coverage range is displayed below.


(Map attributed to the NOAA National Weather Service – available HERE)

Sen. Cantwell is a champion for climate and weather technology and authored $3.3 billion in NOAA investments in the Inflation Reduction Act to help communities prepare for and adapt to climate change, boost science needed to understand changing weather and climate patterns, and invest in advanced computer technologies that are critical for extreme weather prediction and emergency response. Last year, Sen. Cantwell introduced the Fire Ready Nation Act to establish a fire weather services program within NOAA – authorizing engagement in wildfire response activities, and providing funding for science and technologies to forecast weather conditions that cause and spread wildfires, as well as weather products needed on the ground to inform and protect first responders during a fire. The bill was passed out of Committee in May 2022.

NOAA’s National Weather Service operates a nationwide network of public radio stations that broadcast weather warnings, forecasts, and emergency information 24/7. NOAA Weather Radio includes more than 1,000 transmitters, covering all 50 states, adjacent coastal waters, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the U.S. Pacific Territories. Broadcasts include warnings, watches, and forecasts for natural disasters like storms, fire, earthquakes, avalanches, and even environmental hazards such as chemical or oil spills. According to NOAA, more than 400 National Weather Service transmitters will need to be replaced in the next five years.

The full bill text of the NOAA Weather Radio Modernization Act is available HERE.

The full bill text of the National Weather Service Communications Improvement Act is available HERE.