- Associated Press - Friday, August 5, 2016

LINCOLN, Ill. (AP) - The National Weather Service has found a new voice.

Audio warnings, watches, weather forecasts, observations, Amber Alerts and other information are now shared by the voice of “Paul,” a computerized message system from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Paul replaces Perfect Paul, Craig, Donna and Tom, the names of previous synthesized voices used by NOAA to share emergency information 24 hours a day from local NWS centers.

The new voice has been online at the NWS office in Lincoln for about a month. It took about 12 hours to install, NWS meteorologist Chris Geelhart said.

“We are still making some adjustments with it, because every time we hear a mispronunciation, we want to correct it,” Geelhart said. “Illinois is filled with small towns and counties where the name is not pronounced as it is spelled. So we correct those as we come across them.”

NOAA Weather Radio has more than 1,025 transmitters serving 95 percent of the U.S. population, covering all 50 states, adjacent coastal waters, and the territories of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and Saipan. The NWS office in Lincoln serves 35 Central Illinois counties.

“The problem was that the equipment we were using has been in existence since the late 1990s,” said Geelhart, who programmed the new system. “The company that made it has sold off its business to someone else and it was becoming antiquated because we were still using late 1990s-era computers with it.”

The new system was integrated into the existing system used for severe weather warnings and notifications, he said.

Warning coordination meteorologist Chris Miller said implementation of the new system went smoothly.

“We have had a lot of positive feedback because the new voice is more conversational,” he said. “The older one sounded a little more computer-like and choppy.”

The new system will run parallel to the old system for 60 days, Miller said.

“We do that just to make sure there are no major problems or issues and if we come across a problem, we can quickly switch back to the old system so there are no breakdowns,” he said. “The last thing you want in a severe-weather situation is something going wrong and not being able to get information out. But we haven’t had any problems.”

From the introduction of NOAA Weather Radio in the 1960s through 1997, nearly all of the voices heard in the broadcasts were those of meteorologists from NWS offices. The messages were manually recorded and set on a looping broadcast cycle. Eventually, a synthesized voice (Perfect Paul) read text announcements.

In 2002, the NWS contracted with Siemens Information and Communication and SpeechWorks to introduce more natural voices. The changes added one male voice, dubbed Craig; one female voice, Donna; and most recently, Tom.

The Lincoln office covers the counties of Cass, Champaign, Christian, Clark, Clay, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, DeWitt, Douglas, Edgar, Effingham, Fulton, Jasper, Knox, Lawrence, Logan, McLean, Macon, Marshall, Mason, Menard, Morgan, Moultrie, Peoria, Piatt, Richland, Sangamon, Schuyler, Scott, Shelby, Stark, Tazewell, Vermilion and Woodford.

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Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, http://bit.ly/2aA0rAF

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