'Extended outage' for Vt. weather alert station

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MARLBORO — On Friday, a southern Vermont weather-alert transmission station will go silent.

Federal officials say the removal of the Ames Hill transmitter in Marlboro will lead to "an extended service outage" for some residents who use radio receivers to hear National Weather Service alerts.

Officials are working to finalize a replacement transmission site, and there are other towers in the region that broadcast weather alert information. But some places likely won't have a signal for at least 30 days, said Stephen DiRienzo, warning coordination meteorologist in the weather service's Albany, N.Y., office.

"We're sorry that it's going off the air," DiRienzo said. "We wish it wasn't."

The outage affects the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's "all hazards" radio broadcasts. Billed as "the voice of the National Weather Service," the service sends out alerts, forecasts and other information around the clock.

Such information is available in a variety of ways - including via radio and television broadcasts; online; and through Vermont's VT-Alert system. But some still use special radio receivers to tune into the federal government's 24/7 weather alert service, though DiRienzo said that may be a "small user group" in areas not affected by severe weather like tornadoes and hurricanes.

The weather service's Marlboro transmitter has been serving parts of Windham, Bennington and Windsor counties in southern Vermont as well as portions of five other counties in northern Massachusetts and southwestern New Hampshire.

The site also had a Vermont Yankee connection, and that's part of the reason for its demise.

The Vernon nuclear plant had maintained the Marlboro transmitter as part of the alert system for its offsite emergency planning zone. But Vermont Yankee shut down at the end of 2014, and its 10-mile emergency zone was eliminated in April 2016.

Entergy stopped paying for the tower rental in June 2016 and "gave the transmitter to (the National Weather Service) to continue to use for their purposes because we had no use for it," said Joe Lynch, Vermont Yankee senior government affairs manager.

The National Weather Service subsequently picked up the costs of operations and maintenance. But officials have decided that renting the Marlboro site from a private landowner has become "cost prohibitive," DiRienzo said.

"We've been searching around for an alternate site for about a year, roughly," he said.

That new site likely will be just south of the Vermont border in Leyden, Mass. But it's not ready yet, and the Marlboro transmitter is scheduled to stop broadcasting Friday.

"I don't know how long this outage is going to be," DiRienzo said. "It will be at least 30 days maybe more like 60 days."

In the meantime, the weather service continues to broadcast from other towers in the area including the Windsor transmitter in Vermont, the Mt. Greylock transmitter in Massachusetts and the Pack Monadnock site in New Hampshire.

Those transmitters, however, likely will not reach all of the areas that have been served by the Marlboro site.

Mike Faher reports for the Brattleboro Reformer, VTDigger, and The Commons. He can be contacted at mfaher@vtdigger.org.

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