Well folks, it’s the end of an era.
A governmental agency that has continued to maintain the rather rude typographical tradition of yelling and screaming when announcing atmospheric conditions has finally found the courage — and the technology, apparently — to break away from ALL CAPS.
Yes, that’s right … the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) is transitioning to a gentler, less panic-inducing forecasting format that’s 100 percent less shouty. What’s more, the NWS will ditch fragmented, ellipses-separated sentences in favor of complete sentences with a more user-friendly, conversational tone. Basically, forecasts issued by the NWS will no longer resemble emails sent by your dad in the weeks after his secretary stopped dictating them for him.
MOM AND I ARE DOING GREAT…SORRY WE MISSED YOUR CALL…THE ANSWERING MACHINE IS FULL…HOW’S THE WEATHER THERE?
Hardcore nostalgists and those who actually enjoy having the weather hollered at them can rest assured that the format change to proper sentences in a mixed-cap format won’t kick in for another month, on May 11. And while day-to-day meteorological data including forecast discussions, public information statements and regional weather summaries will be delivered in a more soothing, less aggressive tone, extreme weather emergencies and hazardous conditions will continue to receive the all-caps treatment for emphasis.
The NWS, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is obviously well aware that using all caps is considered impolite in 21st century electronic communications, a breach of proper netiquette. But the agency has found that completely phasing out an antiquated wire-based teletype system first established in 1849 with the invention of the telegraph, is, well, easier said than done. Such colossal efforts take time, a lot of time — over two decades to be exact.
The NOAA elaborates on the technology shift in a press release:
New forecast software is allowing the agency to break out of the days when weather reports were sent by “the wire” over teleprinters, which were basically typewriters hooked up to telephone lines. Teleprinters only allowed the use of upper case letters, and while the hardware and software used for weather forecasting has advanced over the last century, this holdover was carried into modern times since some customers still used the old equipment.
Better late than never, but the slow change was not for lack of trying. The National Weather Service has proposed to use mixed-case letters several times since the 1990s, when widespread use of the Internet and email made teletype obsolete. In fact, in web speak, use of capital letters became synonymous with angry shouting. However, it took the next 20 years or so for users of Weather Service products to phase out the last of the old equipment that would only recognize teletype.
The mixed-case character switchover comes courtesy of a long-overdue software upgrade to the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System, the central computer system used by weather forecasters.
Given that upper case letters have been exclusively used by the NWS since, well, forever, the change might be initially jarring to forecasters and the general public alike. At this point, thanks to NWS data and news sources like the Weather Channel (which, admittedly, has toned down the shrill, everybody-run-to-the-cellar brand of hysterics in the last couple of years) we’re kind of used to being shrieked at when it comes to hail warnings and pollen counts. Agency officials hope the shift to data presented in easy-to-digest, mixed-cap manner will help the public to better understand weather, not be terrified by it, while also taking action if need be.
"People are accustomed to reading forecasts in upper case letters and seeing mixed-case use might seem strange at first,” NWS meteorologist Art Thomas explains. “It seemed strange to me until I got used to it over the course of testing the new system, but now it seems so normal.”