John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
No longer will the government yell into your eyeballs about lightly breezy days.
Regular readers of the National Weather Service might’ve cultivated the impression the agency is irritated with them. That’s because it puts its weather summaries and forecast discussions in ALL CAPS, despite the style being more typically used online by people lighting up Trump or Obama.
Well, serener days are coming. The service has announced it will be dropping CAPS in favor of regular sentence format, leaving behind decades of tradition and entering the civilized world.
“LISTEN UP!” the agency writes. “BEGINNING ON MAY 11, NOAA’S NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FORECASTS WILL STOP YELLING AT YOU.” It turns out that making the switch was just a matter of updating the ol’ software. The service explains more:
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.
A few items will remain universally capitalized, such as international messages that must stick to a worldwide standard. And forecasters will be allowed to use their judgment when writing about dangerous weather, a smart policy given that certain bulletins—such as the famous Hurricane Katrina Doomsday Forecast—really do call for ALL CAPS to get people listening.