Single downed phone line takes down weather radios during tornado event in Madison County

MADISON COUNTY, Ala. - Tuesday night, there were numerous reports of NOAA weather radios not working in the Huntsville area.

Officials with the National Weather Service tweeted that the Huntsville transmitter was temporarily down due to a power outage at the transmitter site.

However, National Weather Service Huntsville Meteorologist in Charge Chris Darden says it was actually a downed phone line that took weather radios offline for all of Madison County.

Counties covered by the Huntsville weather radio broadcast (Image: National Weather Service)

Counties covered by the Huntsville weather radio broadcast (Image: National Weather Service)

As of Thursday afternoon, they still don't have the ability to trigger weather radios from the impacted tower. This is not just affecting people who live in Madison County, though. The Huntsville transmitter's signal spreads out into eight neighboring counties.

The National Weather Service in Huntsville suggests that until the outage is fixed, people can tune their weather radios to the stations based in either Arab or Fort Payne.

Weather radios are triggered by transmitter.  Darden says, "We have six weather radios that cover north Alabama and southern Tennessee, and our weather radio transmitter here in Huntsville suffered an issue about 9:30."

After it went down, Darden notes, "We did issue another warning for eastern Madison into Jackson County continuing that track, after 9:30, I think it was 9:41, and that one, of course, was not tone alerted."

The failed phone line is the sole connection between the National Weather Service Huntsville office on the campus of the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the transmitter on Monte Sano.

"As hard as it is to believe," Darden elaborates, "We literally still use a landline, and that's one of the things the National Weather Service is looking at upgrading or evolving to something different in the future."

There's no backup connection to the forecasting site, and there are no immediate plans to add to or improve the system.

"Cost effectiveness is a challenge, because any time you add redundancy, it's extra money," Darden tells us, "Having said that, as I told a couple other folks this morning, our sister office to the north, our Nashville office, they're testing  a couple of different ways to push weather radio audio out right now. I think they're testing satellite or cellular network, and it's been pretty effective."

"So we're hopeful that the weather service will sort of go that direction."

In addition to this, outdoor warning sirens didn't activate in Madison County.