Goodbye, Wall of Silence

NOAA weather radio is our friend and our enemy. We listen to it daily while at anchor, anytime we plan to leave the boat, and especially if we see dark clouds forming on the horizon. We listen to it when we’re planning to move on so we can pick the right day and time of day for the best conditions.

A few years ago NOAA changed from live humans reading the forecasts to computer-generated voices using text-to-speech software. There are several voices, and each has its own character and, dare I say, accent. They even have names, Paul, Tom and Donna.

As we move up the coast we have to learn the new and constantly changing placenames referred to in the forecasts, the rivers, inlets, points, sounds and other delineations they talk about when they announce a thunderstorm warning from, for example, Hornpipe Inlet to Turgid Sound. Is that us? North of us? It gets more complicated by the pronunciation of the NOAA computer forecasters. I find Donna to be particularly difficult to understand for some reason. When we first got to the Hampton Roads area we listened for a long time to familiarize ourselves with the new place names and referenced a chart to orient ourselves.

If you’ve spent any time listening to weather radio you know that after a cycle or two the voices just become white noise until something catches your attention, a warning, a change in pattern. The first day here my ears perked up when I heard “Wall of Silence.” Wow! We were anchored in an area with many military installations. We saw cruisers and aircraft carriers. There were helicopters overhead. Naturally, when they announce a wall of silence you pay attention. I figured it was something like the bus signs “If you see something, say something.” Would we get instructions over the radio? Would we need gas masks?

Days went by and we heard the Wall of Silence every day. I was never paying close attention to hear the beginning and only perked up when I heard it. No instructions. No gas masks.

And then I lucked out and heard the whole sequence from the beginning. It was Donna announcing the weather observations for Richmond, Norfolk, Chesapeake City, Wallops Island. Wallops Island! Wall of Silence!

I mentioned this to our friend Alan in the anchorage and he thought he heard Wall of Silence, too. And the funny thing is, even after we figured it out, whenever the weather radio is on I still think I hear Wall of Silence when Donna gives the weather observations.

We’re about to move north again. After a day or two Wallops Island won’t be in our forecast area, but I’ll miss the Wall of Silence.


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5 Responses to Goodbye, Wall of Silence

  1. Marion & Kevin

    OK… this is hilarious. Who named Donna, anyway?

  2. Deb

    You’re not coming up on the SPOT site today. Maybe it’s because Romney is in VA…..

  3. I’m adding this to my list of (my) misheard lyrics (mondegreens) like “Eddie’s through” (“Eres tu”.)

  4. Jim

    How did you know their names? Did you meet them at the boat show?
    I know the three voices very well, and one of the male voices (the marble-mouth one) is more difficult for me to understand – he gives wind and waves for a list of places, and I swear that he says winds when he should say waves – such as NW winds 10 knots, winds 1 ft

    But I always had difficulty understanding lyrics and things – as a child I remember singing “Mairzy dotes and dozy dotes (and little lambs eat ivy)” and wondered what dotes were!

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