The U.S. Coast Guard and the National Weather Service plan to triple the area in Alaska in which mariners can receive continuous weather reports on VHF radios.
Coast Guard Rear Adm. Tom J. Barrett and weather service Regional Director Richard Przywarty signed a partnership agreement in Juneau today.
The plan is to install inexpensive, low-power radio transmitters on radio towers that the Coast Guard already has on mountains. The low-power transmitters will broadcast the weather service's continuous marine forecasts.
The new transmissions will blanket Southeast "pretty well" and cover Prince William Sound and the back side of Kodiak Island, said Freddy Peters, who heads the weather service's equipment branch in Alaska.
The Coast Guard currently uses the 28 towers to listen for mariners' radio distress calls and to broadcast twice-daily weather reports. The weather service broadcasts continuous reports but from sea-level transmitters whose reception is blocked by mountains and other land forms.
The agencies installed transmitters on Point Pigot in Prince William Sound last December and on Mount Robert Barron near Juneau in April. In mid-October they added transmitters on Althorp Peak near Elfin Cove, about 75 miles west of Juneau, and Cape Fanshaw just north of Kupreanof Island.
The new transmitter at Althorp Peak, for example, means that people in Pelican can get continuous marine forecasts for the first time, said Chief Warrant Officer Bill Benning, who supervises the Coast Guard's communication systems in Alaska.
Benning has seen the benefits of the new transmitter at Cape Fanshaw first-hand. He and a neighbor who had traveled by a 46-foot troller in Seymour Canal to go deer-hunting decided not to return Saturday because they were able to receive an up-to-date forecast that contradicted the twice-a-day report.
"We knew that the winds weren't dying down," Benning said of what they learned from the continuous forecast. "Otherwise, he would have stuck his nose out, (the vessel) would have iced up, and who knows what would have happened," Benning said.
The agencies plan to install five more transmitters soon in a multi-year effort to add them to all 28 of the Coast Guard's high-level transmitting sites. The next five are scheduled for Zarembo Island, Duke Island and Sukkawan Island in southern Southeast, Raspberry Island near Kodiak and Naked Island in Prince William Sound.
The project is expected to cost the agencies less than $200,000, compared with the cost of about $50,000 to install one sea-level transmitter, the Coast Guard said.
"This is a huge bang for the buck for the taxpayer," Benning said.
Eric Fry can be reached at email@example.com.