“LISTEN UP,” the news release began. Starting May 11, the “NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FORECASTS WILL STOP YELLING AT YOU.”
Yes, indeed, since 1849, weather service forecasters have been writing their weather dispatches in ALL CAPS.
But that’s about to change.
Starting next month, forecast discussions, public information statements and regional weather summaries will take it down a notch by adding lowercase letters.
Over the summer, severe weather warnings will make the transition to upper and lowercase, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration news release said.
Not at all a signal of any HOT UNDER THE COLLAR temperament on the part of forecasters, the ALL CAPS approach arose in an era when the cool communications tool was the teleprinter — described in the weather service release as “basically typewriters hooked up to telephone lines.”
Besides the limitation of not being suitable for slipping into your pocket, such devices had no option for lowercase letters.
So, why would the weather service — under the umbrella of NOAA, which recently upgraded its supercomputer capacity to 5.78 petaflops — still be employing technology that’s state-of-the-art for the 19th century?
“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 [of weather service products]still used old equipment,” the release said.
Several times since the 1990s, as advances such as the Internet and email left Teletypes in the dust, the service has proposed the move to mixed-case letters. And, yes, the release acknowledged, “in web speak, use of capital letters became synonymous with angry shouting.”
It may have taken 20 years or so, but finally “the last of the old equipment that would only recognize” uppercase letters has been phased out.
So that means, for the most part, bidding farewell to the thundering look, as seen in Thursday’s forecast discussion from the service’s Upton office: “HIGH PRESSURE WILL REMAIN NEARLY STATIONARY ACROSS EASTERN CANADA THROUGH FRIDAY ... THEN SLOWLY SINKS SOUTH ACROSS THE REGION INTO THE WEEKEND.”
Though the role of the caps-lock may be diminishing, it’s not losing its job completely, as the ALL CAPS option can still be used for emphasizing “extremely dangerous situations,” the release said.
Needless to say, weather journalists, along with online commenters, have been reveling in the mashup of meteorology and this element of style, especially with the overuse of unnecessary CAPS, as witnessed in this story.
Dripping in sarcasm, a BuzzFeed story says the weather service is aware that ALL CAPS is used mostly in abusive online rants “OR PERHAPS A FRIENDLY EMAIL FROM YOUR CLUELESS GRANDMA.”
One commenter on a story wondered if forecasters will have to brush up on the rules of capitalization. Another, posting as Snowciopathic Snow Bro on a Washington Post piece, pointed to the new approach’s downside: “This is going to put a big crimp in Shout Like a Forecaster Day.”