Weather Star 4000

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Weather Star 4000
WeatherStar 4000 - Current Conditions.png
Manufacturer:Northern Telecom
Hardware:Motorola 68010[1]
Release Date:1990
Status:Retired – Decommissioned by The Weather Channel on June 26, 2014.
Preceded By:Weather Star III
Succeeded By:Weather Star Jr & Weather Star XL

The Weather Star 4000 was the first graphic-capable model of the Weather Star line manufactured for The Weather Channel. It was first introduced in December 1989 and was designed by Canadian electronics company Applied Microelectronics Institute (now Amirix); the Weather Star 4000 was manufactured by Northern Telecom.

It had an improved display font over its predecessor, the Weather Star III, with mixed-case rendering (though this did not appear on launch). The first 4000s that were placed in service were programmed to operate in a text-only mode, like its predecessors (using its improved font instead). However, the 4000 used slightly different flavors (arrangements of information and forecast products)[2] that included, beginning in April 1990, a graphical radar page at the end of the local forecast. While widely used during most of the 1990s, many cable companies began to replace the 4000 with the newer Weather Star XL in 1998 and 1999 and – later – the IntelliStar in the next decade. The 4000 remained in use primarily in smaller and rural cable providers through 2014, where upgrading to a more modern Weather Star would be a significant expense.

On June 26, 2014, The Weather Channel discontinued broadcasting its analog satellite feed, thus officially retiring all Weather Star units prior to the IntelliStar, including the 4000. To address the need for a low-cost replacement, The Weather Channel developed the IntelliStar 2 Jr. platform in 2013, which is capable of operating natively on both analog and digital cable systems.



A Weather Star 4000 came with these features:

  • Graphical weather products, such as icons and maps for regional products.
  • An internal local radar product (the first on any STAR), in both time-lapse and static variants (the time-lapse radar was added in a major late 1992 update; the previous Weather Stars had the capability to display radar, but had to be connected to a third-party source).
  • The ability to receive text-based local forecasts created by TWC meteorologists (and before that the National Weather Service).
  • A lower display line (LDL), with forecast information in the top 50 U.S. markets. While the IntelliStar LDL is cued to air all the time, the 4000, Junior, and XL LDLs are not cued to air anymore except with a cuing mishap.
  • The ability to crawl or scroll weather warnings from the National Weather Service.
  • Specialty products for certain areas: the Air Quality Forecast for southern California (which would make its national debut on the IntelliStar), Tides for coastal areas, and the Marine Forecast.

Until the mid-1990s, The Weather Channel sold an optional sensor package that could be connected to a Weather Star to display weather conditions at the headend office on the LDL, including the current temperature, the highest and lowest temperatures recorded since midnight local time, relative humidity, wind speed, direction, and gusts, and current daily and monthly precipitation totals.

Radar products were not available on the Weather Star 4000 outside of the contiguous 48 states and Puerto Rico.

  • In Alaska and (in one case) in New York City, the Latest Observations product was repeated.
  • In Hawaii, the radar was centered in the state of Washington with a label permanently displaying "Radar Data Temporarily Unavailable".

Hardware and software


The hardware of the Weather Star 4000 was a significant change from its predecessor, the Star III, and was representative of the large leaps in computer technology of the time.

The chassis itself measures 14.13" x 19" x 7", making the Star 4000 4 rack units (4U) tall. The total weight of the 4000 is 30 pounds. Star 4000 units feature a front plate that attaches to the front of the chassis using screws and has holes that allow for the viewing of hardware status lights as well as the connection of a RJ11 telephone line in certain circumstances and a 5-pin DIN keyboard (for accessing on-screen diagnostics viewing and crawl editing menus). The side panels of the chassis feature a 120mm fan on the right side and an equally-large circular air vent on the left side. The back panel of the 4000 most notably features a variety of terminal blocks, meant for weather sensors as well as audio input and output and various logic switch connections, in addition to its power connection, on/off switch, and BNC connectors for various video and satellite receiver connections.

The interior of the 4000 features a variety of interconnected parts. On the right-hand side lie the power supply, two 4-volt, 10-ampere/hour batteries wired in series (for memory backup), a power switch for these batteries, and the aforementioned 120mm fan, in addition to a back panel board connected to the inputs and outputs on the back as well as a a charge controller/standby switchover board for the battery power switch. On the left-hand side sit the various printed circuit boards that power the 4000–from left to right, the central processing unit (CPU) board, graphics processor board, input/output (I/O) board, and audio/data board. Some machines also had a fifth board used specifically for use with external weather sensors, but this had to be ordered separately and did not come with the 4000 on its own.

The CPU board of the 4000 (top), others below, clockwise: GPU board, I/O board, optional weather sensor board, and audio/data board

All of the boards on the left-hand side of the 4000 connected to the rest of the unit via a back panel VME bus board using 96-pin Euro DIN connectors. The 4000 is run by a Motorola 68010 processor attached to its CPU board. Also attached to this board were two ROMs containing bootloader code as well as the unit's RAM, which stored the software the 4000 utilized, a real-time clock chip, and EEPROM (which help crawl messages, schedules, and passwords), among other components. The graphics processor board is known to have had two versions (one, version 7, being known internally as Sgt. Pepper), each with a genlock portion on the side of the card closest to the Euro DIN connector that was different from the other version. The graphics processor board also had a 68010 processor of its own in addition to an Intel 8031 microcontroller (that acted as a framebuffer controlling on-screen display and animation) and could utilize the RAM attached to the CPU board independently of that board's processor. It also had its own ROMs with bootloader code, SRAM chips for its processors, a RAMDAC component that was responsible for graphics display, among other components. The I/O board had an Intel 8051 microcontroller which communicated across the VME bus and also contained a 300 baud modem. It contained a ribbon connector port which could be used to connect the card to the back plane responsible for connection to the terminal blocks. This card is the card that contained the front panel system status LEDs, telephone line connector, and 5-pin DIN keyboard connector. Finally, the audio/data card, which managed audio input and output, warning tone generation, and data decoding, had receivers for baseband data and audio from the original satellite feed, a muxing circuit for audio, a tone encoder, and an Intel 8044 microcontroller, among others. The I/O card and data card acted as slave devices. Details about the optional weather sensor board are largely unknown, and the only mention available occurs in the manual.


The Weather Star 4000 ran VRTX32/68K as its operating system with a custom program built to handle data and graphics operations via scripts. While VRTX was stored in ROM, the program and scripts that powered the 4000 were stored in its RAMFS file system, which it received over the satellite baseband uplink. These scripts were authored, edited and compiled on PCs running DOS. The scripts were compiled into intermediate code, as opposed to 68K machine code. All of these scripts were sent to a MicroVAX Server which stored and sent the scripts to the Weather Star 4000s in the field.

Notably, the Star 4000 did not permanently store its data and instead relied on its two batteries for memory backup for up to two to three hours in case of power loss. Its on-board software could then be redownloaded over satellite if needed. As a result of this and the retirement of The Weather Channel's analog feed in 2014, which retired the Star 4000 and previous Star units, the software of the 4000 is presumed lost.

Weather Star 4000 timeline in the U.S.

Date Notes
February 1990 In these early days, the 4000 was functionally a replica of the Weather Star III, only with a cleaner font.
April 1990 The "Current Radar" segment was added to the 4000, making it the first STAR with its own radar imagery. At this time, the segment was called "Your Local Radar".
July 1990 WeatherStar 4000 gets new graphics featuring colorful orange and blue backgrounds matching TWC's national weather segments at the time. The Weather Channel's logo appears on the local forecast for the first time, and the "Regional Forecast" map debuts with motionless weather icons. The time and date appear on the LDL (Lower Display Line).
Early 1991 The five-minute N flavor local forecast, which was shown when TWC rewound the tapes for its pre-recorded overnight programming, is discontinued.
February 14, 1991
  • The L flavor local forecast debuts.
  • The graphical version of the "Extended Forecast" segment is created, replacing the former NWS text based version.
  • "Almanac" (formerly "Regional Information") data is redesigned to show the moon phases.
  • The E and K flavors' screen lineups have their timing realigned as the "Extended Forecast" segment was limited to one graphical page instead of two text-based pages. Because of this, the narration of TWC staff announcer Dan Chandler is discontinued on these two flavors.
  • The regional weather icons became animated.
  • The current radar is updated to include major roads.
  • The time and date are moved to the top right from the Lower Display Line.
April 17, 1991 Weather icons are added to the "Current Conditions" segment; however, they are very large and lack a nighttime set.
May 1991 The "Current Conditions" segment is finalized.
July 1991 Chandler re-records the narration for the Weather Star 4000; the narration for the E and K flavors' is once again restored.
Late 1991
  • The Regional Conditions map debuts, replacing the text-based version of the screen.
  • The "Regional Forecast" map is cleaned up so that no city's information runs off-screen.
  • The icons used on the Regional Conditions and the Extended Forecast pages make their way to the regional map products.
  • The Current Radar map is updated to include county boundaries.
Summer 1992 The fade effect transitioning to and from the Regional Forecast product is removed.
  • A second, more opaque dark blue to orange gradient background begins to appear layered over the existing dark blue to orange gradient background to smooth out the color transitions.
August 9, 1992 A new playlist debuts on The Weather Channel, with redone narration on all STARs (Dan Chandler's final set). The 36 Hour Forecast narration now mentions the National Weather Service.
Fall 1992 The Regional Forecast product icons return after a hiatus, during which they received a major revamp.
November 1992 A major change in flavors occurs:
  • The "Local Radar" map is added, showing any precipitation in the area and its movement over the prior 90 minutes.
  • The "Travel Cities Forecast" segment becomes icon-based with a blue/aqua blue gradient background
  • The NOAA logo is added to the "36 Hour Forecast" product.
October 1993 The Regional Conditions map replaces the "Regional Forecast" during the K Flavor and Dan Chandler updates the narration on the flavor.
Early November 1993 The date and time are nudged further downward to allow room for the local forecast screen segment titles.
Second half of 1993
  • Observation site names nationwide are simplified (such as New Orleans Intl becoming New Orleans) and begin to appear in mixed case.
  • The Latest Observations product receives the new observation site names and mixed-case weather descriptors. Some of these changes to observation site names appear on the ticker before the actual products. At other times, the Latest Observations product would have all uppercase text except for the observation sites.
Early 1994 The Weather Channel begins broadcasting regional commercials that can be blocked out by local forecasts generated by a Weather Star. Local Forecasts with lengths of 1:30 and 2:30 do the blocking of these 30-second commercials. STARs using non-narration audio would play this commercial audio. This was used in the summer of 1994 to advertise a TWC telephone survey about the satellite forecast for satellite customers.
Spring 1994 The regional icons are updated so that the multi-layered icons are smaller in size; the upper layer cloud moved almost directly on top of its underlying weather graphic.
August 4, 1994 The "Travel Cities Forecast" background gradient is removed, and the Radar map screen becomes eight colors from its previous six-color display.
Early 1995 Some of the icons on the Regional Icon set are changed, such as "Snow" and others are added, such as "Sunny" and "Windy."
April 2, 1995 Flavor lineups are changed once again as the "30 Day Outlook" is discontinued by the National Weather Service (and thus TWC) and the "Local Update" segment is introduced from the National Weather Service as generated by the WeatherStar, which took up more than one screen. It served as a NOWcast-type summary of presently occurring weather and weather developments expected to occur over the next few hours. Dan Chandler's narration is discontinued. A Severe Weather Mode is also added to the 4000: if a severe weather warning crawl is present, a special playlist would play consisting of only current and local area conditions and an extended local radar.
Early 1998 The J flavor is discontinued as the Travel Cities Forecast is dropped and only appears when The Weather Channel is experiencing some minor or major technical difficulties (the Travel Cities Forecast was not dropped on the Weather Star III and is still used in the Weather Star Jr's M flavor).
September 1998 The first signs of graphical system degradation, are reported, with patchy reports from as early as 1997. Later signs of degradation reported consist of software rot or data degradation, including problems, such as the new moon graphic on the Almanac changing colors or the Local Radar's background becoming inverted. These problems are attributed to the age of the graphics rendering hardware, as well as integrity issues with the on-board EEPROMs.
December 1999
  • By this time, most cable headends had upgraded to the Weather Star XL; however, some companies still used the 4000.
  • The Weather Channel logo is modernized, and the point size of the fonts in the Local and Current Radar screens become smaller. The font in the titles of the radar segments were changed from Helvetica to Arial.
November 2002
  • The 36 Hour Forecast begins to come directly from The Weather Channel and appears in mixed case.
  • The Local Update is discontinued, stabilizing each flavor.
  • The Marine Forecast is also discontinued.
Early 2005 The text used on the Station ID became bolder and larger. Some of the old text is still in use up until August 2005.
June 26, 2014 The Weather Star 4000 is officially retired when The Weather Channel shuts off its analog satellite feed.

Reverse engineering effort

One of the initial runs of the reverse-engineered Weather Star 4000 in December 2019

When retired in 2014, the Weather Star 4000 officially became nonfunctional due to the hardware design not allowing for permanent storage of its required software. The software has never been archived and is presumed lost. In late 2018, THEtechknight, a technology repair YouTuber, acquired a Weather Star 4000 unit of his own after having had an interest in the technology for some time. Despite being faced with the lack of software, he would nonetheless decide to undertake a massive reverse engineering effort to attempt to bring the 4000 back to a functional state. To help accomplish this, he reached out to a variety of fandom personalities, graphic designers, programmers, and even an original graphic designer who worked with the 4000.[3]

On December 25, 2019, he ran the first local forecast on a 4000 since the 2014 retirement. This first presentation used the early text-based appearance of the 4000. On March 1, 2020, he ran the first full graphical forecast since the retirement.


As STAR 4000 units were in operation for many years, they were prone to graphical and other miscellaneous glitches, including:

  • The STAR will not generate any text or very little text, but will draw graphics and pass on the TWC video feed.
  • The STAR will loop its products, especially if the TWC feed is lost or the flavor has glitches, especially the overnight J flavor in 1997.
  • The STAR will "repaint" (redraw) the graphical elements it displays.
  • The contents of the Current Conditions will be incomplete.
  • The STAR has problems drawing the icons.
  • The radar screens display in the wrong color scheme. This is related to a palette swap that occurs when changing from the normal screens to radar.
  • "Degradation": The STAR will have problems with the background graphics or Almanac moon phases. This was caused by a malfunctioning RAMDAC on the graphics processor board.
  • The wrong narration would be used for the STAR (a III with narration for the 4000 or 4000 with III narration). This was the cable operator's error in hooking up the STAR.


  1. WeatherSTAR I/II/III Unit?
  3. techknight (March 8, 2021). "Reverse Engineering The Weather STAR 4000". Hackaday. Retrieved May 4, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)

External links

  • This article was initially rescued from Deletionpedia and was originally available on Wikipedia, which is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License