Experimental Tornado Warning System Begins Today

It was a very busy severe weather season in 2011, and in the wake of that the National Weather Service is testing out a new method for issuing warnings. The NWS has found that many times when a tornado warning is issued people won’t actually take shelter until they actually see or hear the storm. And because the majority of tornado warnings actually don’t produce tornadoes, people have stopped taking warnings seriously.

Beginning on April 2nd, five National Weather Service offices in the heart of tornado alley will begin a new experimental warning system that will try to better portray to the public the severity of a particular storm. For example, when the NWS issues a tornado warning there will be three different possible tiers of warnings issued. The differences in the warnings will be found in what the NWS is calling “tags” at the end of the warning text. The first tier would be the standard tornado warning with no tag. These warnings would be the majority and usually are the ones that are radar indicated with no spotter confirmation on the ground. The second tier would be a tornado warning with the tag “tornado damage threat, significant”. This tag would be used when the NWS feels that the particular storm has a greater risk of significant damage in the area it is impacting. The third tier of warning would be with the tag “tornado threat, catastrophic”. This term would rarely be used but would convey to the public that a confirmed tornado is on the ground and poses a severe threat to the loss of life or property. In this case the NWS may also decide to issue a completely new warning calling it a “Tornado Emergency”. The NWS will also use wording like “mass devastation” and “unsurvivable” to further try to promote how dangerous the storm is.

After the warning goes out, it’s up to broadcast media and other emergency management agencies to further communicate the risks. For example, if there were multiple tornado warnings in effect for a viewing area, this method could help the meteorologist to better focus on one storm and not another. But then again, it will be interesting to see how the new method has an effect on the standard tornado warning. Will people take a warning less seriously when the new wording like “significant damage possible” isn’t attached? This could even further propagate the “cry wolf” phenomena associated with some warnings.

Again, this new warning method WILL NOT impact WC Ohio. It’s only being tested at five NWS offices in the plains. If they find that it has worked well over the course of the upcoming Spring and Summer it may be implemented for the rest of the country in the coming years. We’ll have to wait and see. What are your thoughts???



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