National Weather Service Expands “Impact-Based” Warning System

CALERA, Ala. (WIAT) – A National Weather Service experiment is expanding, from two states, to twelve.

The test is to figure out how the National Weather Service can better communicate tornado warnings to the public by using words like “catastrophic” and “un-survivable” when describing the potential impact of a tornado.

The experiment began in response to the deadly tornado in Joplin, Missouri in 2011.

CBS42 Meteorologist Mark Prater says certain keywords will get anyone’s attention.

“When we have tornado warnings, it becomes almost a routine when you hear the same things over and over, but if you get wording in there that grabs people’s attention, like “catastrophic” or un-survivable. Those are types of words that really get people’s attention and make them focus more.”

Jim Stefkovich is the Meteorologist In Charge at the National Weather Service in Calera. He says as the Midwest braces for a summer of severe weather now is the perfect time to test the warning changes, but they have to be careful.

“What happens if we say something like “catastrophic” and it is in our definition of a catastrophic event but it only takes up trees? Well people become numb to those sorts of things so we’re kind of balancing and we’re waiting for this experiment to see what happens in the central part of the United States to see if we can then transfer it down to the southern part.”

For now, the focus here is changing the way we respond to all storm warnings  Stefkovich used March 18th storms that rolled across Central Alabama as an example of how we all need to work on how we receive storm warnings.

“We had a horrific event as far as the number of severe thunderstorm warnings,” he said.

Straight-line winds sent trees crashing into homes and pulled structures apart. But Stefkovich says even though they were warned, many didn’t realize the thunderstorm would cause so much damage

“We used words like very dangerous situation, structures will be damaged, trees will be uprooted and when we got done with the event we still have people to say, what I didn’t think it was going to be that bad.”

The national weather service says it’s important to make sure everyone understands how the county based warning system works and that they respond according to weather threats.

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