The National Weather Service recently announced plans to expand the use of its experimental impact-based storm warnings to include all 38 branches of the NWS Central Region. The warnings go beyond a simple explanation of a storm’s strength by communicating specific effects that the storm could cause, using descriptions like “major house and building damage likely and complete destruction possible,” “major power outages in path of tornado highly likely,” and “complete destruction of vehicles likely.” The warnings were implemented last year in Kansas and Missouri, and officials believe they helped prevent fatalities during a tornado outbreak in Kansas last April 14. The effectiveness of the warnings last year will be examined in more depth in a presentation at the Second AMS Conference on Weather Warnings and Communication, which will be held this June in Nashville (in concert with the 41st Conference on Broadcast Meteorology) .
These new warnings are just one example of the advances made in communicating dangerous weather events to the public, and the Nashville conference will examine a number of methods, including the use of social media and mobile apps. The meeting will also look at how the general public responds to various types of warnings, and explore both old and new technologies in warning systems. The full program for the conference can be found here.
Clarity of communication is a key to the impact-based warnings. According to this story in the Wichita Eagle, emergency officials are praising the vernacular of the new warnings. Michael Hudson, chief operations officer for the NWS Central Region headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri, noted that “emergency managers liked the extra information that was in the warnings–the information that got to the magnitude of the weather.” In specific reference to the intense tornado in Sedgwick County, Kansas, last April, that county’s emergency management director, Randy Duncan, felt the language in the impact-based warnings “helped to convey how serious the situation was, and the fact that we didn’t have any fatalities means–at least in my mind–that people in Wichita paid attention.”
The expanded use of the warnings this year will include some minor revisions resulting from some lessons learned in last year’s experiment. One change is the new use of the word “considerable” instead of “significant,” because “significant” was considered by many users to be too vague. Hudson explained that forecasters are instructed to consider “what you’d tell your wife or husband or children” about the potential threat of a storm.