NWS To Issue 'Impact Based' Warnings

By: Jared Cerullo Email
By: Jared Cerullo Email

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The warnings that come out of the National Weather Service office in Wichita will be a little different this year. Trying to combat the issue of complacency when dangerous weather warnings are issued, the weather service is implementing what it calls a tiered impact system.

In the past all severe thunderstorm warnings were worded much the same, no matter how dangerous the thunderstorm might have been. For instance, a warning for a storm that barely surpassed the threshold of severity would be worded similarly to a warning for a storm that was producing 100 mile-per-hour winds and softball sized hail.

"It's trying to paint a picture for the public as to what the true impacts are from what we're expecting," explains NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist Chance Hayes. "Whereas in the past, it really wasn't conveyed very well."

So now, a typical severe thunderstorm warning will specifically state that there could be "minor damage to small tree branches, roofs and windows."

But if a deadly tornado is either on the ground or indicated by radar, the warning will specifically state that "complete destruction of entire neighborhoods is likely. Mass devastation is highly likely, making the area unrecognizable to survivors. Tornado may be unsurvivable if shelter is not sought below ground level."

"Every single person out there on the planet has a different reaction to risk and how they perceive risk," Hayes said. "It's a comfort level. My hope is that we can help make that a little bit quicker in that decision process."

KAKEland Managing Meteorologist Jay Prater says, for most folks who rely on television for their warning information, there won't be much of a change.

"I think for the majority of the public, these changes will be largely unnoticed because we've already been adding this additional threat-level information for years," Prater said. "Is this a good thing? Yes. But will it be this dramatic change to the end user? No."

In 2011, there were 552 tornado fatalities across the country. That's the second most in a single year since 1925. The total is mainly because of the more than 300 deaths from the April 27 outbreak across the south, and the 158 deaths from the tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri, on May 22.

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