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Weather Alerts To Provide More Information In Warnings

March 29, 2013

By Dave Aeikens


Tornado warning alerts sent by the National Weather Service are going to include more details.

The alerts, which start Monday, are an effort to get people to safety sooner when bad weather approaches.

The change will allow National Weather Service forecasters, including the Chanhassen office that does forecasts for Central Minnesota, to provide more information about the severity of storms.

The expanded warnings were tested in Missouri and Kansas in 2012 and will expand to 12 Midwestern states including Minnesota.

Future tornado warnings will include tags that provide additional information about the storm that clearly communicates potential dangers.

"The desire is to ring the bell a little louder. Let`s put out warnings with more details," said Mike Hudson, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Kansas City, Mo.

The weather service studied storms in 2011 in the southeastern United States and Joplin, Mo., that left dozens dead. It found people did not respond quickly to tornado warnings because they did not think they were in danger, Hudson said.

According to the weather service, forecasters will have three tiers to choose from as they issue warnings:

  • When a tornado is possible based on radar data, the warning will include a list that clearly communicates hazards and impacts. This is the most common type of warning.
  • When there is substantial evidence of a large and dangerous tornado, the warning will include the phrase "This is a particularly dangerous situation" to identify a high threat level, describe expected damage and promote urgency to seek immediate shelter. A damage threat tag of "considerable" will be embedded in the warning.
  • When a known, potentially violent tornado is likely to produce devastating damage, the warning will announce a "tornado emergency" and direct the public to seek shelter immediately. A damage threat tag of "catastrophic" will be embedded in the warning. This is the highest level of tornado warning and will be reserved for rare cases like the deadly EF-5 that struck Joplin.

  • The powerful EF-5 tornadoes, which gust for 3 seconds at more than 200 mph, are rare in Minnesota but do occur, Hudson said.

    "On those days when those types of event are expected, it is a way for forecasters to reach out to their partners in emergency management with a message that rings the bell a little bit louder," Hudson said.

    The new language for warnings is a good addition to the ongoing efforts to improve communications during storms, said Erin Hausauer, interim director of emergency management for Stearns County.

    "These are really meant to provide people with information that this is an extremely dangerous situation," Hausauer said. "The hope is by providing additional information, people will feel more inclined to respond to the information."

    "I think a lot of people have interest in the weather, and have trouble going to the basement because they want to see it," Hausauer said.


    (c)2013 The St. Cloud Times, St. Cloud, Minn.


    Story image: Emergency personnel walk through a severely damaged neighborhood after a tornado hit Joplin, Mo., on May 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein.)

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