Sunday, April 8, 2012
You may have heard recently that there will be some minor changes in the severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings that are issued in parts of Kansas. I say "parts" because the National Weather Service offices in Wichita and Topeka are participating in an experimental project that will hopefully make the warnings issued more effective when the public gets the message. In the wake of more than 500 tornado deaths that occurred in 2011, an assessment conducted by meteorologists and social scientists found the public is getting complacent with the warnings.
If confidence is high that a destructive tornado will occur, words like "catastrophic" and "threat to human life" will be included in the warnings. If a tornado is possible, but not necessarily confirmed, words like "radar indicated" will be used in the bulletins. Still a serious situation, but maybe not life threatening at that time.
The hope is that people will perceive the most significant storms as possible life changing events and take the necessary steps to protect property and human life. Too many times when a tornado warning is issued, we have a tendency to want to go out and "see" with our own eyes what is going on. The other problem is that people wait for the tornado sirens to go off, and by then, you may only have seconds to react to the approaching storm. Research showed that the loss of life in Joplin was high because people waited to hear the sirens as their first means of getting the warning information.
There is no change in the criteria for a storm warning to be issued. It is still 1 inch hail, 58 mph wind or stronger, or tornadoes. So if you hear our team communicate warnings a little differently this spring and summer, you'll know what is going on. This is an experimental project, and based on its success, will determine if the rest of the country goes to this new method. So stay tuned.
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