From the ABC 7 Weather team

Tornado False Alarms and Decisions

June 9, 2012 - 05:25 AM
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One week ago 23 tornado warnings.  Were they the real McCoy

This past week the Washington Post Capital Weather Gang published a thought provoking article about the many tornado warnings last week and the continuing high "False Alarm Rate" with tornado warnings.  A cause for concern.  Worth a read and here was my opinion piece on the article.

"Jason, all, This is a critical question and discussion. I had someone Tweet to me that Friday they were evacuated to the basement of the National Building Museum because of a tornado warning. The warning WAS NOT for downtown DC. TORNADO WARNING sets off all sorts of alarms and fears and decisons, some of which might result in more injury than from an actual small whirwind. If NWS offices in Missouri and Kansas, after the tragic outbreaks of last year, can issue apocalyptic warnings for a possible extreme event with wording such as "EXTREMELY DANGEROUS TORNADO WITH COMPLETE DEVASTATION LIKELY. ... SEEK SHELTER NOW! ... MOBILE HOMES AND OUTBUILDINGS WILL OFFER NO SHELTER FROM THIS TORNADO — ABANDON THEM IMMEDIATELY." with today's technology and science we can, on the other side, issue wording that conveys the degree of danger and risk not just "tornado warning" without anything else. Example: "Doppler radar is detecting a strong thunderstorm likely producing a small whirlwind or small tornado. Winds of 50-85 mph are possible within the warned area. Stay inside and away from windows" Or radar and spotter observations show a DANGEROUS [emphasis mine] tornado likely producing major damage. Head to a storm shelter, bathroom or basement in the warning area. Or " A LIFE THREATENING TORNADO [again my emphasis] is heading toward. . . seek a safe room, basement in a very protected area or underground shelter. This will be a devastating tornado" We do have better skill now at seeing the likely strength of tornadoes. Beating a false alrm rate of 70% by verifying a short small EF-0 in the woods should not be a goal. Helping people make the best decision, such as not falling down the stairs at the National Building Museum for no warning or not getting into a serious traffic accident because all the driver hears is "TORNADO WARNING" IS a goal. A "correct" forecast lacking good communication which results in a bad decision or unecessary action is a useless forecast. There are winter storms and big winter storms. There are small whirls, detected more and more, and the real McCoy tornadoes. We all have a role in effectively communicating the real danger, beyond just yelling TORNADO WARNING so everyone will make the best decision. Some studies have shown 60% of the U.S. population still get confused between "watch" and "warning". The science has made great advances we can make similar advances in communicating weather risk and danger. "TORNADO WARNING" with 70% false alarm rate needs fixing"


Bob Ryan

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