Saturday, March 31, 2012

National Weather Service New Warnings

The National Weather Service is changing the language for storm warnings to include things like "hazard," and to focus on what the impact of the storm will be. Five offices in Kansas and Missouri will be the test cases.

Having lived in Kansas for a long time now, I've heard more than a couple of storm warnings. And, it's true that people don't take them seriously. But it's not because of the language of the storm warnings.

Do you remember that old tale about the "Boy Who Cried Wolf?" Well, this is a real-life version of it.

If you tell us to go to the basement 50 times and all that ever happens is some rain, we eventually think you're just talking to hear yourself. After the third or fourth time we run to the basement to take cover from what turns out to be a spring shower, it gets hard to believe you.

So, will we pay attention if you tell us town will be unrecognizeable after this storm? Absolutely. The first time. But, if you're wrong, and we all hope you are - the next time you tell us that we're going to believe you a little less. It's not that we think you are willingly leading us astray, but it's human nature to question the veracity of something that has been proven to be untrue.

All of this said, the reason so many people survived the Greensburg tornado was that they used the term "Tornado Emergency" for the first time. Thank goodness someone made that decision. They are responsible for saving many lives. Many, many lives.

I welcome the change, but there are some bigger issues here.
  • You have to use these things only when it's truly the situation. If you're casual with them, we will be too.
  • You have to do some "reverse PR" and make us understand your prediction ability isn't that great. We know it's not through our own experience, but you have to admit it so we're all on the same page. Maybe a little education on the "butterfly effect" is needed.
  • You have to teach weather anchors and reporters to be less excited over impending bad weather. The excited tone in their voices, the obvious thrills they're getting, only make us want the same thing. It makes us go out to the porch instead of down to the basement. By the way, in case you never thought of it, showing and printing our storm photos only encourages that as well. 
All of this said, I hope I never hear any of the new terminology in a real situation, but I do think it's a great idea to change it. I just think they need to address some of the underlying issues in addition.

The Washington Post has a story that illustrates the point:

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