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NWS Unveils New Warning System for Severe Weather
The time for severe weather in central Illinois is right around the corner. The National Weather Service wants to make sure that the watches and warnings they issue are doing what they are intended to: keeping people safe. After a deadly tornado ripped through Joplin, Mo., in May 2011, the NWS did some research.
"Not everybody was in tune with how severe that event was that was approaching Joplin," NWS meterologist Llyle Barker said. "So, they went back and looked at, 'How are we going to change our warnings to get that message across that this is an unusual event, not just a week tornado.'"
From now on, severe weather events will include “impact-based” warnings. The idea has been tested in Missouri and Kansas already. The focus is to include statements that indicate how much damage will come with a storm, to give the public a better idea of a storm’s severity.
The NWS works with local television and radio stations, as well as emergency management agencies, to disseminate storm information to the public through broadcasts and sirens. Generally, the Logan County Emergency Management Agency uses three factors to determine when they activate their outdoor sirens.
"Whenever we see a wall cloud of any type, then we set off the outdoor warning sirens, then anytime we would obviously see a funnel or a tornado on the ground," EMA director Dan Fulscher said. "And then also the next one we do is 55-mile-per-hour sustained winds. We then set off the outdoor warning sirens."
Look or listen on a weather radio for terms like “observed” or “radar-indicated” to determine if a tornado has been spotted by a trained spotter, or seen on the radar imagery. Other terminology will indicate the damage level associated with the storm.
"We'll be using terms like 'considerable' or 'catastrophic' depending on how strong the storm happens to be and how many people might be impacted by the storm,” Barker said.
Fulscher said he was happy to see the NWS implement these terms to describe very severe weather events, so that people take them more seriously. He worries that the public may be complacent about storm warnings this summer since 2012 brought little to no severe weather to central Illinois. Fulscher estimated that in a typical year, Logan County alone sees more than a dozen severe storms.