Friday, April 29, 2011

Storm Warnings and the Public- Revisited

Once again this country has seen a major tornado outbreak, with lives lost, many injuries, and millions (possibly over a billion) dollars worth of property damage. Many people have posted their feelings, and even though I haven't yet shared mine, I do feel the same sadness that others feel.

Because of the high number of deaths, I wouldn't be surprised if the government conducts a study on why so many peopled died. If they don't, they should.

I'm sure that once again warnings would become a major issue. I've posted on this before:

I'm not going to rehash those comments here. I don't think I would change much of what I've already said. But I have new thoughts on the issue.

The NWS constantly seeks to improve and to increase the lead time of its warnings. That doesn't need to change, but even with tight budgets, those efforts should receive the most funding we can afford. I believe that the approach to educating the public about watches and warnings does need to change.

I have noticed that several states will have a Severe Weather Awareness Week in conjunction with the NWS. I believe that we need a national campaign as well, to reinforce the state and regional efforts, and to get the attention of more of the general public. I'm not sure if we need a long campaign every year, but a week-long campaign once every 3 - 4 years, with short campaigns of 3 days every year in-between would go a long way towards making the public more aware of the need to keep an eye out for weather hazards. These campaigns need to target schools as well as the general public.

In addition, the way watches and warnings are described need to change. People need to know that warnings are ACTION statements - that if you are in an area named in a warning, you need to do something to ensure your own safety, and the safety of family, friends, co-workers, etc. Watches are only ADVISORY statements - that the NWS sees that severe weather is possible in the watch area, and you should monitor the media for warnings, or keep an eye open for threatening conditions at your location.

So far, the Awareness campaigns I have seen have been conducted by state authorities and local NWS offices. The only time I see a non-government entity involved in a campaign, is when McDonalds does their McReady program, or a local radio or TV station puts on a campaign targeted at their audience. This doesn't mean that non-governmental organizations don't conduct any campaigns, it's just that I don't know of any. I know the American Red Cross publishes booklets and pamphlets about severe weather, but I don't know if they have an organized effort to promote severe weather awareness. A campaign involving NGO's, such as the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, ham radio clubs, neighborhood or homeowners associations, etc., could have a bigger impact because the public might see these people as ordinary people and not as bureaucrats and politicians that want to tell people what to do.

I'm not sure of what else could be or should be done. But I do know that we do need to do something different. Too many people are dying needlessly.

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