I have written about severe weather criteria before (Storm Warnings and the Public, Storm Warnings Revisited - Someone Must Have Listened, Storm Warnings and the Public- Revisited), but this time I'm not going to talk so much about the criteria as the reporting of severe conditions during Skywarn nets.
Probably since the beginning of Skywarn nets, the net control operators have had to put up with “nuisance reports.” These are reports that don't quite meet the minimum criteria, but storm spotters, especially new or untrained ones, will call in them in anyway. But neither the net controls nor the National Weather Service meteorologists are looking for the kind of information contained in the reports.
The net control will still thank the spotter for the report, out of courtesy. The Skywarn program depends on volunteers, and they usually do not like to turn people away.
However, that is not true in every area. Some places will accept reports only from registered members of their group. While they do this to eliminate nuisance reports, they might also eliminate credible reports from trained and experienced spotters from outside their area.
Why are nuisance reports a problem?
First, they waste time. The time the net control spends taking a nuisance report could be used to take a report of more serious conditions.
Second, they waste the net control's energy. During a severe weather event in a highly populated area, reports will come in hot and heavy. Recording and forwarding those reports to the NWS is work that requires energy.
Third, nuisance reports tend to multiply.
Why do people call in nuisance reports?
Most that do have good intentions – they want to help!
Some may do it out of ignorance – they don't know what the criteria are. Others might be operating out of a misunderstanding, thinking that conditions that are merely unpleasant constitute severe weather. Some might even think that the NWS wants to know where the severe weather isn't occurring!
What is the solution?
Up to now, the usual response is to review severe weather reporting criteria on a regular net after a Skywarn event, or maybe at a club meeting. But I have seen this happen time after time with no end in sight.
Oftentimes, the ones making the nuisance reports miss the regular nets and meetings, and might not go to the spotter training classes. Then, during the next severe weather event, even though something more serious is going on, they pop up with another nuisance report. And the cycle keeps going on and on...
What can be done?
In the case of those who don't participate in the training, the regular nets, and the club meetings, not much can be done except to get them more involved. That will have to be done on a person by person basis, and with a large amount of tact.
Beyond this, what else could be done?
You might have heard the saying, “Think outside the box.” Has anyone ever considered rethinking the box?
Let's look at how the severe weather weather reporting criteria are presented. Usually, at the spotter training and in the training materials, they will start with the MINIMUMS for wind and hail, before moving on to the more serious stuff.
I believe that opens the door for a misperception of what the NWS is looking for. When someone hears the criteria, they might not hear the 58 MPH, or they might mistake quarter inch hail for hail the size of quarters or larger. So, they think that any strong wind or hail qualifies as severe. Also, since floods are major killers in severe weather, torrential rain must qualify!
As someone once pointed out, if you keep doing the same thing you've always done, you are going to keep getting the same result you have always gotten. To get a different result, you need to do something different.
Therefore, I propose that the NWS and its Skywarn partners change the way they present the severe weather reporting criteria. Instead of starting with the minimums, present them according to priority. That is, I mean from top priority down: tornadoes, persistently rotating wall clouds, funnel clouds, then flooding or damage, then large hail and potentially damaging winds. Explicitly state that you are not interested in rain or lightning.
Also, do this across the board, from the training and training materials to the Skywarn net scripts.
Now, I admit this policy won't stop all nuisance reports right away. I believe it will take a while to take effect. But following this policy consistently should reduce nuisance reports to a minor issue.