Sunday, June 11, 2017

Severe Weather Reporting Criteria - AGAIN!

Since I last visited this issue, things haven't changed enough.  I suggest you review my previous treatment of this issue here: Severe Weather Reporting Criteria Revisited.
Towards the end of that post, I recommended the presentation of reporting criteria according to priority instead of starting with the minimums.  This year during the spotter training, I noticed the Tulsa NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist, Ed Calianese,  listed them according to priority.  So, someone was listening.

Was it enough?  If you listened to the last couple of Skywarn nets in the Tulsa area, you couldn't tell if it made any difference at all.  I did say that this approach would take time to have a significant effect.  I also noticed that the Net Control operators continued to list criteria starting with the minimums.

So, why continue to push the priorities?

I can answer this with a few old quotes.

"First impressions are lasting impressions."  You might have heard this advice when preparing for a job interview, first date, or making a speech.  What that means is that people tend to remember the first things they see and hear when meeting someone new, and they are less likely to remember any changes in someone's appearance or personality.  This not only applies to people.  When someone visits a place they've never been to before, they tend to remember it the way it first appeared to them.

"FIFO - First In, First Out."  This is a business term, usually used in accounting and other business operations.  In accounting, it means that the first documents that come in, such as sales orders or time cards, are processed and recorded first.

"GIGO - Garbage In, Garbage Out."  This saying started with computer programmers, but at one time it became popular for a while.  It means that even if a program is designed to process information properly, if you feed garbage (bad data or information) into the program, the program will put out bad information.

These quotes give us a general picture of what is going on when someone makes a nuisance report.

When someone hears or sees the minimum criteria first, that is what they tend to remember.  So, when they are out looking at storms, their minds are set on the low end of the spectrum.  Also, many people have a tendency to "lower the bar."  Like I said in my previous post, quarter-sized hail becomes quarter inch hail.  Hail is precipitation, so is rain.  Some might assume that if the NWS wants to hear about hail, they want to hear about rain too.

Just to be sure that everyone is on the right track, let me list, in my own words, the severe weather criteria according to priority:

TORNADO  =  A violently rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm base to the ground.  A tornado WILL cause damage!  Anything that can cause damage, can also cause injury, or even death.  That is why tornadoes are #1 priority.

PERSISTENTLY ROTATING WALL CLOUD  =  A spinning, isolated lowering of the cloud base.  A persistently rotating wall cloud is one that appears to spin for 10 minutes or more.  Such wall clouds have a higher potential for producing a tornado than non-rotating clouds.  The shear factors that make the wall cloud rotate do indicate the storm is severe, so they should be watched and reported.

FUNNEL CLOUD  =  A spinning cone of condensation not in contact with the ground.  Funnel clouds are NOT tornadoes!  A tornado is always in contact with the ground, and is indicated by a dust or debris swirl on the ground.  If you cannot see the base of a funnel, report it only as a funnel.  Even if you can see the base, and it does not have a dust or debris swirl, report it, because severe conditions will be occurring near the funnel.

SIGNIFICANT DAMAGE   Significant damage would include items such as large tree limbs broken off, numerous shingles blown off a roof, or heavy objects lifted into the air.  Reports of significant damage will confirm severe conditions that may have prompted, or might indicate the need for, a severe warning.

SIGNIFICANT FLOODING   Significant flooding would include a stream out of its banks, a bridge or roadway washed out, or a roadway that is not visible.  Reports of significant flooding will confirm severe conditions that may have prompted, or might indicate the need for, a flood warning.

HAIL THE SIZE OF QUARTERS OR LARGER   This means if you place the hailstone on top of a quarter, it will completely cover the quarter. The best practice for reporting hail is to measure its diameter with a ruler, tape measure or calipers.  Next best is to compare it to coins or balls: quarters, half-dollars, ping pong or golf balls, etc.

58 MILES AN HOUR WINDS OR GREATER   The best practice for winds is to measure with a handheld or stationary gauge.  (This is one the NWS should reconsider, for in estimating winds, and according to the Beaufort Scale, you cannot distinguish between 50 and 60 MPH winds by visual clues.)

Now, I can see two more factors in why the nuisance reports continue to be a problem.

First, we have people that have a strong desire and drive to get their amateur radio license and get into storm spotting or chasing, but they don't get their license until AFTER the spotter training is over.  They spend their time studying for their license, and miss the spotter training.  So, when they go out to look at storms, they are not familiar with the criteria.

Second, the spotter reference card they used to hand out at the spotter training is available for download online, but it needs SERIOUS updating!

Again the resolution to this problem is time, and patience.  Time to educate, to train, to familiarize people with the best practices.

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