These warnings will include new hazard, impact, source information and updated Call to Action statements. The weather service hopes the new warnings will get members of the public to take potentially life-saving actions faster.
St. Louis Warning Coordination Meteorologist Jim Kramper says this is the beginning of a test. “We think the warning process and the result is going to be overhauled eventually in a bigger fashion, but we just can’t do it at once. We’re going to take steps, and this is probably the first step.”
The warnings are being tested in five weather service offices covering most of Missouri and parts of Illinois and Kansas. Kramper explains why the Weather Service chose these offices. “They wanted to try to get offices that have been effected by strong tornadoes recently, and try to get a variety as well. Kansas sometimes looks at their storms differently than a lot of people in St. Louis do. So we’ll have a lot of variety in terms of the people that are going to be exposed to this new type of warning.”
Those offices’ coverage areas do not include the Bootheel and Scotland and Clark counties in far northeast Missouri.
The updates are based on the findings of the Weather Service and social scientists, who have studied people’s behavior when severe weather hits in events like the May 22, 2011 Joplin tornado. Kramper says they’ve learned that most people, upon hearing a warning, will look for more information.
“They hear ‘tornado warning,’ in most cases they’re going to take a look outside, they’re going to see what’s going on. Is there anything right there in the vicinity or does it look clear? Maybe they can see the dark cloud off in the distance. Or, maybe all of a sudden they can see the wind howling outside. That’s what we have found people do. They don’t really take action just because they hear this warning. They’re going to assess the situation their situation and find out, ‘What do I really need to do?’”
Some things might not change, however. Kramper says for instance, the Weather Service has no say in what county and city officials do with local outdoor warning sirens.
“The local warning systems are controlled by local authorities. We’re hopeful that they will take this additional information that we’re going to try and make it easy for them to see the warnings and they’ll use that when they make their decisions … but what they decide in terms of turning them on or not is still going to be totally up to them.”
Much of the time, the public does not read these warnings with their own eyes. Rather, they get the information from media outlets. Kramper says how media outlets will pass it along is up to them. Then, it’s up to the public what they do with that information.
See examples of the warnings being tested, with the new language highlighted: