The idea of changing the National Weather Service’s current system of severe weather watches and warnings has been discussed for years. Now the agency is preparing to try out a replacement.

Central Region Director Lynn Maximuk says work is underway toward a pilot project to be conducted in the 2012 severe weather season. He says the Weather Service is looking at modifying warning messages to offer a differentiation between different levels of severity in storms.

A team of experts is being formed now with the goal of having a plan in motion by December. Social scientists, the media, emergency managers and weather service personnel will work to develop messages that will have a graduated alert level.

Maximuk says a location for the pilot project has not been chosen, but he guesses it will be in the Missouri area.

The idea that watches and warnings need to be changed has been furthered by recommendations from survivors of severe weather events like the May 22 Joplin tornado. In post-event assessment interviews there and after other disasters, citizens have described problems understanding products from the Weather Service. Such problems might have lead to a failure to act in the face of dangerous phenomena like tornadoes and floods.

In efforts like the Integrated Warning Team program, social scientists have worked with federal meteorologists, emergency managers and members of the media in discussing what might make statements that would be more likely to get the desired result from the public. The same social scientists have developed new ideas through post-event assessments like the one done after the Joplin tornado.

Maximuk says a major education campaign will precede the pilot project, to teach the test area’s media, emergency managers and the public what the new products will look like and mean.

The current system of watches and warnings has been in use in various forms since 1952.

Mike Lear interviews National Weather Service Central Region Director Lynn Maximuk mp3 17:20