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Changes are in store for National Weather Service severe weather threat levels

If you pay attention to weather forecasts, you might notice a few new terms making their way into storm predictions. The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center is adding two new categories to its list of threat levels.
by Silas Allen Modified: August 13, 2014 at 2:00 pm •  Published: August 12, 2014

If you pay attention to weather forecasts, you might notice new terms making their way into storm predictions this fall.

The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center is adding two new categories to its list of threat levels. Officials with the Norman-based agency say the new categories will help residents better understand how likely storms are and avoid being taken by surprise.

Under the old threat level system, National Weather Service forecasters predicted slight, moderate or high levels of risk of tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and other weather. Beginning Oct. 22, forecasters will be able to predict a “marginal” or “enhanced” risk.

Greg Carbin, the center’s warning coordination meteorologist, said the new system breaks the old “slight risk” category into three new categories: marginal risk, slight risk and enhanced risk. The “moderate risk” and “high risk” categories won’t be changed.

‘Misleading’ category

For example, if forecasters predict a 2 percent chance of a tornado touching down within 25 miles of a point on the map, weather bulletins will now show a marginal risk of a tornado. In years past, a 2 percent chance would have been categorized as a slight risk, Carbin said.

National Weather Service officials have for years fielded complaints from their partner agencies that the “slight risk” category was misleading or difficult to define, Carbin said.

Like the old system of categories, the new threat level designations are tied to percent chances for severe weather, Carbin said. Meteorologists and other weather experts deal mainly in percentage chances, he said, but those figures can be confusing to the casual reader.

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by Silas Allen
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri.
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