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During Washington hearing, weather experts question focus on more lead time for tornadoes

At Capitol Hill hearing, University of Oklahoma weather researcher says focus should be on zero deaths rather than a “magical number” of how much lead time to provide people to get to safety
by Chris Casteel Modified: June 27, 2013 at 8:00 pm •  Published: June 27, 2013

Lead-time debate

A preliminary study at OU regarding the public perception of tornado warning accuracy showed that, out of 3,000 people surveyed, 25 percent said they would take no protective action for a hypothetical storm in the light intensity category, Droegemeier reported in written testimony to the subcommittee.

Seven percent said they would take no action even after the warning level rose to “significant” and “severe, devastating and incredible events.” And 18 percent for those categories said they would drive away from the warned area.

Kathryn Sullivan, acting director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Bridenstine engaged in a lengthy exchange over whether the government should provide as much lead time as possible.

Sullivan told Bridenstine that she wouldn't necessarily set an hour of lead time as a goal, saying “there's a genuine question about how humans respond to impending risks.”

“So the government should make decisions about how much lead time we give people because we know better than they know how to protect themselves?” Bridenstine said.

“No,” Sullivan said. “We should understand how to communicate the information we have so it's effective for the people who have those decisions to take.”

“So let's say we have an hour lead time,” Bridenstine said. “Would you suggest we should withhold that information because an hour is too much and people aren't smart enough to take cover?”

“I'm not saying withhold it,” Sullivan said. “I'm simply saying that the challenge of communicating forecast information effectively to decision-makers is a genuine question that needs to be approached thoughtfully.”

by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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