LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Storm Prediction Center intends to broaden its advance warning system for severe weather after finding that days it labeled with a “slight risk” turned out to be pretty nasty.
State emergency managers say they're already attuned to bad weather, but believe new labels for its severe weather outlooks, “enhanced” and “marginal,” could keep them from crying “wolf” — and the public from tuning them out.
“We try to educate everybody that a tornado can pop out of thunderstorm at any time,” said Greg Flynn, a spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. “I don't think it will change the way we prepare, but if it changes the mind of one person in the public, if it gets one more person to pay attention, then it's worth it.”
When significant severe weather is forecast, the current rating system labels days as having a slight, moderate or high risk, based on the chance of tornadoes, high winds or significant hail.
Russ Schneider, the director of the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said the agency has found over the years that some conditions warranted more than a “slight risk” label, but not quite a “moderate risk” one. The center's default action has been to label the areas as a slight risk and advise National Weather Service offices to tell local residents and emergency managers that the storms could be rough.
“Some `slight risk' days are really quite active,” Schneider said Thursday. “You can get some strong tornadoes those days.”
So, sometime this spring — after its parent, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weighs in, likely in April — areas at the upper end of the current “slight risk” will be said to have an “enhanced risk.” There also would be a “marginal” category for risks less than slight.
“That will not raise many eyebrows around here,” Schneider said, speaking in Oklahoma, “but could as you move into the eastern United States” where storms generally aren't as strong. “The `enhanced risk' category will be a pretty high category if you get into the East Coast.”