The National Weather Service does a fantastic job issuing tornado warnings. The statistics are impressive. Average lead times are approaching 15 minutes. Nearly 75% of tornado warnings actually verify. Unfortunately, to catch more tornadoes, the NWS issues more warnings. This has resulted in false alarm rates that are also around 75%.
Some of the highest false alarm rates are for tornado warnings for Quasi-Linear Convective Systems. That’s a fancy way of saying squall line.
On this date in 2011, popular Birmingham television meteorologist James Spann expressed his frustration over an event the night before.
That evening, for the second straight Monday, a line of thunderstorms produced numerous reports of damaging winds across Central Alabama. There was one brief tornado that produced EF1 damage in southern Jefferson County.
James was vocal after the event, saying that trying to catch brief spin up tornadoes with tornado warnings made no sense when the entire long, slow moving line of storms was capable of producing significant wind damage. James believes that brief spin up tornadoes within squall lines should be handled with severe thunderstorm warnings since the issuance of tornado warnings triggers wall to wall television coverage at ABC 33/40. James believes that wall to wall coverage is a privilege granted by station management and that it should not be used in marginal events since it exacerbates a cry wolf syndrome.
The incident was highlighted since it occurred during the season finale of Dancing With the Stars, a very popular ABC program.
Here is a link to James’ post on April 12, 2011, the morning after the storms.
The difference in warning philosophy has led to a spirited discussion about whether there are too many tornado warnings. In reality, there aren’t too many tornado warnings. We need to leverage technology to deliver the very specific National Weather Service warnings directly to the user. Smartphone technology makes this possible.
MyWARN is the best example of using technology to deliver warnings and other critical National Weather Service alerts.
Get MyWARN now from the iTunes Store and the Google Play Store