Thursday, June 3, 2021

Ask Meteorologist Mike!!

Weather Twitter has been very active the last last 36 hours with lots of mis-information. So, Meteorologist Mike will provide answers and comments.

Is It Illegal For Anyone But the National Weather Service to Issue Tornado Warnings?

It is shocking how widespread this mistaken notion,"only the government can issue storm warnings" is in meteorology. 

When one reminds them of the First Amendment we often we a reply like the one below.

Today, there are a number of television stations that issue tornado warnings for their viewers. In fact, what is now KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City invented tornado warnings. It was in the business of issuing tornado warnings years before the Weather Bureau. 

Here is an example of me warning our viewers during the 1991 Wichita-Andover Tornado (no NWS tornado warning was in effect at that time).
Obviously, the "weather police" did not come and arrest me. 😀

More recently, there was no tornado watch or warning when the town of Eureka, Kansas, was struck by a damaging tornado in 2018. KSNW-TV meteorologist Lisa Teachman went on the air and told her viewers, "This storm could produce a tornado," before the tornado hit. The local emergency managers turned on the tornado sirens. 

In addition to TV stations warning the public, there are at least six companies that, like AccuWeather, issue tornado and other storm warnings to their clients.
 
In this photo, what you don't see is a train laying on its side. WeatherData Inc. issued a tornado warning for the BNSF tracks at Pampa, Texas, and trains were held outside of the warned track segment. That saved the railroad millions of dollars. 

The source of the "it is illegal for anyone but the National Weather Service to issue a tornado warning" myth is unclear to me. It was an issue in weather science ~35 years ago and it went away. But, the last two years or so, it has returned. 

Even if there was some way to actually forbid entities other than government from issuing tornado warnings, it would be terrible public policy. Do we want trains to derail due to extreme weather? Do we want well-qualified meteorologists to not be backstops for the NWS? After all, no meteorological organization is perfect. 

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