James Spann on the Increasing Issues With the National Weather Service's Tornado Warning System

James Spann, one of the meteorologists I most admire, has written an outstanding piece on the crisis in the tornado warning system. The entire essay is here. I encourage you to read it in its entirety.

Some excerpts:

I write this to point out a systemic issue that is growing, and is creating significant deterioration of the current NWS Watch/Warning system. Which in turn, will put lives in danger as people lose faith in weather warnings.

I can only hope this debacle sheds light on the increasing issue of the number of high false alarms, constant hyperbole, and fear mongering prior to and during severe weather events. The public is being desensitized, and tornado warnings are losing their meaning. 

Some NWS offices choose the “carpet bombing” method during severe weather threats, leading to False Alarm Ratio (FAR) values over 80 in some cases. Warning after warning after warning with no verification is simply crying wolf, and it has to stop. 

We can’t catch every EF-0 tornado that is down for two minutes. It is simply impossible. We have to realize there are things we just can’t do, and things we just don’t understand. Humility is missing in our science.

In addition to reducing the number of false alarms, I also believe we have to take a look at the tornado warning system. Do we simply need to do away with tornado emergencies since some people seemingly have stopped paying attention to “regular” tornado warnings? This is a question for social scientists, but we need answers.

In my opinion we are a fork in the road. No, we can’t control the social media hypesters and rogue chasers with no training, but those of us in the professional weather enterprise can control OUR products and services. We must keep the warning system from going down the tubes...

I agree with every word James has written. I wrote on this same topic Saturday evening. If you missed my piece, it is here


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