Tornado Coverage Tips for Meteorologists -- Updated May 27

This piece is intended for my meteorologist colleagues. 

I've had the opportunity to watch tornado coverage from three television markets in the past two weeks. Television meteorologists work their hearts and bodies out trying to keep everyone safe -- often working 15+ hour days. 

To help keep the coverage as clear as possible, I'd like to offer some suggestions to my colleagues. 

"All Hazards Possible"

A few years ago, instead of saying "tornadoes plus large hail plus damaging thunderstorm-generated winds," the NWS's Storm Prediction Center shortened it by writing, "All hazards possible." This has morphed into television weather coverage where a watch is issued and the meteorologist says to the audience, "All hazards are possible." 

The problem is the audience doesn't know what the hazards are. I recommend not using that phrase with the public. 

Side Lobes

The circle is over the same spot of geography. On the right, the Doppler wind data, it looks like a tornado is in progress or just moments from forming. But, if you look at the reflectivity data, you see there is no connection to the precipitation. That means the wind data is a side lobe displaying rotation higher up in the storm -- it is not a tornado. A radio meteorologist made this mistake yesterday evening.

A second example is below. 
Please study up on side lobes as they sometimes even fool the NWS and we don't want to provide misinformation to the public. 

"TOR TAG" or "Destructive Tag"

Heard this in two different markets. For non-meteorologists, they are referring to "tags" at the bottom of  severe thunderstorm warnings. Example below:
"Tornado Possible" is a "tornado tag" or "tor tag." The "thunderstorm damage threat" in this case is a "considerable tag" or at times lately has been a "destructive [worst category] tag."

The problem is that the 99% of the audience that is not meteorologists don't know what a "tor tag" is. Just say, "a tornado is possible with this thunderstorm."

Ordinary.....Particularly Dangerous Situation....Tornado Emergency

A dozen years ago, there was one type of tornado warning. 

Then, partly as a result of the misinterpretation of what went wrong in Joplin, the NWS decided to create three types of tornado warnings. But, I'm highly confident the audience doesn't know whether a "tornado emergency" or a tornado warning, particularly dangerous situation" (PDS) is worse. Also, the PDS tornado warning (2nd worst) definition conflicts with the PDS (worst category) tornado watch. This is far, far more complex than it should be.
The above item that came across Twitter clearly demonstrates the point. 

If I were still doing on-air tornado coverage, I'd simply tell viewers, "A tornado warning is in effect and [if appropriate] and this is a really dangerous situation" rather than "A particularly dangerous situation tornado warning is in effect..."

Of course, you may disagree with any or all of this and that's fine. These are my suggestions and I think they will make things more clear to the audience when seconds count. 


  1. I think that the PDS tag is supposed to be confused with the other, especially if you consider what caused it to be created.


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