TORNADO SEASON: NWS to debut more descriptive, graphic warnings - FOX 26 News | MyFoxHouston

TORNADO SEASON: NWS to debut more descriptive, graphic warnings

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It's not uncommon for tornado sirens to be heard on one side of the county while it's clear and dry on the other, but the National Weather Service is about to change the way warnings are issued.

Minnesota has seen several storm alerts in recent months, but the abrupt change from winter to spring will soon give way to the summer severe weather season that will bring tornados and dangerous lightning. With it, there will also be new warnings that will be both more descriptive and more graphic.

Until now, tornado warnings issued by the NWS all looked the same -- but if a picture is worth a thousand words, images of the devastation left behind by a tornado could fill volumes.

"We have been fighting the battle of trying to convince the public to pay attention and to take these things seriously for -- I've been doing this for 27 years," said Judson Freed, with Ramsey County Emergency Management.

That's why Freed welcomes the new language, which is intended to capture attention.

"It'll say, 'This looks like a tornado -- 'life threatening,'" Freed explained. "They'll try and get that message out that this one is really bad."

On May 22, 2011, an EF2 with winds of up to 135 mph toppled hundreds of trees in the Jordan neighborhood in Minneapolis. On that same day, 161 people were killed by a powerful line of storms that tore through Joplin, Mo. That storm prompted the NWS to revise its warning system after researchers found residents weren't told just how devastating the storm would be.

"You know, tornados, severe thunderstorms, straight-line winds -- they're all strong storms," said FOX 9 Chief Meteorologist Ian Leonard. "They are all capable of leveling your house and they are all capable of killing people."

In the past, tornado warnings were issued county-wide with no way of distinguishing powerful wind from a deadly twister. That gave many a false sense of safety, according to NWS researchers.

"People are given that mixed message," Freed explained. "The warnings are issued, but they don't see anything. So, by being able to narrow down the location of these warnings, we're hoping to get rid of the 'cry wolf syndrome.'"

The new warnings will instead be impact-based, using descriptive language to paint a clearer picture of the threat -- where it will hit and when.

"Some of the new description in there like, 'your neighborhood might get leveled,'" Leonard said. "I'm telling you right now, the new way the warnings are issued is going to save lives."

The new warnings will be most noticeable for those with weather radios because they will hear the warnings read aloud, but new tracking technology also will send the warnings straight to smart phones. In fact, the free FOX 9 Weather App can use the location feature on your phone to let you know if you're in danger.

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