By Jon Schroeder
Killeen Daily Herald
Starting Monday, Texas residents can expect to see storm warnings issued in a new way.
The NOAA National Weather Service is introducing Storm Based Warnings, which will pinpoint weather events more precisely than the old, county-based system.
Before, if a weather event was likely to affect a small portion of the county, a warning would have been issued for the entire county. Now, media outlets will have access to specific meteorological or hydrological threat areas instead.
Gary Woodall, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Fort Worth, said the change should help in "reducing the amount of false-alarming" which has gone on in meteorological crises.
There are other benefits as well, both in terms of money and clarity of communications. Assuming storm-based warnings with areas one-quarter the size of a county, Dr. Daniel Sutter, an associate professor of economics at the University of Texas Pan-American, said the U.S. will likely save money as a result – his best estimate is $1 billion.
The savings will be "almost certainly greater than $100 million per year," Sutter said, noting that Harris County – the most-warned county in the country – accounts for 12 percent of all U.S. man-hours lost because of tornado warnings.
That county spent 41 hours under tornado warnings over the course of Sutter's study, from 2000-2004.
The side benefit could be more rightly placed citizen confidence in weather forecasting.
"It's possible (using the new system) that people will be more likely to respond to tornado warnings," Sutter said. There's no hard data to back that up, he admitted, saying that on a gut level it seems to make sense that more specific warnings might lead to more specific responses.
Mike Griffin, weekend meteorologist at Channel 6 KCEN-TV, said his station will use the data to more accurately pinpoint storm warnings, but the station's graphics system isn't quite ready to display storm-based warnings the way NWS has designed. Instead, at Channel 6 warnings will still be issued for entire counties, but meteorologists will be able to point out more precise areas in which residents should take extra care.
Scrolling words at the bottom of the screen also will be more precise, pointing out parts of counties which should take warning, rather than simply listing full counties.
Griffin said he doesn't see any real downsides to the new system: "We'll be able to predict paths more accurately," he said, noting that with this new information, areas 70 percent smaller will be warned of impending weather events.
Contact Jon Schroeder at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 547-0428