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National Weather Service prepares to launch simplified system for hazard alerts

National Weather Service prepares to launch simplified system for hazard alerts

Some changes are coming this winter to the way that the National Weather Service (NWS) makes sure you are aware and prepared for storms.

For decades, the NWS has used the familiar watch, warning, and advisory system to alert the public of forecast hazards. However, over the course of time, the NWS has learned that these terms may be confusing to some, and have therefore launched their hazards simplification project.

Greg DeVoir is a Senior Meteorologist with the NWS. He said, "Simplification, getting the message out is the goal. We are trying to eliminate confusion and just get the information out there."

One issue is that the familiar watch, warning, and advisory system has been in place for a long time, and there's the risk that making possible wholesale changes could only lead to added confusion. For now, the NWS will only be rolling out subtle changes, with an eye toward further improvement in the future.

The ultimate goal for the NWS is to ensure what the call a "weather ready nation." As with any forecast, advance warning is the key. However, even in this digital age, patience plays a big role in storm forecasting accuracy.

DeVoir said, "There is always uncertainty in a forecast and the uncertainty within four days decreases drastically so we would like people to know beyond four days if there's a big storm that's possible but we're not going to be putting out specific numbers at that point but once we get inside of four days, when we're really confident sometimes a winter storm watch may come out 2 1/2 to perhaps 3 1/2 days in advance of an event."

Starting this winter, the NWS will be issuing shorter messages and follow a standard format that specifically address the what, where, and when of winter hazards followed by more specific details on what you can do in advance to protest you and your family.

When it comes to advance warning of a winter weather event, the service also faces the relatively new challenges presented by social media and dire weather messages that are forecast way too far in advance, therefore lacking credibility.

DeVoir said, "These days with high resolution models, we see on social media just hobbyists posting snow maps seven or eight days out."

As we know, technology like this is a very valuable tool when it comes to spreading the weather message well in advance of a hazardous winter storm. You now have the ability to get lots of various weather data and information right here in the palm of your hand, but buyer beware, it's important to know, where exactly is that information coming from?

You really need to understand is that likely to happen, and who sent this information out? Is it a credible source, like the media? The weather service, a private weather company? Or is it a hobbyist who just grabs something and wants likes on their page?

Moving forward the NWS is committed to this hazardous simplification project, and will continue to conduct public surveys and focus groups in an effort to simplify their messaging and create a truly weather ready nation.

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