WELDON SPRING — The National Weather Service office in suburban St. Louis says improvements to its radar will help better detect the severity of tornadoes.
Meanwhile, the service plans to test a more explicit set of warnings that could help people reach cover faster.
The new radar equipment is being added to the Doppler radar at the weather service station in Weldon Spring, about 30 miles west of St. Louis. It was expected to be operating by Saturday.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the upgraded radar will offer more detailed images of heavy rain, hail and the debris that comes with a tornado. The result is the service will be able to confirm a tornado more quickly.
"It will give us more data on the specific nature of storms," Wes Browning, head of the Weldon Spring office, said. "While information we have now might indicate a tornado, the upgrade will let us confirm one sooner."
The upgraded images will be available on the website for the St. Louis office.
The new warning system isn't directly related to the upgrade. Meteorologist Wes Browning says the weather service developed the new categories after the deadly tornadoes last spring in Joplin and central Alabama.
Beginning April 2, five weather stations in Missouri and Kansas will offer four levels of tornado warnings.
"The social scientists tell us that people don't tend to react to an initial threat but seek out more information," Browning said. "Rather than taking what could be lifesaving action, they tend to head for the TV or fire up the computer."
Jim Kramper, warning coordinator at the Weldon Spring station, said weather stations in several Southern states are testing a slightly different set of warnings. He said the National Weather Service will monitor their use through November "and then decide what to implement, here in the region and nationwide."
Bridgeton Mayor Conrad Bowers welcomed both developments. His city was struck by a tornado on April 22 that damaged hundreds of St. Louis County homes and caused millions of dollars of damage to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. No one was killed or seriously hurt.
"We were all so fortunate," Bowers said. "Anything that gets information out quicker is great news."
St. Louis County siren system manager Dan Stumpf said the more detailed warnings "will give us much more information to make our decisions and to make them earlier. It can save lives."