Thunderstorm, tornado warnings to be enhanced

Friday, March 15, 2013 | 7:51 a.m. CDT; updated 10:58 p.m. CDT, Saturday, March 16, 2013

BISMARCK, N.D. — The National Weather Service plans to beef up its weather warnings during this year's thunderstorm and tornado season in the central U.S. to give the public a better indication of the potential impact of storms, including the amount of damage expected.

The effort is in response to studies of devastating storms in 2011, particularly a tornado in Joplin, Mo., that killed 161 people, injured hundreds of others and damage or destroyed thousands of homes and businesses.

"The purpose is to provide better communication ... and give a better picture of the threat," John Paul Martin, a warning coordination meteorologist in the North Dakota capital of Bismarck, told The Bismarck Tribune. "The idea is to get people to take appropriate action."

Basic thunderstorm and tornado warnings from the weather service will remain the same, but they also now will include more specific information on a storm's intensity and potential damage, Martin said. There will be two categories of potential damage — "considerable" and "catastrophic."

The "Impact Based Warnings" system will be launched in April by 38 weather service offices in 14 states and will continue through November. It is an expansion of a 2012 experiment in five weather service offices.

The success of the system ultimately will be evaluated using an independent research group and feedback from the public, according to Jim Keeney, weather program manager at the weather service's central region headquarters in Kansas City.

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