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Weather warnings get more specific

Tuesday, October 2, 2007 | 5:06 p.m. CDT; updated 6:55 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

No longer will people take shelter while a tornado or severe thunderstorm rages miles and miles away. The National Weather Service changed its severe storm warning system Monday from a “county-based system” to a “storm-based system.”

“A storm rarely covers an entire county,” said Jim Kramper, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in St. Louis.

The new system uses computers to draw attention to a specific area where the storm is headed. Instead of using county lines to define storm threats, towns, highways, intersections and landmarks such as parks and lakes will be taken into account when showing the specific area of the storm, said John Ferree, Severe Storms Services Manager for the National Weather Center in Norman, Okla.

The area under warning will be 70 percent less than with county-based warning systems. Warnings will also last for shorter amounts of time. Ferree said the weather service hopes that this way people have more confidence in the warning systems because they are more specific and cause less waiting.

The storm-based system sketches an area in any shape or combination of shapes to show where the storm is going. The weather service has produced these polygon shapes in its St. Louis and Kansas City offices for awhile, but now the method is mandatory nationwide.

The graphics are accessible on the TV, Internet, cell phones and personal digital assistant devices. The new system also slightly alters the graphic used on TV and the Internet by zooming in on a specific area in higher resolution, Ferree said.

The scroll at the bottom of the TV during storm warnings is also changing to show more specific location descriptions rather than just county lines.

For now, the radio alarm feature for storm warnings will use county-based warnings, but Ferree said that listeners might hear more defined areas such as northwest Boone County or southeast Boone County referred to more often.

Anthony Lupo, an associate professor of atmospheric science at MU, said he thinks the new system will be successful and prove beneficial in the long run.

“I think this is going to get rid of some of the comments I hear when it’s sunny up here (in Columbia, near MU) and sirens are going off,” Lupo said.

The new system came about due to improved technology over the past decade, Ferree said. Doppler radar, global positioning systems and geographic information systems technology all make it easier to define specific storm locations.

Kramper said that the graphics are generated using latitude and longitude lines to pinpoint the storm’s specific geographical location.

“We want you to be able to pop up your cell phone and see exactly where the storm is at,” Kramper said.


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