I’ve been pondering for quite a while the topic of how to ensure everyone receives and acts on severe weather warnings. I’ve listened to NWS forecasters, TV mets, and social scientists all offer opinions on how to increase the effectiveness of the warning process so that everyone heeds the danger. My overall conclusion: ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.
I base this on a number of personal experiences, a few of which are provided in list form below.
(1) During the February 24th 2016 tornado outbreak here in Virginia I was actively chasing and provided both a live video stream and telephone updates to the media. While in that process I drove in and out of at least 4 different tornado warnings (not to mention at least that many severe TS warnings). At no time during that several hour period did I see anyone else paying the least bit of attention to the multiple weather warnings being broadcast across many outlets. Instead all I witnessed was the public going about their daily business with little or no concern for the potential danger.
Additionally I attended a followup meeting held in Appomattox in June to discuss the whys and wherefores of the violent tornado that tore thru that area during the February outbreak. At one point during the NWS presentation a couple sitting several rows behind me raised their hands and stated that (a) they didn’t know there was a tornado warning and (b) they didn’t even know there had been a tornado until the next day. They lived 2 miles from the damage path of the EF3 tornado…
(2) Not wanting to throw the NWS under the bus I hesitate to mention the fact that several of my storm reports to two different offices have been received with – shall we say – less than enthusiastic response. These instances have occurred over a period of years and even resulted in a “pooh-poohed” response of one of my storm reports via a very public social media platform. This certainly doesn’t match NWS policy regarding the need for ground truth from spotters.
My latest telephone report came on September 29th as I was watching (and live streaming) a multi-vortex funnel spin under a wall cloud roughly a mile north of me. If I remember correctly the storm had been previously severe-warned (not tornado-warned) but wasn’t at this point, which is one of the reasons why I called in a report. The tepid response I received from the NWS individual at the other end of the phone call made me wonder why I bothered to take the time to call it in. Oh, and there is apparently no record of my telephone report from that evening.
To be scrupulously fair most of my storm reports have been accepted and acknowledged with thanks from various NWS offices. But if individuals monitoring such reports discredit those same reports – despite official NWS policy regarding the need for spotter ground truth – why should anyone take the time to send in vital time-critical information?
(3) To cap off my experiences I had a non-weather revelation happen just today. I needed cash so I headed to a local ATM located inside the lobby of a financial institution office. Being Saturday the office is closed but a sign on the outer door in large letters very plainly says to insert one’s ATM card in a slot next to the door (marked by a very large arrow) in order to gain 24/7 access to the machine. As I got out of my vehicle an individual already parked next to me politely informed me that the building was closed and thus I couldn’t get in. I nodded and proceeded to walk up to the door, insert my card into said slot, and entered the lobby.
When I walked back to my vehicle – after successfully withdrawing some cash from the ATM – that individual stated that they didn’t know they could use their ATM card to enter…despite the very plain and visible instructions on the outer door that I could see from my drivers seat before I backed out of the parking spot.
What’s that saying? You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him/her drink. Same thing with severe weather warnings. The weather enterprise can and should improve the warning process but ultimately the responsibility for paying attention and taking correct actions lies with individuals. Policies and procedures for severe weather warnings can only provide guidelines…they can’t make people do what they should do.