Let me first preface this post by saying… I am not a meteorologist.
I AM NOT A METEOROLOGIST.
Now, here’s a picture.
This is what’s called a “hook echo.” It’s one of the telltale signs of a tornado in a storm system. As forecasting tools become more accurate and more advanced, and as scientists just generally learn more about weather, tornadoes, and how to predict them… things like this become possible. But I have to ask… “is it too possible?”
As a child growing up, I was terrified of thunderstorms. I spent most of my summer at my grandmother’s house, where she had one of those NOAA Weather Radios that would turn on automatically if an advisory were issued. I was gripped with fear any time I would hear that horrible “siren” sound as it sprung to life and began broadcasting with its early (and still unchanged) computer voice. I would scramble to turn on the TV so I could watch the news and see the doppler radar of our impending doom. And I can’t tell you how many times I heard the TV meteorologists repeat their saying.
A watch means conditions are favorable for the formation of a tornado. A warning means that a tornado has formed and been spotted, and you should take shelter immediately.
Watches were issued, both for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, often before the first drop of rain or first gust of wind had ever hit us. It just mean that there was a good chance that bad things were coming our way. A warning, on the other hand, signaled quite clearly; “Bad shit is coming… hide now!”
But now, a warning has lost its meaning. A line of storms rolled through the Charlotte area today, and that wonderful screeching siren and computer voice broke in while I was listening to NPR at lunch. What it said this time was different from what I remember as a child. It said that a warning had been issued, and that meant conditions were favorable for the formation of a tornado. What? Favorable? Warning means “HIDE NOW!”… not “favorable”.
And I’ve seen a lot of these warnings on the news lately. We’ve had some decent thunderstorms in the past month or two, and all of them seem to have spawned at least one tornado warning somewhere in the area. Now that I know they’re being called out as “conditions are favorable” rather than “yup, we done seen it”… I understand why. But that brings me back to my original point. Are all the false alarms going to desensitize people to the whole ordeal? Are we going to get to a point where a warning is just as mundane and just as ignored as a watch? And if we do, is that going to put people at risk in the chance that they choose to ignore what turns out to be a valid warning? Why create a warning based on technology that seems to be getting it wrong far more than getting it right?
Don’t get me wrong, I love technology, and I’m always amazed at what can be done with it as far as weather is concerned. Whenever we have a storm in the area, the first thing I do is hit up Weather Underground, watch a time loop, and see when it might be coming our way. I saw the bow echo in today’s radar that probably led to today’s warnings in it for myself. (Can you find it?) I think I have a decent idea of how tornadoes form, and how meteorologists look for wind shear and certain shapes in the radar to make their predictions… but I still believe they need to be more conservative in issuing tornado warnings.
Any meteorologists out there in the world care to chime in?