“Mass devastation is highly likely, making the area unrecognizable to survivors” sounds more like an apocalyptic prediction than a severe weather warning. But this phrase and others like it are now part of a new initiative by the National Weather Service to recall attention to storm and tornado warnings that are often ignored.
According to the Associated Press, tests will start Monday on a new weather warning system that uses words like “catastrophic” and “unsurvivable.” Five weather service offices in Missouri and Kansas will use this vivid language to better relay the potential impact of a storm.
(PHOTOS: Deadly Storms Rock the Midwest and South)
Current tornado warnings cover portions of counties, urging people to take action. However, as Weather Channel meteorologist Col Galyean told Reuters, the constant stream of advisories has largely lead to their dismissal. “People who live in areas where tornadoes happen frequently, like Joplin, Missouri, for example, are kind of becoming desensitized to the warnings.” Last May, 161 people were killed in Joplin after a tornado struck the town.
The new warnings are designed to catch individuals’ attentions and clearly communicate the effects of the severe weather. Andy Bailey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Pleasant Hill, Mo., told AP a new warning might look something like this: “THIS IS AN EXTREMELY DANGEROUS TORNADO WITH COMPLETE DEVASTATION LIKELY. … SEEK SHELTER NOW! … MOBILE HOMES AND OUTBUILDINGS WILL OFFER NO SHELTER FROM THIS TORNADO — ABANDON THEM IMMEDIATELY.”
(PHOTOS: Tornadoes Sweep Through Alabama)
The system will be based on severity, and will create two tiers of warnings for thunderstorms and three tiers for tornadoes. These multiple tiers are possible due to a new type of Doppler radar called dual polarization, which measures both horizontal and vertical properties of a storm and helps to uncover its destructive tendencies. According to the Associated Press, a research team in North Carolina will analyze the results of the experiment when it ends in late fall to determine whether the system should be used nationwide.
“We can get the information to the public, but the key is to get the public to pay attention,” said Galyean.