Interesting Weather Information

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Reality Check: Should The National Weather Service Issue Tornado Warnings for Brief, Weak Funnels Rated as EF0s and EF1s.

The text below is the script from a segment I researched and presented on WXIX-TV, Cincinnati, OH on Tuesday February 25, 2014.

As a TV meteorologist I realize, as do many - if not most - of my colleagues that there is a big problem with the NWS over warning tornadoes.

The national false alarm rate is about 75% and despite that their tornado data, on file with NOAA's Storm Prediction Center, clearly shows this is unnecessary they continue with no sign that this flawed policy will be changed.

In fact research indicates it could be dangerous in the long-term.

The record of the NWS is good for big tornadoes EF3, EF4 and EF5 storms but for the small, weak, brief spin up whirlwinds the record of the NWS is poor if not dangerous.

Here is the text of my report. After that there is additional information not contained in the story. It is in all caps because I cut and pasted it directly from the FOX19 system which is in all caps for the teleprompter.

VO = voice over, reporter is not on screen
GFX = graphics

----- Begin Script -----

THE FALSE ALARM PROBLEM 
[STEVE ON CAM]
TO BE CLEAR THIS REALITY CHECK IS NOT ABOUT HOW WELL NWS WILMINGTON DOES THEIR JOB …
… BUT ABOUT A TORNADO WARNING POLICY THAT TREATS WEAK SPIN UP FUNNELS THE SAME AS MONSTER KILLER TORNADOES. THAT POLICY IS SET AT HIGH LEVELS IN THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE BUREAUCRACY …

LET ME SHOW YOU WHY THAT POLICY NEEDS TO BE FIXED.

ON THE HIGH END OF THE ENHANCED FUJITA SCALE --- BIG TORNADOES ---

[VO BIG TORNADO VIDEO THEN DAMAGE ]
THE EF 3s, 4s AND 5s REQUIRE BIG THUNDERSTORMS WITH STRONG ROTATION. THEY ARE EASY TO SEE ON DOPPLER RADAR AND EASY TO WARN.

THEY ARE THE HEADLINE GRABBERS - THAT CREATE NIGHTMARES LIKE THIS.

THE BIG ONES MAKE UP LESS THAN 6% OF THE TOTAL NUMBER OF TORNADOES.

[STEVE ON CAM]
BUT ALMOST 80% OF ALL TORNADOES END UP ON THE LOW END OF THE ENHANCED FUJITA SCALE RATED AS EF1s AND EF0s.

[VO GFX FULL SCREEN – LEADING EDGE RADAR IMAGES FROM OSGOOD 02.17.2014]
Link to Osgood Radar Images: 

http://stevehorstmeyer.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-ef1-near-osgood-indiana-20feb2014.html

THEY ARE SMALL VORTICES AT THE FONT EDGE OF A THUNDERSTORM … THEY SPIN UP QUICKLY … AND TOUCH DOWN BRIEFLY.

THEY ARE HARD TO SEE ON RADAR AND THEY ARE THE SOURCE OF THE MAJORITY OF THE FALSE ALARMS.

[VO VIDEO FROM OSGOOD INDIANA THURSDAY 2.20.2014]

THIS  DAMAGE FROM NEAR OSGOOD, INDIANA LAST THURSDAY IS WHAT AN EF1 OR ZERO PRODUCES  – MOSTLY MINOR AND NOT WIDESPREAD.

[STEVE ON CAM]
IN FACT GOING BACK TO 1950, IN WHAT IS NOW NWS WILMINGTON’S COUNTY WARNING AREA

[VO GFX FULL]
NO DEATHS HAVE BEEN CAUSED BY  LEVEL ZERO TORNADOES AND ONLY ONE DEATH HAS BEEN ATTRIBUTED TO A LEVEL 1.

THAT’S IN MORE THAN 63 YEARS.

THOSE STATISTICS MEAN THAT TORNADO WARNINGS FOR EF0 AND EF1 TORNADOES ARE NOT SAVING LIVES BECAUSE A FUNNEL OF THAT STRENGTH IS JUST NOT THAT DEADLY.

[VO GFX FULL SCREEN ADD ON LINES BASED ON INITIAL ISSUANCE]
AND ...  DURING THE DOPPLER RADAR ERA - SINCE 1995 – THE WILMINGTON NWS OFFICE HAS ISSUED 542 TORNADO WARNINGS.
BASED ON A NATIONAL FALSE ALARN RATE OF 75% -
 MORE THAN 400 OF THOSE WERE FALSE ALARMS


BOB RYAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE AMERICAN METEOROLOGICAL SOCIETY WROTE,
[VO FULL SCREEN GFX]

  There are small whirls ….  and the real McCoy tornadoes. We all have a role in effectively communicating the real danger, beyond just yelling TORNADO WARNING…”

[STEVE ON CAM]

THE FALSE ALARM RATE IS A GLARING RED FLAG POINTING TO A POTENTIALLY DEADLY PROBLEM.

 [VO GFX]
IN THEIR PEER REVIEWED STUDY, “FALSE ALARMS, TORNADO WARNINGS AND TORNADO CASUALTIES” PUBLISHED IN 2009 KEVIN SIMMONS AND DANIEL SUTTER WROTE,

"We have found strong evidence that a higher local, recent FAR [FALSE ALARM RATIO] signi´Čücantly increases tornado fatalities and injuries ..."

ACCORDING TO THE RESEARCH OF SIMMONS AND SUTTER  -  IF THE NWS DOES NOT FIX THE FALSE ALARM PROBLEM .....

WE MAY SEE DEATHS AND INJURIES INCREASE.

MANY METEOROLOGISTS FEEL IT IS TIME TO FIX THE FALSE ALARM PROBLEM.

THAT’S REALITY CHECK.

Copyright 2014 WXIX. All rights reserved.

----- END SCRIPT ----- 

Sources:
Tornado Data: NOAA Storm Prediction Center: http://www.spc.noaa.gov/gis/svrgis/
Tornado Warning Data:  Iowa Environmental Mesonet: http://mesonet.agron.iastate.edu/
Peer Reviewed Journal Articles:
False Alarms, Tornado Warnings, and Tornado Casualties
Kevin M. Simmons, Daniel Sutter
Weather, Climate, and Society
Volume 1, Issue 1 (October 2009) pp. 38-53
Tornado Warnings, Lead Times, and Tornado Casualties: An Empirical Investigation
Kevin M. Simmons, Daniel Sutter
Weather and Forecasting
Volume 23, Issue 2 (April 2008) pp. 246-258
Bob Ryan Quote: Storm Watch 7 Weather Blog
Copyright 2014 WXIX. All rights reserved.
 
ADDITIONAL DATA, NOT USED IN THE STORY FOR PERSPECTIVE

Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana Lightning Deaths 1959 - 2012 Source: NOAA

OH   146
KY     95
IN      90
Total 331 (5.61 Deaths Per Year or 56 deaths in a decade)

Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana F/EF Zero and 1 Tornado Deaths 1959 - 2012

OH   1
KY   4
IN    7
Total 13 (.24 deaths per year or 2.4 deaths in a decade)

.006 deaths per F/EF 0/1 tornado (6 deaths per 1000 F/EF 1 and 0 tornadoes)


YOU ARE 25.5 TIMES MORE LIKELY TO DIE FROM A LIGHTNING STRIKE THAN 
AND EF 0 OR EF1 TORNADO.



So I ask the question, "Should the NWS issue tornado warnings for EF 0 and EF 1 tornadoes?

Why not just cover the small, brief, insignificant whirlwind with verbage in a severe thunderstorm warning, instead of all the chaos they create each time there is a bit of rotation in a thunderstorm?




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