Severe weather season has been off to a slow start in the tri-state this spring, but that doesn't mean you should let your guard down. The National Weather Service is trying a new approach in order to save lives.
On May 22, 2011, the deadliest single tornado since modern record keeping began devastated the city of Joplin, Missouri killing 158 people. Along with death and catastrophic destruction, the EF-5 tornado also changed the way the NWS warns for storms.
Last Thursday, a very warm and humid day lured many University of Evansville students outdoors to enjoy the summer-like weather, but what some students didn't know was that strong storms were brewing to the west.
"You can never tell in Southern Indiana, our weather is so unpredictable," says Ashley Goffinet, a UE student. "It seems like it can go bad to worse pretty fast."
UE has a detailed severe weather safety policy which includes several methods of alerting students and staff about impending storms.
"We get text alerts on our phone, so that tells you if a storm's coming and how serious it can be," says Athena Haake.
"We were actually sent back to the kitchen area for 45-minutes, so they make sure everybody's safe and knows what to do," says Goffinet.
It's that kind of pro-active approach that the National Weather Service would like everyone to have. An extensive study of the 2011 Joplin, MO tornado found that most people wanted for verification before taking cover; a move that proved deadly.
That's where the new ‘impact-based warnings' program comes in. The goal is to be as detailed as possible when issuing alerts to give them more credibility. Warnings now immediately say whether a tornado is Doppler indicated or has actually been spotted and what kind of damage can be expected.
The idea is to get people to take cover immediately instead of wasting potentially life-saving moments getting confirmation of a storm. Students 14 News spoke with say the more information, the better.
"If a storm is serious, I would like to know and be as prepared as I could so that I would go into the basement if I saw it was going to be a serious storm," says Haake. "I think they would help a lot."
Impact-based warnings were tested in 2011 and only expanded to the tri-state on April 1, so the Paducah National Weather Service has had little feedback on whether the new wording is working.
In the end, no matter what the NWS, 14 First Alert, or any severe weather alert source tells you, it comes down to personal responsibility to take the information and protect yourself.
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