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National Weather Service looks to overhaul tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings

NORMAN, OK – The National Weather Service is looking at ways to modernize how they warn the public about dangerous weather situations that could lead to a major overhaul of the tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings with which we are all familiar.

For three weeks this spring, a select group of forecasters, broadcasters, emergency managers and social scientists gathered at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma to test drive some of the new systems and procedures under consideration.

The current system of tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings was developed back in the 1960s and 1970s. But over the past quarter century, advances in communication technology have opened the door to innovated enhancements.

The future of weather warnings was tested at the three week experiment. National Weather Service forecasters used the proposed new tools to issue proposed new warnings and advisories, which includes what is called a probability plume; it gives the end-users, including emergency managers, more information about what the forecasters think a storm may do and when.

My role was to simulate how the new products might be integrated into television coverage of severe weather. While much was learned, much more work still needs to be done before any of this goes operational. The early plans are for a final version to roll out sometime in the early 2020s.