MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

May 12, 2013

State is leader in new ways of warning of storms

National Weather Service experimenting with alert system

— Officials say an experimental warning system being rolled out across portions of the United States is similar to one that’s been saving Oklahoma lives for years.

Ed Calianese, a warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said the experimental Impact Based Warnings began following deadly tornadoes in 2011 in Joplin, Mo., and Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Each tornado caused mass casualties, which helped spur the change. In the April 27, 2011, tornado that touched down in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, Ala., 64 people died. More than 150 were killed less than a month later in Joplin.

“There were initially four or five offices doing it, and this year it’s been expanded to the entire central region,” Calianese said.

Although Oklahoma, which falls into the weather service’s Southern Region, isn’t part of the program, Calianese said the state has been doing something similar since the mid-1990s.  

The IBW’s goal is to create tiers of warnings that not only provide more information but grab enough attention to provoke a response, he said. Emergency managers across the nation, he said, are discovering a problem all too familiar to those in Oklahoma:

“People ignore sirens. They ignore storm warnings.”

Calianese said the IBW was created with three goals:

• To provide additional valuable information to media and emergency management officials.

• To facilitate improved public response and decision making.

• To better meet societal needs in the most life-threatening weather events.

The system itself is similar to the Homeland Security Advisory System. Warnings are color-coded to specify threats.

“They’re trying to create wording that’s appropriate,” Calianese said. “If you know there’s a tornado on the ground, you don’t just put a message on weather radar, you’ve got valid info at this point that a tornado is there and there could be massive loss of life. Each situation is different, and the wording needs to describe that.”

Calianese said Oklahoma, with its long history of severe weather, has been using a similar system for nearly two decades.

“We’ve got different phrases regarding what our confidence is of a storm producing a tornado,” he said. “Even though we’re not in the program itself, what we do is similar.”

Those warnings go out on television, the Emergency Alert System, and cell phones, he said.

“When the alert is activated, it goes out immediately,” he said.

Reach Dylan Goforth at (918) 684-2903 or dgoforth@muskogeephoenix.com.

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