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February 11, 2013

A better way to warn?

Weather Service shows simpler headlines for hazards with online demonstration

CORBIN — By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer

Weather in Kentucky can change at the drop of a hat. As a result, weather watches, warnings and advisories are a part of living here as the change of the seasons.

But whether some people fully understand what those messages mean, and how to properly respond to a situation to stay safe, could be another story.

That’s why the National Weather Service is looking at a way to make those messages — what they call “hazard products” — more simple and easier to understand. And they’d like to hear from you.

It is a demonstration online at www.nws.weather.gov/haz_simp and it is running through March 31. The demonstration provides people with a chance to compare the text from a shortened version of their Watch, Warning and Advisory, or “WWA messages,” with an alternative version of the same message.

A PowerPoint audio cast explaining the demonstration is also available at the website.

“Right now, we have tons and tons of winter weather headlines, such as Winter Weather Advisories, Winter Storm Watches, and Winter Storm Warnings. The Weather Service is looking at providing a generic winter weather headline, but putting the emphasis on what’s going on outside, and giving a better description of what the threat is. It mainly involves the way the watch, or warning, or advisory is worded,” said Kevin Sullivan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Office in Jackson.

The Jackson office covers much of southeastern and eastern Kentucky, including the Tri-County. While the office welcomes comments and concerns from the demonstration, Sullivan said last Friday they’re not one of the 26 Weather Service offices participating in the simplification test.

However, three offices nearby our part of the state are running the test on simplifying the hazard products. The closest is the Weather Service office in Morristown, Tenn., which covers the Knoxville and Tri-Cities region. Also bordering Kentucky to the east are the offices in Blacksburg, Va. and Charleston, W.Va., which are also using the demonstration. People wanting to see the demonstration can also go to the websites of those offices, or the other 23 participating sites.

Those sites range from Caribou, Maine, to Honoluli, Hawaii. When asked about Hawaii, Sullivan noted the office there was picked as a location for the demonstration because the mountain peaks on the “Big Island of Hawaii” do get snow.

One demonstration from the Weather Service office in Aberdeen, S.D. shows what they’re wanting to do. While the counties affected in the warning, as well as the timing, winds and visibility and the snow and ice accumulations of the weather event are mentioned in both the “Shortened Official Message” and “Proposed Alternative Message” versions, the main difference lies in the headline of the messages.

On the shortened official message, the headline says: “Blizzard Warning Now In Effect Until 6 AM CST Monday…”

On the proposed alternative message, that headline reads, “The National Weather Service In Aberdeen Has Issued A Warning For Blizzard Conditions Until 6 AM CST Monday…”

According to the demonstration’s website, software designed specifically for the demonstration has been developed, which can also cover times when multiple watches, warnings or advisories are in effect at the same time. Those wanting to give feedback can also take a survey, answering three questions about what they like, do not like, and comments on the current system, or suggest alternatives to the proposal they’re testing.

“Depending on the feedback, some things could be changed if what we’re hearing is positive. Then again, if it’s negative, they may not implement it,” said Sullivan.

The bottom line remains being prepared and keeping people and property safe. Which is why Sullivan added the comments on the demonstration are so important on what can be done to get the word out.

Plain and simple.

“We want to emphasize what people need to do to protect their lives and property, and also to take heed to the products that we issue. By putting more of the threats up front in the message, more people will pay attention,” he said.

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