Thursday, March 28, 2013

More on Why the "Impacts Based Warnings" Experiment is a Bad Idea

Based on several weather discussion groups and tweets, my opinion of the National Weather Service's impact-based warnings experiment is not going over well with some. Fair enough. At least two have written that (paraphrasing) I should chill out because "it is just an experiment." [emphasis mine] That is sort of true. But, I object to the public being used as guinea pigs when the stakes are so high.

This experiment could cost lives. That is why I am so opposed.

For the moment, let's disregard the fact that incorrectly warning people that "mass devastation" is about to occur -- with the storm then completely missing the warned area --  might cause people to disregard future warnings. That would be an indirect effect of this experiment.

It is entirely possible this experiment may cause a direct loss of life. Some weather scientists tell people in mobile homes and in other areas without shelters to get in their car and drive away from the tornado's path:

On April 14, 2012, the Wichita National Weather Service office told the people of Conway Springs, Kansas, "Debris will block most roadways. Mass devastation is highly likely making the area unrecognizable to survivors." Suppose you live in a mobile home or a house without a basement, you have heard the advice to "flee mobile homes" during tornado warnings, and you get that "tornado emergency" -- mass destruction is "highly likely" wording? So, you get in your car and flee Conway Springs.
Map of April 14 tornadoes (from Wichita NWS) west, south and east of Conway Springs
As you can see from the map, nothing happened in Conway Springs. But, if you had decided to follow the advice of meteorologists to "flee" you could have been killed by driving into one of the tornadoes that missed the town. By trying to scare ("mass devastation," "survivors," and similar language) people into taking shelter they might be induced to take action that costs them their lives.

While weather science can do a good job of warning of a tornadoes,  forecasts of movement and location are not accurate to the quarter mile nor do we have any skill at forecasting the mile-by-mile intensity of the storm. This is the crux of my objections.

I invite scientists who believe my facts are wrong to post comments.

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