The Semantics of Weather Awareness

Sometimes all the technology and warning in the world can’t help everyone. We need to accept that. But the National Weather Service would like to think they’re getting through to most of us.  I agree.  Damage from the Murfreesboro, TN tornado of April 2009. Photo by Flickr user RussSwift via CC.

In the wake of last weekend’s tornado outbreak impacting Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, on ABC News, Diane Sawyer reported that there was no warning to the storms:

Something terrifying took the South by surprise last night — no warning. 25 tornadoes striking in less than 24 hours.

In the meteorology community, especially among some of my broadcast-meteorology friends, there was a LOT of discussion about the media really messing things up this time.  Perhaps many people didn’t hear the warning, because they were asleep, but that does not mean there was no warning!

A friend posted this open letter earlier this week on her blog, whatever-weather.com.  She speaks my sentiment exactly.  The National Weather Service has been performing exceptionally well in recent outbreaks, sometimes providing one week’s notice on potential tornadic activity.

While there was a correction to the report the following evening, there was no apology by ABC News to the hundreds of meteorologists at local news stations, private forecasting companies (such as The Weather Channel and Accu-Weather) and the National Weather Service who provided plenty of warning.

To the Americans who live in Tornado Alley, I implore you!  Be aware!  Most locals in the path of the storms last Sunday night could have had the pertinent information at dinnertime the evening before; they could have gone to sleep having set up an alert system.  Many media markets have programs through local news stations where subscribers can receive texts or be called if a warning is coming, or you can use a national program, such as The Weather Channel’s Notify! program, available for as little as $40 per year.

Even if you don’t have the Internet (Wait! Then you wouldn’t be reading this!), invest $25-30 in a basic NOAA weather radio.  I even linked for you the one I own, which has served my family well in Nebraska and on the Florida Panhandle.  It will alert you if a tornado or severe thunderstorm warning is pending for your local area.  The beeping might be annoying, but it’s worth it to save your life and those of your loved ones!

The director of the National Weather Service, Dr. Jack Hayes, made a similar plea to Americans last December through an Op-Ed piece that made its way into several major newspapers.  Make the investment, it can save your life!

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Patricia Vollmer is the proud mother of two emerging geek sons, ages 12 & 14. She serves part time as a meteorologist with the Air Force Reserve and is currently assigned to the U.S. Air Force Academy. Patricia blogs about her family's nomadic military life at Ground Control to Major Mom. Home is always where the Air Force sends her family, which for now is in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Hobbies include running, despite no one chasing her, sharing her love for Disney and Star Wars, and exploring the world with her boys. Ask her why the sky is blue at your own risk.