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Weather Service aims for more accurate tornado warnings

POSTED: April 20, 2014 12:00 a.m.

False alarms during severe weather can draw the ire of residents, or worse a complacency that causes people to ignore real dangers.

So to help people keep a more vigilant mindset when it comes to tornado preparation, the National Weather Service’s Peachtree City office in Georgia is making an effort to lessen the number of tornado false alarms, officials said.

Steve Nelson, science and operations officer for the office, said the study is similar to one being conducted at the Birmingham office, both with the same goal: Reduce the number of inaccurate tornado warnings.

“We are also collaborating with recognized experts on tornado science and performance of National Weather Service warnings at the University of Oklahoma and the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center on this same subject, but over the entire Continental U.S.,” he said.

The hope is to have results by summer, he said.

Nelson stressed that there is a delicate balance between lowering false alarms and maintaining a high probability of detection.

“In the past, offices that have attempted to aggressively reduce tornado false alarms have encountered an unacceptable amount of increased missed tornado events,” he said, or tornadoes that come with no tornado warning.

Greater understanding of the issue may not yield hard results in a tricky task, he said.

“Even with better understanding of what leads to false alarms, it is very challenging to reduce false alarms and maintain very high detection rates,” Nelson said. “The scientists who study tornadoes and the storms that produce them are making slow but steady progress, but unfortunately have some way to go before we can better predict them.”


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