The way severe weather warnings are issued in Iowa will be changing a bit this spring. Jeff Johnson, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in metro Des Moines, says watches and warnings will be accompanied by what he calls a tag, or a more descriptive statement. “The tornado tag will have an option between ‘radar indicated’ and actually a ‘tornado observed’ tag,” Johnson says. “With the damage threat tags, we’ll be able to say in terms of a large catastrophic tornado moving toward a metropolitan area, we’ll put that into the warning itself, that way decision makers can make quicker responses.”
The changes come, in part, following the fact 2011 was a historic year in terms of tornado deaths nationwide. Recent studies found some people don’t always understand what severe weather warnings mean, so the tags aim to make it more clear what’s coming down the road. “Nothing’s changing with our watches and warnings, all the coding will be the same, what a Tornado Warning means will be the same, and a watch,” Johnson says. “It will add a little more information on the bottom of the warning so if you just picked it up and saw the warning, you can quickly ascertain what the overall threat of that warning is.”
The changes in the warnings may seem minor, but Johnson says it’s hoped the slight differences may provide vital information that could ultimately save lives. “You might hear a sense of urgency in the announcer’s voice if it’s a ‘catastrophic’ tag, because it’s going to give that person knowledge that this is a significant, major tornado event and to go all out on the dissemination,” Johnson says. “Each tag has a corresponding call to action statement which will be placed in the warning for weather radio listeners.”
The new series of “impact-based” warnings were tested last year in Missouri and Kansas. Now, starting April 1st, they’ll be rolled out in Iowa and ten other states across the Midwest, encompassing 38 National Weather Service offices. Learn more at www.weather.gov.