NWS looks to drop use of ‘advisory’
Kaitlyn Clay, Staff Writer, [email protected]
Joe Sullivan, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said years ago his mother-in-law called him afraid she was going to get hit by a tornado in Kansas after her local news station said her area was under a tornado advisory.
Sullivan said he immediately replied with, “You will be fine; that isn’t that serious,” and knew right then the NWS needed to come up with better verbiage for classifying storms and weather announcements.
Finally, after years of trying out different systems, the National Weather Service is working on its Hazard Simplification Project. The new project proposes the removal of the word “advisory” from the terms used to classify weather notices and to only keep “watch” and “warning.”
The National Weather Service currently uses three primary headline terms: “watch,” “warning” and “advisory” to alert the public and partners of hazardous events.
“Watch” means a significant event is possible; “warning” means a significant event is happening or about to happen; and “advisory” means a less significant event is happening or about to happen.
In addition to “watch,” “warning” and “advisory,” the NWS uses other headline terms to provide information on lower level threats.
“Special Weather Statement” is most commonly used for hazards that don’t reach any of the above three levels. “Short Term Forecast (NOW)” can also be used for short-lived, notable threats such as a line of thunderstorms.
“We have done a lot of focus groups in the past to gauge people’s understanding of the terms,” Sullivan said. “It’s common for people to get the terms mixed up or not fully understand them, and we have been battling on a national level of how to better communicate to the public on these terms.”
Common things heard in these focus groups or from national surveys is watch and warning both start with “wa,” making them easy to get confused, or, “I’ve never heard of or incorrectly interpret ‘Advisory’.”
The proposed, new system would have only two primary headline terms: “watch” and “warning.” The NWS would only alert of major events that require users to prepare (watch) or act (warning) for significant hazards that threaten life and property. In this proposal, the current secondary headlines — “Advisory,” “SPS” and “NOW” — would be discontinued. In their place, the NWS would use plain language statements to convey information for less significant events that aren’t reaching either the “watch” or “warning” levels.
For instance, instead of seeing “Winter weather advisory in effect from 4 – to 11 a.m. Saturday,” residents would read “Light snow accumulations from 4 to 11 a.m. Saturday.”
“I think this new revamp is a step in the right direction toward residents better understanding the weather and reacting at the right level,” Sullivan said. “I expect it to be in place in the spring of 2021 as long as everything else goes smoothly with the feedback they receive and the roll out of the new information.”
Anyone interested in providing feedback on the new classification system is welcome to reach out to [email protected]