Local News

Tornado Warnings Are Not Crying Wolf

Posted May 7, 1998

— Blame it on El Nino or better technology, but the Weather Service is issuing more warnings than ever before.

An increasing number of those warnings are false alarms.

In the past 48 hours there have been five tornado warnings from the National Weather Service in Raleigh. Two turned out to be actual tornadoes.

Technology like doppler radar has improved our detection of killer storms. However, the increased warning may have a numbing effect on viewer and potential victims.

When tornadoes strike seconds count. Several citizens in Garner said that weather warnings saved their lives when a twister hit March 20th.

Tornado victim Bob Johnson said, "We did have forewarning and we had gotten in the safest place in our home, we got in the bathrooms."

Advances in storm tracking technology like doppler 5000 have enabled forecasters to nearly double the amount of time people have between a tornado warning and its impact.

Along with the increased warnings though, come a higher number of false alarms, which have gone up 60 percent in five years.

Storm forecasters fear that some people will not take the warnings seriously.

"If you take the attitude that every time I hear a severe weather warning if something bad doesn't happen, to me specifically, then you're going to think the false alarm ratio is very high," WRAL-TV Chief Forecaster Greg Fishel said. "And you're gonna say gee the next time I hear this I'm gonna blow it off. The one time you blow it off may very well be the one time you need that warning."

With the violent weather this year, most people will tell you the more warnings the better.

"It's still preferable to have that come across than have that storm come in and hit you, and you're not ready for it," said Tom Hegele, who works in Emergency Management.

Tornado victim Beverly Schell said, "It's okay that some of them are false alarms. We want to be, like they say, semper paratis, always prepared."

Meteorologists also warn that the increasing number of tornado warnings may have people taking severe thunderstorm warnings less seriously. In fact, those storms can prove just as deadly.

When tracking storms in 1997, the National Weather Service issued almost 2,600 tornado warnings, but there were only 590 tornadoes. Warnings were accurate 23 percent of the time. In 1992, before most cities had Doppler, there were 1700 warnings and 486 tornadoes, which is a 28 percent accuracy rate.


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