Good Question: Are There Too Many Weather Warnings?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — With wind chills expected to dip to 35 degrees below zero in much of Minnesota overnight, the National Weather Service issued its newest warning: The Extreme Cold Warning.

Along with the Winter Weather Warning, the Blizzard Warning, the High Wind Warning and all the other warnings, are there too many warnings?

“Every type of weather you can think of, there’s a warning that goes along with it,” said Mike Griesinger, a meteorologist who issues warnings at the National Weather Service office in Chanhassen.

The list is impressive. In Minnesota, we see: flash flood warning, flood warning, severe thunderstorm warning, tornado warning, blizzard warning, winter storm warning, lake effect snow warning, high wind warning, freeze warning, hard freeze warning, heavy freezing spray warning and an excessive heat warning.

Around the country, the list also includes a red flag warning, gale warning, hazardous seas warning, ice storm warning, avalanche warning and high surf warning.

“The word ‘warning’ immediately gets your attention?” WCCO-TV asked Griesinger.

“That’s the point of it,” said Griesinger.

“The big ones are the convective warnings – severe thunderstorm, tornado, flash flood warnings,” he said.

Those are the ones that are getting the most attention from researchers right now.

After the EF-5 tornado hit Joplin, Mo., in 2011, many people being interviewed after the fact said they didn’t take the warning seriously.

“There seemed to be this complacency, ‘well we hear these all the time,'” said Griesinger.

The National Weather Service analyzes every single warning its meteorologists issue to see if the team is getting it right. Every year, the weather service prepares a report, showing the accuracy of warnings and the false alarm rate.

In 2010, tornado warnings continued to have a very high false alarm rate, about 74 percent. Experts largely blame that on highly sensitive Doppler radar and a desire to over warn, rather than sitting on information.

“It’s a fine line we walk,” said Griesinger.

Winter storm warnings have a 90 percent accuracy rate, as those conditions are easier to predict than whether a tornado will touch down.

According to Griesinger, there isn’t much concern that there are too many types of warnings. Rather, it’s the issue of crying wolf.

“There is a fear of issuing too many of the warnings that we have,” he said.

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  • j speedbag 64

    4 people busted through the ice on redlake today…no survivors,2 recoverd 2 missing…not a normal winter folks…

  • Weather Nut

    Weather is not something to be taken lightly. While most of the time it is a relatively tame force, there are those situation when things can get dangerous. Warnings are necessary because most people wouldn’t have a clue. (This question sounds familiar…almost like it’s a repeat of last year.)

    On a different note…the record for the latest below-zero reading at MSP was NOT broken last night. NOAA data from MSP shows a -1F reading at 11:53 PM.

  • Al

    No wonder we have helicopter parents wrapping their kids in bubblewrap. Common sense and responsibility has gone out the window.

  • tan pup

    Yes, but if we didn’t have “warnings” how would the news media get our attention? It’s just part of the scare package the news puts out. Keep’em scared and they will be glued to the TV! I never pay any attention to the weather on TV, I look out the window and then react. I figue I have a better chance of being right than an overpaid talking head.

  • Noel Petit

    Yes, there are too many warnings. We can’t blow the sirens all the time or as in Joplin, they will be ignored. BTW channel 9 make a mockery of “Extreme Cold Warning” on Wednesday morning. -15 F is not extreme cold and will modern clothing and procedures we went on with life as normal. Warnings (and their confusing cousin the “Watch”) should be only issued so infrequently that folks perk up and pay attention.

  • Andrew M

    You can blame Fox News for all this bs. Dude leaves bag in shopping mall: Terror Warning, Some East Indian guy gets arrested for being drunk: Alert:Islamic Terrorist Captured, Grandma Jones loses her wheel chair: Security Threat at Denny’s. Flashy letters sell advertising. duh #winning.

  • Paula

    I think there are way too many warnings also. I believe the whole system needs to be redrawn. Example, a winter storm warning is now issued when more than 2 inches of snow fall. I think they should use the advisory more often, that would alert readers and TV watchers to be advised that you need to keep an eye on the weather.

    • Weather Nut

      This would be an advisory, not a warning, and even then other conditions must be met before an advisory is issued.

  • Bill

    Yes, there are too many warnings. Ever heard the fable of the boy who cried “wolf”?

    Part of the problem, at least here in MN, is the fact that, when compared with most of the country, the local TV market is geographically HUGE. Most states have several Designated Market Areas (DMAs), centered on one or more cities which is the “home” of most of it’s stations. For example, Wisconsin has a DMA in Eau Claire/LaCrosse, Wausau, Green Bay, Madison, Milwaukee, and some parts of the state are in DMAs based in other states. And those DMAs are close enough to one another that the region is geographically divided among them. But not here in Minnesota. While there is a Duluth DMA, and a couple more in the southern parts of the state, those others are relatively small. Instead, nearly the entire state is in the Twin Cities DMA. Why is this an issue? Because if there’s a tornado warning which only affects Red Lake County, it comes on in the Twin Cities market, which means they interrupt programming and take up two thirds of the TV screen with maps to let people THROUGHOUT THE STATE know about it. And that, simply put, is ridiculous.

    • Weather Nut

      This actually isn’t true either. Programming is interrupted for incidents occurring withing the 9-county metro area, or when major, life-threatening incidents are occurring within WCCO’s immediate programming area. An incident in Red Lake County would be part of the Fargo/Grand Forks area.

  • Bill

    Another part of the problem is that the threshholds for many of these warnings are set by people who are unfamiliar with the issue, and therefore don’t know when something is actually deserving of a warning. Most of the national media–and therefore, most of the national meteorologists–are from the east coast, where they are spoiled by constantly mild weather. Because of this, those people think that 20F is cold, and 2 inches of snow is major. And they’ve therefore set the standards for what deserves a “warning” way too low.

    You remember the so-called “blizzard” on the east coast about a decade ago? The one which had the media announcing end-of-the-world type warnings for about two weeks ahead of time? For the most part, it melted within 3 days. Sorry, but that’s not even a mild storm.

    Don’t let the idiots who react like that set policy on warnings for the rest of us.

    • Weather Nut

      Criterion for warnings and watches are set by the NOAA, which is made up of people with degrees and experience in the meteorology. Check your facts. I’m looking at the PDF right now that I got from NOAA.

  • Patrick PatPat Lilja

    If you don’t blow the sirens and something happens, people get hurt. If you blow them too often and people stop taking them seriously, people get hurt. There’s no way to win.

  • RML

    I’m glad for the warnings…. keep up the good work WCCO. I like to know what is going on and what I can expect. I think multiple warnings may help some of the clueless folks out there who ignore bad weather; if warnings save a life, it is worth it.

  • Puuuuuhleeeeeze

    I quit listening, watching and paying any attention to the local media idiots maybe 5-6 years ago. Thye are all trying to one up the other station and the bullchit gets more over the top every time.
    ALERT ALERT ALERT – winds will increase to 2mph and a snowflake may hit you.
    ALERT ALERT ALERT – it is below zero tonight and we all shall perish if we don’t stay indoors
    You are online – look at the National Weather Centers or weayherunderground and get the staright facts – not the ALERT ALERT ALERT bs

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