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Good Question: Are There Too Many Weather Warnings?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
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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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