Severe Weather Warning System Changed: Storm Timing and Geographic Location Improved

The National Weather Service is unveiling a new system of  issuing severe weather warnings on  Oct. 1, 2007. The new system will use radar and computer modeling programs to predict the moment a storm will hit a community or even a certain crossroads or landmarks. The old system of issuing countywide alerts will be eliminated.

Known as storm-based warnings, the new alerts could reduce a warning area from thousands of square miles to a few hundred square miles, experts said.

The new system will initially be limited to warnings for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, floods and marine hazards. Later, it will be expanded to include other threats like extreme heat and cold.

Tornado forecasting began in the late 1940s, using storm spotters and the county-by-county system ever since.

Under the new system, the weather service plans to issue warnings for specific storms and alert people who might be in the path. On a radar map, the warned areas will appear as highlighted polygons rather than whole counties. Alerts will refer to commonly known landmarks like rivers and roads in written announcements.

The system will also improve weather warnings to cell phones and other handheld devices.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expects the new system will save $100 million annually, mainly by cutting back on unneeded business closings and the amount of time people spend seeking shelter in basements, etc. during warnings.