Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The National Weather Service Needs to Chill Out

Having spent most of my life in the rural Midwest, I'm pretty familiar with storms. I've seen storms in which lightning strikes have been so close as to cause sparks (and, in one case, a small fireball) in my family's living room. Once lightning struck our water pipe and came out in the faucet in our kitchen sink. My mother happened to have her hands underneath that running faucet, and was literally lifted into the air and thrown across the room.

Yep. Crazy things happen in the Midwest sometimes. (Mom's fine now, btw.)

I also know a bit about tornadoes. Our town was in the path of one in 2003. Wiped out most of the trees and several buildings and houses.

So that's why I was surprised to turn on the television last night and find out that the place where I currently live was under a tornado warning.

I looked out of the window. Looked like rain.

Looked back at the television. The announcer was all "get to the lowest level of your house! stay away from windows!"

I live on an upper-story apartment. In the event of a tornado, it would make the most sense to seek shelter with my downstairs neighbors, but I didn't want to bother them if it was a false alarm.

Looked out of the window again. It was raining. Lightning in the distance, but very far away. Pretty peaceful, actually. Not like when we actually had a tornado, when the sky changed its color and the air changed its smell and we could see clouds actually start rotating.

So I logged on to the National Weather Service homepage to see what was going on.

They had, in fact, issued a Tornado Warning for my area. Their explanation was that "current weather conditions might lead to the possibility of funnel rotation."

"Might lead to the possibility?" Back when I was growing up, that was called a Tornado Watch. A Warning meant that someone had actually seen a funnel cloud. So far, no one had seen anything.

Meanwhile, the man on television was following suit to this new reclassification. "There might be the possibility of a tornado sometime in the next hour, so... go hide in your basement right now!"

Sure. Maybe they're doing this in the hopes that early action will keep everyone safe. But people generally don't take drills -- or false alarms -- seriously. I am less likely to go bother my neighbors over a Tornado Warning now that I know what its new classification means.

From now on, I'm waiting until I see green or hear sirens.

Editor's Note: Blue is well aware that the NWS is much better at "doing weather" than she is, and that they've got their reasons for calling things Watches or Warnings. Still, she wishes they were still using the old system. Maybe she's just nostalgic.

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