National Weather Service changed warnings system after Joplin tornado

NWS Pleasant Hill office.jpg
Posted at 4:16 PM, May 21, 2021

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Lessons learned from the tornado which destroyed much of Joplin, Missouri, in 2011 continue to impact the way we receive weather warnings today.

In a report the National Weather Service compiled after the Joplin tornado, it determined meteorologists accurately predicted the tornado, but the agency’s warnings weren’t actionable, or easy for the public to use.

“The NWS should explore evolving the warning system to better support effective decision making," the report stated.

Now the government agency uses “impact based warnings,” which basically place tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings in particular categories using “tags” to better highlight the risk a particular warning poses.

“I feel [the impact-based warning system] allows us to do lot better job communicating what we’re expecting for impacts and risk, not only to partners like [41 Action News chief Meteorologist] Gary [Lezak] and his team, but also to make it easier for the general public to understand as well,” said Andy Bailey, the warning coordinator meteorologist for the National Weather Services’ Pleasant Hill, Missouri, location.

For about the past five years, the NWS has sent notifications directly to people’s cellphone for tornado and flash flood warnings using the same wireless emergency alert system law enforcement utilizes for Amber Alerts. Beginning later this summer, the NWS will also begin pushing those emergency alerts for the highest threat category of severe thunderstorms.

“We will only sound the alarm for baseball-sized hail or larger, or 80mph winds or greater,” Bailey said.

Bailey hopes the new information helps people decide how to prepare and shelter from a storm.