How to understand weather warnings

Winter storm warnings and tornado warnings almost dovetail in our area of the world. It’s important to be vigilant in either situation although you have less time to prepare during the tornado season for an impending storm so early warning is essential.

Pennington County has the CodeRED alert system which provide storm alerts automatically originated by a warning from the National Weather Service. These alerts go out to residents who have gone to the CodeRED site, created an account and made personal choices as to which alerts they want to receive.

It’s important to understand the construction of a storm warning. In times past, a tornado warning would cover a whole county even if the threat existed for only a very small portion of the county. This changed in 2007 as time and technology have allowed these warnings to cover a very specific area and so CodeRED alerts will only go out to that area. Some of these polygon-shaped areas are only a few square miles in shape so that may explain why your neighbor gets a CodeRED warning while you do not receive one.

Not receiving the warning alert is good news! If you are not in the area that the National Weather Service believes is being threatened by a potential tornado, you do not receive the notification. If your neighbor is in the area threatened, and has signed up for CodeRED, that is why they receive the alert. The technology and storm prediction are that precise and site-specific. It is one of those cultural changes brought about by changing technology.

It’s that cultural, gut-level change which is really the hardest to understand. When a person sees dark skies to the west, you assume there will be some sort of warning. It’s fortunate that the science to accurately target these warnings to the people who really are in danger exists, however storm-prediction is something that most of us do not understand-I mean just watching online radar doesn’t make me a meteorologist. If the warnings were broadcast out to everyone-”just in case”-the warnings would lose their effect after a few “false alarms.”

April 11th is the Statewide Tornado Drill and is part of Severe Weather Awareness week. Now is a good time to prepare your reaction to bad weather and to sign-up for CodeRED at penningtonsheriff.org. To really be prepared for inclement weather, a person really needs to be aware of their situation. I typically watch the weather daily and begin wrapping my mind around a storm 2-3 days out. A little preparation is like the difference between studying for a test or a surprise quiz; studying is always best. There are many good weather resources- most of them are free and the day usually belongs to those who are prepared for it. Let’s have a good spring and summer.

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