Fore­cast­ers push for phone alerts dur­ing se­vere storms

The News-Times (Sunday) - - News - By Zach Murdock zach.murdock@hearst­medi­

DAN­BURY — Na­tional Weather Ser­vice fore­cast­ers are con­sid­er­ing adding a new class of emer­gency cell­phone alerts for se­vere weather af­ter the dev­as­tat­ing storms that swept through the area on May 15.

Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple re­ceived wire­less emer­gency alerts on their cell­phones — the star­tling push no­ti­fi­ca­tion with a blar­ing siren — for the four tor­na­does that touched down across Con­necti­cut and New York that af­ter­noon.

But many more peo­ple who were not tuned into fore­casts may not have known just how dan­ger­ous the storms were that day be­cause the weather ser­vice does not cur­rently send those same no­ti­fi­ca­tions for very se­vere thun­der­storms, said Bill Goodman, the lead me­te­o­rol­o­gist at the NWS fore­cast of­fice in Up­ton, N.Y.

That should change, he told sci­en­tists and fore­cast­ers on Satur­day at the sev­enth an­nual Tri-State Weather Con­fer­ence at West­ern Con­necti­cut State Univer­sity.

“I won­dered out loud even as this was oc­cur­ring, ‘Why not a high risk (alert) for this event?’ ” he said. “The Storm Pre­dic­tion Cen­ter bases it on numbers ... but we’re tak­ing in so­ci­etal im­pacts for win­ter weather, and I think maybe it’s time for us to start that with se­vere thun­der­storms, too.

Six peo­ple died in the se­vere storms’ 500-mile path from Penn­syl­va­nia to Rhode Is­land, in­clud­ing a woman in New Fair­field who was killed when a tree crushed the car she was rid­ing in as 110 mph winds from a mac­roburst hit the area.

Fore­cast­ers knew the storms would be se­vere and dan­ger­ous days in ad­vance and is­sued sev­eral re­ports, watches and warn­ings as it de­vel­oped early in the week.

The weather ser­vice reg­u­larly posted up­dates on its so­cial me­dia pages, and news­pa­pers and TV broad­casts fol­lowed it closely that day as the fore­cast grew more con­cern­ing.

Yet Goodman can’t help but won­der whether the NWS also should have pinged more cell­phones with in­for­ma­tion about the sever­ity of the storms, even if they weren’t in a des­ig­nated tor­nado warn­ing area. The May 15 storms hap­pened dur­ing the af­ter­noon rush hour along ma­jor com­mut­ing cor­ri­dors, so the ex­tra alerts could have warned be­fore they got into their cars and drove to­ward the storm, he added.

“We prob­a­bly can look into adding a cer­tain class of se­vere thun­der­storm, where we have a cer­tain class of wind speed, then we can put out wire­less emer­gency alerts,” he said.

Those real-time warn­ings do save lives and are all part of the me­te­o­rol­ogy com­mu­nity’s on­go­ing ef­forts to bet­ter com­mu­ni­cate about weather events of all kinds — a ma­jor fo­cus of the con­fer­ence along­side the ac­tual sci­ence of fore­cast­ing.

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