New tornado warnings effort to better prepare residents

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NORMAN, Okla. — The National Weather Service (NWS) kicked off a new experiment with tornado warnings Monday to convince people to take cover. On April 27 last year, 313 people died in Alabama and other southeastern states when 122 tornadoes touched down.

In Joplin, M.O., 158 lives were lost on May 22nd, 2011 when a massive tornado hit.

Because of that tragedy, the NWS in five regions across Missouri and Kansas will begin using warning language that conveys the impact of a tornado.

“To help us find the words, to find the phrases that really do motivate people to take a second look, make sure they understand what risk they’re under and ultimately take action that saves lives,” Mike Hudson said, with the NWS.

For example, their warnings will now indicate if a tornado is “radar indicated” or actually “observed” by spotters.

In certain situations, a tornado’s damage threat will be “significant” or “catastrophic” when a severe threat to human life from a tornado is actually occurring.

“Social scientists tell us when people realize that a tornado has been spotted… that helps them to better quantify their risks, to take better protective action,” Hudson said.

“‘Catastrophic’ would make me think twice about going out and checking out the tornadoes,” Crystal Stewart said.

Kristin Johnson’s Yukon home was hit by a tornado in 2007.

She hopes this type of language will convince people to take warnings more seriously.

“You can’t fight back,” Johnson said. “You just have to take what comes your way, so just being prepared is the best defense.”

Hudson said if this language experiment makes a difference, it could be adopted in NWS offices in Norman and across the country.

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