Joe’s Weather Blog: Oh yeah…it’s Winter (12/17)

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Good afternoon…yup it’s certainly feeling like December out there as temperatures and clouds have conspired to give us a more seasonable day compared to the weather lately. There are a few flurries out there as well this afternoon. It won’t last too long though and in the big scheme of things overall most of next week looks pretty mild again so let’s consider this a speed bump in the road to warmer temperatures.


Tonight: Clearing skies and cold with lows around 20°

Friday: Sunny and seasonable with highs around 40°

Saturday: Milder but breezy with highs well into the 40s


I really don’t want to get into the “weather” aspect of things today…it’s December…it’s chilly/seasonable and it won’t last long.

I wanted to visit with you about a research project that I will be starting over the next week or so and sharing with you into the new year…before I do though…take this poll.

Here is what I’m working on and it concerns severe weather. As you know the NWS issues Severe Thunderstorm Warnings when a particular thunderstorm meets a certain threshold. The criteria being at least 58 MPH winds (50 knots) and or 1″ hail (quarter-sized). The hail criteria changed several years ago from 3/4″ hail to 1″ hail. The wind criteria hasn’t changed at all and actually dates back to the 1950s(!). Here is the brief story from the NSSL (National Severe Storms Lab)

“In the 1950’s and 1960’s, there were three types of convective watches that could be issued: Tornado Watches, Public Severe Thunderstorm Watches, and Aviation Severe Thunderstorm Watches. At first, the public severe thunderstorm watch wind criterion was 75 mph, while the limit for aviation watches was 50 mph. Negotiations with the Air Force raised the minimum speed required for an aviation watch to 58 mph (50 knots) in 1962. In 1970, the Aviation Severe Thunderstorm and Public Severe Thunderstorm watches were combined into a single Severe Thunderstorm Watch, with a minimum wind gust criterion of 50 knots, to reduce confusion.”

Well here is what I’m proposing….it’s time to change the criteria again.

In my opinion and others both in the media and within NOAA…there are wayyy too many severe thunderstorm warnings in the Plains states and especially in MO/KS/IA/NE/OK/AR etc. I think they have turned into just noise for 99% of the public and even to many of us in the media especially in the central part of the country. I also feel that there is an argument that 99%+ of the public doesn’t even know the precise criteria off the top of their heads to begin with and has a difficult time judging what a severe thunderstorm is and isn’t when it’s not already producing giant hail or incredible winds.

Here are the number of severe thunderstorm warnings issued from the NWS in  Pleasant Hill and in Topeka but first take a look at the counties that the individual offices are responsible for…1st the NWS in Pleasant Hill, MO which is responsible for the KC metro area and dozens of other counties in E KS and W MO…it is outlined in blue.


and now the Topeka NWS area of responsibility…shaded in RED

OK so now that we have the “lay of the land” let’s get into some stats…

Here is a breakdown of the actual number of Severe Thunderstorm Warnings issued by the 2 NWS offices serving our viewing area…

2015 280 231
2014 241 194
2013 163 161
2012 111 127
2011 344 242

data above via IEM COW

It should be noted that the 2012 low numbers from both offices are connected to the drought that plagued the middle part of the country

OK so roughly in the last 5 years there have been close to 1139 warnings from P Hill and 955 warnings from Topeka for severe thunderstorms meeting a minimum of 1″ hail and/or 58 MPH winds.

So MY thought is that most of these warnings just get ignored by the general public because there are too many…it’s not the fault of the NWS at all…they have set guidelines and the meteorologists at the local offices are just carrying out those guidelines…

So what can be done about this…

There are two trains of thought…

  1. Create a NEW warning category. For lack of a better phrase/name and Enhanced Severe Thunderstorm Warning for a storm capable of 1 1/2″+ hail and 70 or 75 MPH winds…this would be in addition to keeping the current Severe Thunderstorm Warning (1″ hail and/or 58 MPH winds)
  2.  Adjust the criteria for the INITIAL issuance of a severe thunderstorm warning to the criteria above (1 1/2″ hail+ and/or 70-75 MPH winds)

There are positives and negatives to both.

Let’s talk about #1. This is what I’m somewhat more in favor of personally but I may be somewhat alone in this and also this one is a bit more selfish from a media standpoint. IF we can’t do #2…I think this would be helpful when covering severe weather because as an example…let’s say there are about 10 counties or parts of counties highlighted on the map we show you behind the meteorologist. Then a NEW-type of warning appears (“enhanced” or whatever) on the screen. We know instantly where the worse part of the storm is located and moving while “on the air” which is the key.

The negative to #1 is that the NWS is trying to undertake a much needed reduction in the types of warnings/advisories that are issued already (over 125!) in an effort to reduce clutter/confusion. So to add in a new warning might be very tough to do in an atmosphere of reducing warnings/advisories.

Onto #2…this would work and GREATLY reduce the actual number of severe thunderstorm warnings which is my objective. I think then that when a warning is issued it would in the end be a beefier warning that certainly would be “hit harder” by the media because it would be a more significant storm.

So I will be doing research into the change in warnings issued IF this criteria would be put into place…just how many warnings would be issued? 25…50…75…100? IF we cut the numbers wayyy down my thought process is that the general public would take them more seriously as opposed to “blowing them off” (in my opinion).

Other parts of the country though don’t have this problem like we do in the Plains. That’s because other parts of the country may not have the malaise we do in the Plains because we’ve been bombarded with hundreds of these things every year. So perhaps the solution would be to keep the current criteria for the east and western part of the country and change the middle part of the country. Some may/will argue that this may create more confusion from people moving/traveling from one part of the country to another. My defense would be that the number of people who truly know the definition of a severe thunderstorm is VERY small to begin with and mostly are people with higher weather knowledge for whatever reason.

There are other +/-‘s to both trains of thought…but I thought I’d send out this opening salvo.

So what do you think?

Feel free to leave comments…I’m not exactly sure where this research will take me but I thought I’d bring it up to the more weather savvy readers of the blog and get your opening opinions about what I’ll be working on for a bit of time.




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