LITTLE ROCK — The Storm Prediction Center intends to broaden its advance warning system for severe weather after finding that days it labeled with a "slight risk" turned out to be pretty nasty.
State emergency managers say they're already attuned to bad weather, but believe a new warning system with two additional categories, "enhanced" and "marginal," could keep them from crying "wolf" — and keep the public from tuning them out.
When significant severe weather is forecast, the current rating system labels days as having a slight, moderate or high risk, based on the chance of tornadoes, high winds or significant hail.
Russ Schneider, the director of the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said the agency has found over the years that some conditions warranted more than a "slight risk" label, but not quite a "moderate risk" one. The center's default action has been to label the areas as a slight risk and advise National Weather Service offices to tell local residents and emergency managers that the storms could be rough.
"Some 'slight risk' days are really quite active," Schneider said Thursday. "You can get some strong tornadoes those days."
So, sometime this spring — after National Weather Service administrators in the Washington area weigh in, likely in April — areas at the upper end of the current "slight risk" will be said to have an "enhanced risk." There also would be a "marginal" category for risks less than slight.
The criteria are being changed only at the lower levels. Current guidelines for moderate risk and high risk days remain the same.