NOAA Administrator worried early tornado warnings will lead to video game-playing

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Miss_Anne_Elk.jpgDr. Wendy Sullivan, acting administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (the parent agency for the National Weather Service), questioned the value of earlier warnings for those in the path of a tornado, suggesting that the early warning might lull residents into a sense of complacency.

Sullivan was testifying before the Technology Subcommittee of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, responding to a question from U. S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine. Bridenstine asked whether increasing tornado warning lead times to as much as an hour was a priority for NOAA. Dr. Sullivan's response was surprising:

There's a significant response question as to what people would do with one hour.... What do we need to understand about how to present and communicate that so that it doesn't become something someone heard and got busy with some thing else and by the time the hour came they were immersed in... a video game and the tornado ran right over them.

Sure, you have to be concerned about how to communicate urgency and move people to action, but the point of early warning is to prompt people to take action right then. For a sufficiently powerful storm, with an hour's warning you would have hope of getting out of the path of the storm or getting to a neighbor's storm shelter or to the big shelter that your neighborhood school may have some day. An hour would give emergency planners time to evaluate the best course of action for citizens in the path of the storm, time to redirect traffic that might be passing through the danger zone.

I have my doubts about whether we'll ever be able to know an hour in advance that a tornado is coming or where it's headed, but if we could know, wouldn't we want to pass along the information to the public, rather than withhold it for fear they might misuse it. Dr. Sullivan's answer amounts to saying, "We won't warn the provident and wise because the foolish and impulsive will ignore us."

noaa_wendy_sullivan.PNGThe photo above is not Dr. Wendy Sullivan. It is Anne Elk [Miss], a paleontologist with a new theory about the brontosaurus. Actually, it's John Cleese in a dress and a wig, in the 31st episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus. That's Dr. Sullivan to the left.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 28, 2013 6:10 PM.

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