Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Weather warning experiment doesn't work

Give the City of Gastonia credit ... they tried to do something a little different with weather warnings.

Unfortunately, it didn't work. And the failure is another reminder of the dislike (and even anger) that some people have about the way the National Weather Service issues its watches and warnings.

Gastonia launched an automated phone service June 1, in which the issuance of a weather warning would trigger an automated phone call to about 27,000 phones in the city. It worked much the same as the Connect-Ed system used by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg and other school systems. When there's news, a computer-generated phone call is placed to homes, and when people answer the phone, they hear a taped message.

Gastonia officials were using NOAA's All Hazards Radio, which many people have in their homes. When a watch or warning is issued, the radio activates with a tone, and then a message -- delivered by a computerized voice -- reads the warning's details.

Apparently, the service wasn't a big hit in Gastonia. City officials pulled the plug on the calls before the end of June, after getting a couple dozen complaints from residents. Some residents said the warning came after the storm had passed. Others complained that the computerized voice was too difficult to understand.

Doug Outlaw, of the National Weather Service office in Greer, S.C., said his office has nine transmitters across the western Carolinas and northeast Georgia.

The Charlotte area is served by a transmitter at Spencer Mountain in Gaston County, which covers Alexander, Cabarrus, Caldwell, Catawba, Cleveland, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Rowan and Union counties.

CMS requires all schools to have working weather radios, and school system officials conduct random checks to insure that the radios are operating.

Gastonia took the idea one step farther, but it didn't work.

It's much like the furor that is raised when TV stations interrupt their programming for weather alerts. Brad Panovich, Eric Thomas, Steve Udelson and their television meteorological counterparts draw scathing criticism in some quarters when they break into a program for live tornado coverage.

Yet many of the people who survived the killer tornadoes this spring in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi and Missouri say they are alive because of the warnings. Survivors said they were able to find shelter because they knew the storms were coming.

Not everyone has a NOAA All Hazards Radio in their house, and Gastonia was trying to cover that gap.

The idea was admirable, but it apparently needs some tinkering. Here's hoping the concept isn't dropped.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

The National Weather Service issues way too many warnings. There is hardly a thunderstorm that passes through Gaston county without a warning or watch. People are tired of the kid who cries wolf. If they only issued warnings for storms that actually produce life threatening weather then this might have worked, but instead they issue warnings for ever thunderstorm that passes into the county.

Anonymous said...

The weather geeks don't get criticism for breaking in for tornado warnings, the get it for breaking in for every severe thunderstorm warning in the western part of the state... If there's a tornado on the ground - that's one thing, but come on - we don't have to get updates from Martha Jones on the cell phone outside the Walmart in Ranlo...

Anonymous said...

Funny how dumb people always call smart people geeks. I would rather be a geek than a dropout, DB or minimum wage loser... So if you get struck by lighning and there is no Weather Warning are you going to sue NOAA?? I bet you would... Bottom line is they are trying to save lives - what are you doing other than playing critic? Nobody ever made a statue of a critic - so do something with your life other than calling people smarter than you geeks... Loser

J said...

I don't have a problem with any of the weather guys breaking in to tell of a life-threatening event. I have a problem when they break in, and stay with their coverage for hours on end, when new developments only occur every 15 minutes or so. They just stand there and repeat the same information over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again for 15 minutes until the situation actually changes (and in the case of Panovich, will take the liberty every now and then to openly question people or agencies that don't do as he insists - such as a couple years back when he openly questioned the competence of the FAA for allowing takeoffs and landings at the airport when there was lightning in the area).

They would be much better public servants if they broke in when the first major storm develops, and then urge people to watch for crawlers with new information. If WSOC and WBTV decide they just couldn't live with themselves without continuous coverage, put the continuous coverage on their farm team stations (64 and 46, respecively) and leave the network programming of ABC and CBS on.

I don't hate these people. I just think they go way overboard with the wall-to-wall coverage and prediction of impending doom. They just need to tone it down a little.

Mark from Mebane said...

Exactly, J. If it was really just about the weather and warning the public, there could be a single channel dedicated for that purpose. Then all you would need is a crawl at the bottom of the other channels announcing a severe weather alert for the following counties, for more information, tune to channel X.

The dramatic updates could then be provided on that channel based on a predetermined lottery to determine which broadcaster gets to be the "weather guys" for that day.

Anonymous said...

@Mark from Mebane..
"..a single channel for this purpose.." -
You mean the Weather Channel?

Mike from Mebane said...

"You mean the Weather Channel?"


Not necessarily. I'm thinking more like a public access channel on cable to interrupt where those who like the drama can go watch the "breaking news" while leaving the rest of us alone. You would also need to designate an over-the-air broadcast channel on one of the .2 or .3 extra channels for rubes like us who don't have cable or satellite.