Monday, October 17, 2011

10/17 - 11:30pm - NWA 2011 Meeting Wrap-Up

Both yesterday and today I attended and volunteered at the 36th Annual National Weather Association Meeting in Birmingham, Alabama. This was the most-attended NWA meeting in history and evidence of that was clear this morning when there were no more seats for attendees! The volunteer portion of my attendance had me taking video of research posters from students and professionals for the agenda on the NWA website. While the meeting runs until Thursday, I had to leave late this afternoon to attend to class-related things back in Starkville. I wish I could've stayed longer because this was one of the best put together functions I've ever attended.

Speaking of attendance, I was able to meet quite a few experienced broadcast meteorologists while I was there. Some of those folks were Jim Cantore (The Weather Channel), Jacqui Jeras (CNN), Christie Dutton (WAVE-TV Louisville), Ryan Vaughan (KAIT-TV Jonesboro), Mary Wasson (YNN Austin), and Dave Freeman (KSNW Wichita). It was also great to see some old friends whom I've met before in Starkville at the Mississippi State Severe Storms Symposium.

The sessions that took place while I was there mostly focused on the historic tornadoes from this past year, and some of these spurred some really great discussion on how we as broadcast and operational meteorology professionals can improve our methods to save lives in severe weather. One of the things that strikes me from multiple presentations is the public's low use of NOAA weather radios. While these are lifesaving devices, it's clear that these things are very difficult to operate if you're not familiar with consumer electronic devices or don't understand how SAME codes work. This is a huge problem because people then depend on less reliable means of receiving warnings like tornado sirens. As I tweeted earlier today, Dave Freeman suggested that weather radios should use ZIP codes instead of SAME codes to separate out warnings. This would be much easier because just about everyone knows their ZIP code, but almost nobody (including me!) knows their county SAME code without consulting the NWS website. It's true that this wouldn't be an easy solution since either the radios or warning system would have to be able to identify ZIP codes based on coordinate polygons and because some ZIP codes are way too big. In the long run though, these would be relatively minor changes to a system that's had years of development behind it.

There's also been talk from a lot of people suggesting the placement of GPS chips in weather radios to determine exact location so that there's even less of a chance of the radio going off for a warning that does not pertain to the user. This is also a great idea that wouldn't require terribly huge changes to radios and how warnings are issued. Overall, I gathered from today's and yesterday's presentations that more needs to be done to make severe weather warnings more accessible and understandable to the public to save lives in events like April 27th. The technology is there and the ideas are in place, and the recent tornadoes that claimed so many lives this year are proof that these changes are necessary.

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