If you've lived in the Houston area long enough, you've probably experienced a time when the National Weather Service issued flood warnings for Harris County, but looking out the window you don't see even a drop of rain. That's because the National Weather Service issues severe weather alerts on a county-by-county basis. But not any more. NOAA's Chief of Fire and Public Weather Services Eli Jacks says starting today, NOAA is implementing a new system using latitudes and longitudes to enhance the warnings.
"With our new technology and improved science, we can now focus our warnings exactly where the storm is with the exact size and shape that our forecasters believe will be impacted."
For example, if there's a tornado warning in place the old system would have put all of Harris County on alert. The new system will narrow it down to say a 10 or 20-mile radius where a tornado could form.
"Particularly in the big metroplexes, if you have a threatened area which is say 30 or 40 miles north of center city -- that is a tremendous advantage of storm-based warnings in that only that area will be warned and you'll have millions of people who will still be able to go about their daily business and not be impacted."
The alerts will also use familiar landmarks and locations so people will have a good idea where the storm is heading. Impact Weather Meteorologist Mike Arrelano says now you might hear something like there's a severe thunderstorm warning in effect for parts of West Houston including the Memorial area.
"That way people can relate to the alert. They can say 'oh, I know exactly where they're talking about' so you know where to avoid. So it's actually going to be an improvement by using geographical locations. They'll also be able to say that a storm will be reaching this location in so many minutes. So now there's the ability to say you're in the path of this oncoming storm, be on the lookout because it's just minutes from arriving."
And by focusing the threat, Jacks says they can reduce the warned area by as much as 70 percent.
"There's a potential to save tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars in what is currently lost productivity where you blanket an entire county for a warning which is only occuring over a relatively small area."
NOAA officials say residents should still use commonsense when these warnings are issued because weather conditions can change rapidly. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.