“We had no warning!” gets old after a while

“We had no warning” may be the most uttered phrase in weatherdom. It seems like every time there is a significant weather event, that sentence pops up. It’s sometimes true, but often it’s true-ish. It gets trotted out most often for severe thunderstorms (particularly tornadoes) and frequently translates to “I wasn’t paying attention to the warning”.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post‘s Capital Weather Gang ran a story about the city manager of Adak, Alaska crying “no warning!” after an intense cyclone brought winds in excess of 120 miles per hour. This is a case of true-ish at best. More than 24 hours before winds reached warning criteria, the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Anchorage issued a high wind watch with a mention of wind gusts up to 85 MPH. 16 hours before the winds reached warning criteria, a high wind warning was issued and the gust forecast was increased to 95 MPH.

The actual wind speed topped out above 120 MPH, as I said, and the onset was about three hours earlier than forecast. They didn’t nail it, but it’s not exactly “not nearly close to being anywhere accurate.” The difference between 95 and 120 MPH is nothing to scoff at (recall that the kinetic energy increases with the square of speed), but I’m not sure there’s much more you could do to protect your house from 120 MPH winds that you wouldn’t do for 95 MPH.

I like the Meteorologist in Charge’s reaction. It was effectively “what more do you want?” The warning was out, so if the city manager truly didn’t get it, the question is “Why not?” It’s important for the NWS to make sure that the products they issue are well disseminated and well understood. It’s also important for public officials to have a way to receive them. “We had no warning” should be reserved for cases where it’s more than just true-ish.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *