My local National Weather Service office recently issued a Special Weather Statement with an unhelpful headline: “Wintry mix likely Friday night and early Saturday along and northeast of a Clinton to Greensburg line.” I have at least a passing familiarity with many small towns in Indiana, but I had no idea where this line is.
Greensburg, I remembered after looking at a map, is in southeastern Indiana. It has a population of less than 12,000. Clinton turns out to not be terribly far from my home town of Lafayette. It’s a tiny little hamlet of fewer than 5,000 residents.
It seems pretty unreasonable to expect members of the general public to know where either of these towns are unless they happen to live near them. This means the headline of the product told the audience absolutely nothing.
In this particular case “the Interstate 74 corridor” would be an improvement. There’s still no guarantee that someone will know where that is, but if nothing else, it’s easier to find on a map. Of course, sometimes there’s not even a major highway or river to use as a reference.
But wait! It’s 2018. What if it just said “central Indiana” and directed people to the NWS website for more information? Then there could be a map that clearly shows the area affected. That’s tough for immediate impact events like tornado warnings, but it works for longer-fused products. And not everyone has an Internet connection, but it can still be shown on TV. And later in the body, a description can be given. But it doesn’t need to be the headline.
For a variety of reasons, NWS text products are stuck in a paradigm that no longer applies. Hopefully this changes as the agency continues to embrace modern methods of communication.