Tornado Watch Warning Advisory Bulletin Alerts

After a rather enjoyable, but also long and tiring storm intercept on 4 May, Elke and I were glad to land in some good lodging. A young dude at the AmericInn of Russell, probably no older than 22, was manning the front desk and listening to weather radio. There was a notice on display stating that, in the event of a tornado warning, all rooms would be called and people evacuated to an interior room on the lowest level.

This was good…that is, until a couple hours later, when he called to advise that a tornado warning was in effect for Russell County and that we should evacuate. I informed him that

  1. I am a degreed meteorologist and professional severe storms scientist,
  2. I was watching the weather closely on my computer,
  3. The warning barely touched extreme SE Russell County many miles from us,
  4. The storm was not moving our way, and
  5. The circulation probably wasn’t even going to touch that part of the county.

Somewhat placated, I think he didn’t call any more rooms after mine for that particular storm.

Two hours later, after I finally had gone to sleep, he called again to inform me that a “tornado warning is in effect for all of central Kansas.”

Say what? I knew right away that was bogus. A quick radar check showed the main complex well E and SE, moving away, a few small junk storms to the W and NW, lots of storms near the Nebraska border (also moving away), nothing upstream, and only a watch in effect. I tried to explain, as clearly as sleep deprivation would allow, the difference between a watch and a warning, but this time it was to no avail. He insisted he heard the warning for all of central Kansas and that he was calling all rooms.

Opening doors, footsteps and slurry mutterings of interrupted sleep could be heard reverberating through the halls, as people unnecessarily filed downstairs in the middle of the night. Those folks were as unaware of the lack of danger in the area as the desk clerk was of the difference between a watch and a warning. Meanwhile I crawled back into bed and finally fell asleep for the rest of the night.

Some indefinite level of false alarms is better than being hit and hurt or killed, but the best concept is to have neither. Clearly the intent of hotel management was good in having a plan in place, but you know what they say about good intentions. Problem is, the execution of that plan was left in the hands of a scared young ignoramus.

Every year, while roaming the plains, I hear radio DJs (notorious for this!) absolutely mangle weather statements and bulletins with their own clueless misunderstanding. Just yesterday morning, while driving into work with no severe weather watches in the whole state, a lady on one of the stations I was flipping past said, “Severe weather watch is out all day today, so stay safe!” Huh? There was nothing of the sort. If anything, the major problem — by far — was flash flooding!

One of the most priceless examples, so extreme as to be hilarious, was in 1994 when I was watching some linear, outflow-dominant junk with an old, dying, embedded supercell in central Kansas. All warnings had expired, and the tornado watch was almost history. The DJ on a Wichita station said, “You better be careful out there, we’ve got one of these tornado watch warning alert bulletins goin’ for the area!”

After decades of trying to educate the public on watch versus warning, there’s still lots of work left to do. Sigh. Education is the solution, but it sure seems to fall two steps back for every three forward. So we keep on trying, one opportunity at a time…


2 Responses to “Tornado Watch Warning Advisory Bulletin Alerts”

  1. Estraven on June 16th, 2007 11:09 pm

    What sort of station was that in Wichita? If it was of the ubiquitous classic rock format run by some media colossus out of Cleveland or Denver or wherever, the “on air personality” (they’re not even DJs anymore–they have no role whatsoever in choosing the music) was probably not taking the watch seriously (if indeed s/he even knew what a tornado watch was).

    Myself, I don’t even bother with conventional radio for weather anymore. Instead I carry a scanner with weather alert capability when traveling.

  2. Anonymous on August 23rd, 2007 5:31 am


    That post was bad. You should have gone to the Interior Room at the behest of the American Inn clerk and kept your mouth shut. Tornado Warning Watches Alerts can kill you even if they’re east of you. You know that, don’t you?

    Matthew “Tornado Alert Specialist” Biddle

    [EDITOR’S NOTE: Re-entered for Matt since he sent it during the software transition.]

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