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U.S. tries to simplify winter weather jargon


The U.S. National Weather Service hoping to simplify things for the public
The U.S. National Weather Service hoping to simplify things for the public

The Canadian Press

January 17, 2013 — Watch, warning, advisory? National Weather Service tests demystified winter hazards jargon.

Do you understand the difference between weather advisories that are issued?
Do you understand the difference between weather advisories that are issued?

Ever hit a mental whiteout pondering the difference between a winter storm watch and winter weather advisory? 

The National Weather Service is looking at the idea that less is more when it comes to such jargon.

This winter, the federal forecasting agency is trying out simple, descriptive language to possibly replace its 14 watches, advisories and warnings for wintry weather, from ice storms to blizzards, wind chill to lake-effect snow.

"The purpose of this project is to use language that is self-evident, that everybody would immediately understand," said Eli Jacks, the forecaster leading the experiment. 

The experiment began in December and runs through March 31 at 26 Weather Service offices covering Alaska, Oregon, the northern Great Plains, Michigan, New England, Appalachia and Oklahoma. 

A separate website for the project avoids confusing people who just want to look up the forecast. 

The clear-and-simple approach could be carried over to heat waves, flooding, dangerous wind and other conditions, but that will depend on what the public has to say.

Reaction so far has been partly cloudy.

Many people don't want to give up familiar terms that have been around for generations, Jacks said. 

"But then other people say, 'Well you know what, I've always been confused by 'watch' and 'warning' because they both start with 'wa.' Or, 'I've never quite known what an advisory means,'" he said. 

Jackson said he's thought about the problem for years and got to work on changes about two years ago. 

The new approach targets watches (which predict the potential for hazardous weather while the likelihood, timing and/or location remain uncertain) and advisories (for weather hazards that are imminent or occurring but are not inherently dangerous.) 

The Weather Service would continue to issue warnings when it means serious business with dangerous weather.

The public can see how the Weather Service's proposed new wording works and comment on it at http://nws.weather.gov/haz_simp.


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