Watches/Warnings Confuse the Public

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By Quincy Vagell on July 29, 2012, 3:20pm

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Tornado Watches, Severe Thunderstorm Watches, Flash Flood Watches, Flood Warnings, etc. It can all be very confusing to the public and that has especially been the case lately.

Let me start with Thursday.
At around 2 p.m., a Tornado Watch was issued for Litchfield County in NW CT.
No one else had any watches and it stayed that way for quite some time.
To start the day, and Storm Team 8 meteorologists kept stressing that we were expecting the worst of the storms to impact SW CT, especially Fairfield County.
With the Tornado Watch being issued, many assumed that only NW CT was going to get the severe weather.
To make matters worse, a Severe Thunderstorm Watch was finally issued for the rest of the state, but it wasn't until about 4 p.m.

Before I go any further, I already have a bunch of problems with this.
I understand that the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) in Norman, Oklahoma, not local National Weather Service (NWS) Offices, issue severe weather Watches.
However, the SPC already stated around 2 p.m. that they were 95% confident that a Watch would need to be posted.

With a line of severe and even tornadic thunderstorms approaching the Tri-State area, including NYC and Connecticut, why add to the confusion and wait two more hours before issuing a Watch there?

Additionally, pretty much every forecaster out there knew that big time storms were coming to areas like southeast NY, eastern PA and northern NJ. (CT as a whole was not a prime target, but southwest portions were) It was just a matter of time.

Usually, in a situation like this, Watches go up around noon or 1 p.m. and it gives the public plenty of time to react and prepare.
In this case, the final Watch wasn't issued until 4 p.m. and it still left CT residents confused and with much less advance notice than I would personally like.

Regardless of what anyone might say, based on all of the data I saw and have seen through re-analysis, NW CT was NOT the target of the worst storms and Litchfield County was NOT the target for tornadoes. Every piece of data available was pointing at areas further south and west. 

The problem here is a complex one.
1. The general public is getting mixed signals.
Is NW CT the target of storms? What about SW CT? What about the rest of the state?
2.  Meteorologists get frustrated.
As meteorologists, our job is to best prepare the public, while still relaying important Watches, Warnings and other statement.
It doesn't matter if we are 100% confident that one county will get severe weather and another won't, if the SPC or in some cases the NWS issues a Watch, that Watch is there. We can argue it all we want, but that can leave the public even more confused.
3. National Weather Service Offices don't agree with each other. 
This often happens and it's very challenging when three different NWS offices cover Connecticut. (Albany, NY for Litchfield County, Taunton, MA for Hartford, Tolland and Windham Counties and Islip, NY for southern Connecticut)

This leads me into my next point...


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Quincy Vagell

Town: Marlborough, CT  

Reporting for WXedge since January 2012.

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