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Weather Warnings & Advisories

Our atmosphere is constantly changing; these changes are not always for the better. When the weather gets nasty, it is the responsibility of agencies such as the National Weather Service (NWS) in the U.S., the National Severe Weather Warning Service (NSWWS) in the UK, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) in Australia and the Meteorological Service of Canada (MSC) to assess the potential for severe weather and issue severe weather forecasts and warnings to alert the public to potential and actual weather dangers.

Severe weather information is typically disseminated by local and national broadcast media. Special weather bulletins and severe weather warnings may be dispatched through civil defense avenues such as the Emergency Broadcast System. Many communities, particularly in the Midwest, have siren warning systems that can be activated by civil defense authorities in the event of a tornado warning.

In the U.S., the National Weather Service issues weather warnings and advisories for a variety of weather phenomena. Included in the list of severe weather warnings and advisories issued by the NWS are hurricane and tropical storm warnings, tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings, high wind warnings, winter storm warnings, wind chill warnings, flood and flash flood warnings, and frost and freeze advisories. These warnings and advisories are utilized by the public, by business and commerce, and by government agencies.

While the public relies mainly upon government meteorological agencies to provide severe weather alerts, media outlets such as local television stations, national and international syndicated networks like THE WEATHER CHANNEL®, and internet websites such as offer significant contributions. Many local U.S. TV stations employ professional meteorologists and have acquired sophisticated doppler radar equipment to aid in alerting the public to hazardous weather events. Gary England of KWTV in Oklahoma City, together with his dedicated staff and network of volunteer storm chasers and weather spotters, saved countless lives during The Moore Tornado outbreak in 1998.

Industries such as air passenger and cargo transport, tourism and outdoor entertainment, construction, mining, oil exploration, farming and power generation have unique weather-dependent requirements. Such businesses often employ meteorological consultants or maintain an in-house staff of meteorologists to provide advance warning of weather events that will impact their operations. Weather occurrences that merely inconvenience the public may result in significant economic impact for businesses, and as such may require very specific and detailed warnings. A matter of a few degrees when near freezing can dramatically alter the outcome of a concrete pour; strong or weak jet stream winds or forecast turbulence may require aircraft to alter course and altitude or take on additional fuel.

Branches of the military traditionally maintain their own weather services tailored to provide mission-critical support. (See our U.S. Military Aviation & Marine Weather page.) Although some military weather information is not shared due to security concerns and its mission-specific nature, this has changed substantially from times past as frequency of joint military operations has increased and use of satellite weather data has become more prevalent. There has always been strong cooperation between civilian and military authorities when severe weather threatens either military bases or nearby civilian population centers. I can personally attest to this; as an Air Weather Officer at Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Oklahoma, in 1974, I recall being surrounded on a late night shift by a cluster of civilian emergency management personnel with walkie-talkies as I manned our weather radar during a tornado threat.

Weather warnings are critical to our safety and well-being. Equally critical is our ability to understand their meanings and respond to weather warnings in a prudent and appropriate manner. It is important to remember that weather warnings are notices of an imminent or existing threat. Knowing the nature of each weather hazard for which a warning can be issued and the appropriate response to take will go a long way toward protecting your family when severe weather threatens.

Authored by Kenneth L. Anderson.  Original article published 23 June 2005, updated 18 September 2005.

Follow links to the right to learn more about weather warnings and severe weather forecasts. At the left margin, Related Links address topics of interest pertaining to weather watches and other severe weather topics. View the Weather & Meteorology SiteMap for a complete list of meteorology and weather-related topics.

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