The National Weather Service is in the process of changing some of the language used to convey weather warnings. As of October 1, one of those changes is already in place as it relates to the Pacific Northwest.
Instead of an "advisory for freezing rain" or "advisory for snow accumulation," the new messaging would be "winter weather advisory," followed by specifics about snow or freezing rain and where. Other winter messaging east of the Rocky Mountains has also been rolled out. The standards are applied nationwide.
NWS science officer Kirby Cook doesn't think most people will notice, but the new message makes it a lot clearer that bad weather is coming followed by specifics for certain areas.
"In the end you could have a perfect forecast, but if you can't communicate that effectively it's not a great forecast," said Cook.
Part of the problem, says Cook, is that higher resolution weather technology such as satellites and computer modeling have improved the accuracy of forecasts, but the language used to convey that information is still catching up.
Forecast messaging relating to flooding is expected to roll out in the spring of 2018.
But how to communicate the uncertainty of forecasting in the Pacific Northwest is still being worked on after Puget Sound braced for what was predicted to be a wind storm of historic proportions for October 15, 2016. But the storm weakened and then turned north, brushing the coast with little impact to Puget Sound.
The Integrated Weather Team consisting of meteorologists, including KING 5's Rich Marriott, the National Weather Service, emergency managers, even a psychologist, are working on ideas to better express the uncertainty of forecasting and who may or may not be in harm's way.