Weather workshop to focus on communicating wind storm risk

Weather forecasting can be a tricky business. Particularly when it comes to those big wind storms we get. Now meteorologists including our own Rich Marriott are pushing for ways to better communicate the risks.

SEATTLE - Meteorologists are studying ways to better communicate the risks associated with wind storms that are forecast for western Washington.  

That's one topic scheduled for the Northwest Weather Workshop being held in conjunction with the National Weather Service at NOAA's Western Regional Center in Seattle.  

The motivator for the change is how wind risk is communicated.

It comes partly as a result of the October 2016 wind storm that wasn't. Early forecasts predicted that the remains from a typhoon drifting across the Pacific Ocean would bring the biggest wind storm to the state since the October 1962 Columbus Day storm that caused widespread damage.

While there was some wind at the coast, the storm on the day of its landing turned out to be much more compact that expected. It stayed further offshore at the last minute before dying out as it pushed into Canada. 

In trying to warn people of the risks, weather forecasters and media outlets were accused of hyping the storm. 

University of Washington research meteorologist Cliff Mass says communication can now get better. 

"We've gained the ability to give probabilities on wind using new technology called ensemble forecasting," said Mass. "Let people see the range and let them know the uncertainties. And tell them what we think is the most probable event. Give them full information rather than saying there's a storm coming and it will probably be this wind speed."  

Mass says a wind forecast could become much more like the forecast for rain as measured in percentage terms.  

"So it's time to tell the community there's a wind storm coming, certain percentage the winds will get over 20 miles per hour, 30 miles per hour, 40 miles per hour,"  Mass said. 

KING 5 meteorologist Rich Marriott is working with a committee of experts on figuring out just how the best way to communicate what could become a complex message.  

"Given the increased information from our computer models, how do we communicate that probability to people in a usable fashion?" Marriott said.

Marriott says with new tools available the process moving forward may come in steps.  

"Being able to give that probabilistic forecast for people who work with emergency agencies, they will be more receptive to listening to more complex forecasts," Marriott said, "And I think our first step is figuring out how to convey that to them, and when we finally figure that out, there's a chance of figuring out a format which will work with the general public."

Copyright 2017 KING


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