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Weather Service trimming menu of winter alerts

Oct 18, 2017 08:22AM ● Published by Editor

A person walks down West First Street in Duluth during a heavy snow in March of 2012. The National Weather Service in Duluth is streamlining its list of winter weather alerts. (News Tribune file photo)

By John Myers from The Duluth News Tribune on Tuesday, Oct 17, 2017.

National Weather Service meteorologists in Duluth on Tuesday explained their agency's newly trimmed-down list of winter weather alerts, part of an effort to streamline and make the warning system easier to understand.

Starting with the snow season's first storms (don't worry, there are none in the forecast yet) some alerts seen in past years will instead be covered by more general alerts that also include the predicted weather.

For example, gone are lake-effect snow advisories and freezing-rain advisories. If those things are about to happen they will be covered by a more generic winter weather advisory.

Lake-effect snow watch and the blizzard watch are also out, now covered by the winter storm watch.

And lake-effect snow warnings will be covered by the winter storm warning.

"It's not going to make the forecasting any different, or any easier. But the goal is to try to make it easier to understand," said Carol Christenson, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Duluth.

While the "headline" alert may be more general, the actual weather phenomenon will still be listed in the detailed forecast. For example, forecasters may issue a winter weather advisory for lake-effect snow, or a winter storm watch for potential blizzard conditions.

If the snow from a winter storm is going to come from the lake, "we'll still make that clear," Christenson said.

The Weather Service is concerned that there are simply too many weather alerts out there — still more than 100 across the country for various events — and they are starting to consolidate them where it makes sense.

Starting next spring the Weather Service will get rid of the flash flood watch which will instead be covered by flood watch, and more changes are likely after that. Christenson said the national office is looking at paring down marine weather forecasts.

And there are some the local office would like to change, if possible. For example, dangerous rip current conditions along Duluth's sand beach of Lake Superior now get several different names, including a beach hazard statement from the Weather Service and a red-flag warning from the Duluth Fire Department (who raise red flags along the beach to notify of the danger).

But beach hazards could mean many things, and red-flag warnings for the Weather Service means high fire danger on land.

Local forecasts instead want to simply say that there is a "high risk for rip current" to make it clear and very specific.

"We want to send out a consistent message that's easier to understand," Christenson said.

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