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NWS changing storm warning system to focus on location

From staff, AP reports

HUNTSVILLE — Beginning in October, watches and warnings issued by the National Weather Service will zero in on locales within counties instead of simply covering an entire county.

Michael Coyne, a meteorologist in charge at the Huntsville NWS office who helped evaluate the new system, said the warnings will be more precise, based on the position of the storm or threat.

"Everybody in Huntsville knows where Joe Davis Stadium is, so that may be included in some of those positions," Coyne said. "This is just an avenue for people to get better information and make more-informed decisions."

The changes, which take effect on Oct. 1, are described by NWS officials as a major enhancement in the service.

Morgan County Emergency Management Agency Director Eddie Hicks said more precise NWS warnings will streamline the county's system of sounding only the emergency sirens serving threatened areas during a storm. EMA workers no longer will have to narrow down alerts based on radar pictures showing atmospheric rotation, he said.

"If they put out a tornado warning for Morgan County and the storm is approaching Eva, there's no reason for us to warn Decatur because the storm is not going to affect Decatur," Hicks said. "Our philosophy is to get as close as possible to where if you hear the siren, there's a legitimate reason it's going off."

But the Gadsden-Etowah County Emergency Management Agency plans to seek community input before deciding whether to follow the NWS's plans or continue to issue warnings for the entire county.

EMA Director Deborah Gaither said the NWS hasn't briefed the Gadsden-Etowah EMA about specifics of the new program. "I can see where, if it's a small part of the county, not to issue a warning for the entire county," Gaither said. But, she said, "you've got to remember that in a county this small, an unstable air mass could quickly affect the entire county. In this office, saving lives is first and foremost the task we have."

Coyne, who came to Huntsville in April 2005 and is working to implement the new warning system in the area, said the agency is talking with emergency management agencies, trained storm spotters and other officials to make sure they are all using the same methods for the most effective warnings.

Mark Linhares, a meteorologist with the NWS in Birmingham, said his office has already experimented by issuing warnings and forecasts for specific towns instead of by county for a while.

Copyright 2005 THE DECATUR DAILY. All rights reserved.
AP contributed to this report.

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