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National Weather Service seeks input on winter weather hazard communication

Recognizing the confusion some people have about terms such as warnings, watches and advisories, the National Weather Service seeks input on proposed new language in communicating winter weather hazards.

The service has received close to 6,000 comments and suggestions in a 31/2-month commenting period.

Everyone from emergency managers to weather buffs to the public is invited by March 31 to view the proposed new language and share input at

"If we can improve our messages, get the public to understand the hazards and most importantly, take action, we need to do so," said Eli Jacks, chief of public weather and manager of the demonstration project, in a news release.

An example from the test shows that under the new approach, "A wind-chill advisory remains in effect" would become "The National Weather Service in Fairbanks continues to advise caution for very cold and windy conditions."

Surveys indicate that some people have trouble distinguishing among a watch, advisory and warning, the release said. The weather service defines those terms as:

Watch: potential for a weather hazard, with some factors, such as location or timing, uncertain;

Advisory: potential for conditions that could be dangerous if caution is not taken;

Warning: Dangerous hazard is imminent or happening.

Jacks, who grew up in Forest Hills, said the next step once commenting ends is to analyze the information collected and prepare a "here's what you said" report, which he expects by early summer. Among the suggestions people have made -- go to a number- or color-coded approach, he said.

The project is part of the service's Weather-Ready Nation initiative, aimed at helping the country better prepare for, "respond to and recover from weather-related disasters."

"I think they're on the right track," said Meghan McPherson, manager of Adelphi University's emergency management graduate programs.

The proposed change "looks to be giving more specifics as to what people should prepare for," she said.

And, what's key is to tell people -- say, commuters or parents with kids in school -- what such weather messages mean for them, she said.

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