KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Even expert storm chases would have struggled to decipher the difference between the tornado warnings sent last May before severe weather hit Joplin and, a few days later, headed again toward downtown Kansas City.
The first tornado was a massive EF-5 twister that killed 161 people as it wiped out a huge chunk of the southwest Missouri community. The second storm caused only minor damage when two weak tornadoes struck in the Kansas City suburbs.
In both cases, the warnings were harbingers of touchdowns. But three out of every four times the National Weather Service issues a formal tornado warning, there isn’t one. The result is a “cry wolf” phenomenon that’s dulled the effectiveness of tornado warnings, and one the weather service hopes to solve with what amounts to a scare tactic.
In a test that starts Monday, five weather service offices in Kansas and Missouri will use words such as “mass devastation,” ‘’unsurvivable” and “catastrophic” in a new kind of warning that’s based on the severity of a storm’s expected impact. The goal is to more effectively communicate the dangers of an approaching storm so people understand the risks they’re about to face.