Analysis and Comparison of The Weather Channel’s Storm:Con and Tor:Con

With the chance of severe weather this weekend for the eastern Midwest, I figured a quick analysis of The Weather Channel’s Tornado Conditions Index would be fairly on-topic. TWC’s Tornado Conditions Index, commonly known as the Tor:Con, was developed by TWC’s severe weather expert, Dr. Greg Forbes. As stated on the Tor:Con’s webpage, the Tor:Con serves as an estimate of the risk for tornadic development within a certain radius. The Tor:Con’s scale runs from 0 to 10, which when multiplied by 10, gives the percent chance of the development of a tornado within 50 miles of a location. When the Tor:Con value is zero, the index is suggesting a minimal to nonexistent chance of tornadic development. However, the higher the Tor:Con value, the higher the risk is for tornadic activity.

Although the Tor:Con is a fairly downplayed analysis of computer models, it does a decent job of describing the risk to the general public. The Tor:Con is very easy to understand, while some of the model imagery can be extremely confusing to those who are not used to such technologies. For example, please compare the following links below – then decide which is easier for you to understand. The forecasts are current as of Nov 15, 2013 for the possible severe weather event forecasted for Sunday, Nov 17th. As with anything in the meteorological world, they are subject to change.
TWC’s Tor:Con
Significant Tornado Parameter (STP)
SPC’s Convective Outlook

With the success of the Tor:Con, The Weather Channel debuted the Storm:Con in the winter of 2012. Storm:Con was one of the three winter-related products that were released by TWC in 2012, along with the controversial winter storm names. The Storm:Con focuses on the impact of a winter storm on major cities, while the Tor:Con was more of a regional analysis. Storm:Con has the same 0-10 scaled index and is also based on computer-generated models. However, the final index value is “adjusted by evaluating subjective factors that influence societal impact.” This makes the Storm:Con more of a human-assumption than a science-based model, which has also introduced controversy in the meteorological world.

With the comparison of the Tor:Con and the Storm:Con, many give the gold medal to the Tor:Con. The Tor:Con does a decent job of matching the actual models and focuses on regional risk instead of localized impact. The Storm:Con is biased towards large cities and impact on travel rather than a complete focus on modeled  precipitation, wind, and temperature factors. Additionally, with the difficulty of forecasting winter systems, the accuracy levels of the Storm:Con and Tor:Con are considerably different. Regardless of what the science says, it is up to the viewer to discern such information to their personal use and decision-making. Just as one would do for news, the more information that is examined creates a better analysis of the threat.

On a personal note, I am asking of my followers and viewers to participate and share my survey regarding the use of social media to disperse vital news, weather, and emergency information. This survey is part of my research project for an honors contract at my college and I am hoping to collect at least 500 responses. The survey is a quick ten questions and should only take about two to three minutes. Thank you in advance!
Link to survey: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1hJ2SNBwvh_jPXQjJC2skbdhNXD5nTwr_xsG3CuPSm2I/viewform

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Weather Phobias: Why So Scared?

What are YOU afraid of? There are many known phobias, such as arachnophobia (fear of spiders), claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces), and for the Charlie Brown fans out there, pantophobia (the fear of everything). One could spend hours going through the list of phobias, but I wish to focus on weather-related phobias. Recently, AccuWeather, the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, and other weather-sites have posted articles on the topic just in time for Halloween.

First of all, Dictionary.com defines a phobia as a persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire of avoidance. As for weather-related phobias, the definition is a fear of a meteorological occurrence, such as rain, snow, thunderstorms, and hurricanes. The Weather Channel Meteorologist Kelly Cass is featured in a video that discusses weather-related phobias that was released this October. Additionally, humans are not the only sufferers of weather-related phobias. Many animals also fear specific meteorological conditions. For example, the company ThunderWorks sells products  that claims to soothe cats and dogs that suffer from Astraphobia (also called brontophobia), which is a fear of thunderstorms.

The Weather Channel put together a group of images with the definitions of 19 wild weather phobias. Additionally, The Weather Channel also posted an article on weather phobias.  Below is a copy of The Weather Channel’s table from that article:

Phobia

Fear of…

Lilapsophobia

Tornadoes or hurricanes

Brontophobia/Astraphobia

Lightning and thunder

Antlophobia

Floods

Chionophobia

Snow

Ombrophobia

Rain

Ancraophobia

Wind

Heliophobia

Sun

Thermophobia

Heat

Cryophobia

Cold

Homichlophobia

Fog

Nephophobia

Clouds

Pagophobia

Ice or frost

Cymophobia

Waves

Although weather phobias are treatable with psychiatric treatment or may resolve with time, those who suffer weather phobias require support during times of anxiety. For those with young children who suffer weather-related phobias, there are a few tricks to help soothe your child during such an event. Angela Hathaway has an article on Examiner.com that includes ten ideas to help children that fear the weather. Often times, distracting the child with a calm game, craft, or activity during the event will help. Some of these tips can also be applied to help those who are older cope with their weather phobias. If you are with someone who suffers from a weather phobia and the meteorological event occurs, the most helpful mechanism is to be supportive and remain calm. The goal is to make the sufferer feel safe and comfortable until the event has passed.

Weather phobias can be extremely debilitating, but for some, it results in fascination of the meteorological occurrence that initially caused the phobia. Many meteorologists, storm chasers, and weather enthusiasts are actual sufferers of weather phobias. AccuWeather’s meteorologist Heather Waldman cites a fear of storms as the reason she became a broadcast meteorologist in an AccuWeather article posted by Jillian MacMath. Stu Ostro, a senior meteorologist at The Weather Channel, also cited a fear of thunderstorms for initiating his passion for meteorology. CBS Minnesota also explored weather phobias and explained that some of the best coping mechanisms are researching the meteorological phenomena that initiate the fear. This research has led many sufferers into careers within the field of atmospheric science and meteorology.

Personally, I am a sufferer of astraphobia. I have had the debilitating fear of thunderstorms for as long as I could remember. As a child, I spent countless hours watching The Weather Channel and researching thunderstorms and tornadoes. I often tracked storms and read radar images to plan when I should play in our basement to avoid being outdoors or in my attic bedroom as the storm approached. During my middle and high school years, I began research into universities that offered meteorology degrees. Currently, I have an avid interest in weather photography, mainly severe cloud formations and lightning, which has brought me out of my fear. Eventually, I wish to move to Oklahoma for my career in meteorology, which I would have never thought I would do just a few years ago. My fear has transformed into a genuine passion for severe weather; I love the beauty, the power, and the exhilaration that a thunderstorm brings – if I am in a safe location.

Naming Winter Storms

Although it’s only the beginning of October, all of that snow in South Dakota and Wyoming has got me thinking about The Weather Channel’s thought of naming winter systems. Ever since last winter, The Weather Channel (TWC) has been naming every winter storm that has developed, regardless of how the storm “performed” with its precipitation. Although TWC promotes the idea, the same idea is frowned upon in much of the meteorological world. Additionally, the National Weather Service has even criticized the idea to name winter storms. This blog post is going to represent both sides of the debate on naming winter storms so that you, the reader, can make a decision whether the ides of naming winter storms should be promoted or thrown in the dumpster.

Let’s look through the perspective of The Weather Channel regarding the naming of winter storms. Citing the use of names by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) for tropical systems, TWC justifies the idea of naming winter storms as a way to “raise awareness.” An article published on TWC’s website in November 2012, “Why The Weather Channel is Naming Winter Storms” by Tom Niziol, explains the thought behind the concept of naming winter systems. TWC discusses the benefits of the idea will “raise the awareness of the public, which will lead to more pro-active efforts to plan ahead, resulting in less impact and inconvenience overall.”

Although it’s not entirely known what criterion is used by TWC to officiate the naming of a winter system, it is known from their press release that “naming will occur no more than three days prior to a winter storm’s expected impact.” They justify this limit by stating that it will “ensure that there is strong confidence the system could have a significant effect on large populations.” In a USA Today article written by Doyle Rice, there is a mention that the storm-naming criterion is also based on the National Weather Service’s thresholds for winter-weather warnings.

From their blog post earlier this month, the Capital Weather Gang (CWG), affiliated with the Washington Post, pointed out that The Weather Channel’s press release “makes the case for why it’s fit to effectively be the parent [of naming winter storms].” Additionally, CWG also points out the implication TWC makes that they are “as qualified as the National Hurricane Center (which names tropical storms).” Within this same press release, TWC states “The Weather Channel has the meteorological ability, support, and technology to bring a more systematic approach to naming winter storms, similar to the way tropical storms have been named.” However, with The Weather Channel, a mere media outlet, comparing itself to be on par with a government organization, this is where many of TWC’s opponents voice criticism.

From the opposition to the idea of naming winter systems, most cite the lack of criterion in order for a winter storm to “earn” its name. Another support of the opposing beliefs is that the National Weather Service voiced opposition and refusal to use the idea through an administrative message that was sent out during a nor’easter in November 2012. As meteorologist Brad Panovich of WCNC stated on his blog post, “since the NWS isn’t using the names, this means the Associated Press and many other media outlets will not be using the names either.” This brings up the slaying truth to TWC’s intended “awareness”, if they are the only media outlet to use it, how much awareness is the name itself generating compared to the mention of the storm, without a name, by all the other media outlets? Lastly, the third reason many cite while opposing the idea is TWC’s cravings for ratings. The Weather Channel, owned by NBC, needs the ratings, just like any other television station, to remain on-air. With much of the ratings leaving traditional television and moving to internet and social media, many tie the ideal of naming winter systems with the ease of internet tagging. Regardless of those who support or oppose the idea of naming winter storms, it will eventually come down to whether any more organizations, government or media, will adopt the new idea.

What do you think about the naming of winter storms? Leave a comment explaining why you agree or disagree with the TWC’s idea below!