Weather service seeks feedback on watch/warning changes

Do you know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning? The National Weather Service isn't sure many people do, and considering changes to simplify their severe weather communications.

The agency is testing a proposal that communicates forecasts with the public in a more literal way. Instead of alerting the public that it has issued a "watch" for a given type of severe weather, it would say that it "forecasts the potential for" severe weather.

Instead of an "advisory", such as last night's dense fog advisory, weather service communications would say that forecasters "advise caution for" dense fog or other hazards.

In the case of a "warning" for a tornado, severe thunderstorm or other dangerous weather, the weather service is only proposing a slight change, from alerting simply that it has issued a severe weather warning to communicating that it has "issued a warning for a dangerous" weather phenomenon. 

At 26 weather service forecast offices around the country, a test through March will relay both the traditional language and the proposed revised language to the public. The Sterling, Va., weather service office, which covers most of Maryland, is not included in the test, so don't expect to see anything different in weather alerts just yet.

But you can have your say on whether you find the current system confusing, or whether you understand it just fine. Read more about the proposal on a special weather service webpage, where you can take a survey on the matter and e-mail your comments.

Have a weather question? E-mail me at or tweet to @MdWeather.

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