NWS Wants Your Comments on a Proposed Alternative
to Simplify Winter Hazard Headlines

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Overview Simplified Concept Sample Products Frequently Asked Questions Comment Now! Hazard Simplification Audio Powerpoint

Listen to our PowerPoint Audiocast explaining this demonstration


The National Weather Service (NWS) uses the terms Watch, Warning and Advisory (WWA) to describe how likely we believe a weather or flooding event is, how bad we think the associated impacts will be, and when the impacts will occur. Results from surveys, service assessments and feedback from some of our partners indicate many people may not fully understand what these terms mean or how to properly respond to stay safe and protect property. The public may also be confused on the distinction between WWA headlines for specific hazards, called hazard products. Examples of similar sounding hazard products include Winter Storm Warning, Winter Storm Watch, and Winter Weather Advisory.

In support of our Weather-Ready Nation initiative, NWS wants to start a conversation on how we might simplify and clarify our products. For this demonstration, we are proposing an alternative way to express headlines within our hazard messages, with winter hazard messages as a focus. If you have other ideas for simplifying and clarifying these messages, we want to hear them.

This demonstration, which will run through March 31, 2013, will provide you with the opportunity to compare headline text from a shortened version of our official WWA messages for winter weather hazards with a proposed alternative. These alternative messages are being created at selected locations (see map below) for demonstration purposes only. Also, the alternative messages will only be accessible via this Web page and via special links from the NWS Home Page and the Home Pages of participating NWS Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs). These messages are not being disseminated. All official NWS winter weather hazard messages will be disseminated as usual, including all computer-readable header information, e.g., Valid Time Event Code (VTEC). For more information, see the official Product Description Document.

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Proposed Alternative

Current Messaging System

NWS relies on the official WWA terms and their associated products to alert the public to a significant weather or water hazard. Forecasters issue a Watch when they believe there is the potential for a significant hazard to occur, but its occurrence, location, and/or timing is still uncertain. The term Advisory is used for imminent hazards that only merit caution, in other words, that are not implicitly dangerous, but could become dangerous if caution is not exercised. The term Warning is used when a dangerous hazard is imminent or already occurring.

Using these three primary terms as a base, our WWA products identify expected level of certainty, timing and impact for specific weather and water hazards. For example, a Winter Weather Advisory can be used to inform users of the imminent arrival of a mixture of snow and sleet that may require driver caution. An Ice Storm Warning expresses the imminent expectation that dangerous amounts of ice will accumulate on roadways and power lines. NWS forecasters currently select among 14 official products to express expected winter weather hazards.

Proposed Simplified System

During this demonstration, NWS will propose alternative terms and phrases for our winter weather hazard message headlines. We have designed these alternative terms with the goal of simplifying and clarifying our messages for the general public and for those responsible for making key decisions to protect the public. The alternative language is being generated by software we've developed specifically for this demonstration.

Here are the specifics of how we'll create the alternative language for the demonstration this winter.

For all current, official winter weather hazard messages that lead with the phrase:


We will convert this text for demonstration purposes only to:


with the hazard type (snow, ice, wind, etc.), level of certainty, timing and expected impact(s) clearly stated in the blank space.

For all current, official winter weather hazard messages that lead with the phrase:


We will convert this text for demonstration purposes only to:


with the hazard type, timing and expected impact(s) clearly stated in the in the blank space

For all current, official winter weather hazard messages that lead with the phrase:


We will convert this text for demonstration purposes only to:


with the hazard type, timing and expected impact(s) clearly stated in the blank space

We retain the term "Warning" for the demonstration because of its direct connection to protection of life and property, but this alternative approach would eliminate the individual hazard products within the Warning category.

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Compare Headline Text From Official and Proposed Alternative
Products and Provide Your Comments!

NWS is demonstrating this proposed alternative approach to hazard message simplification at 26 NWS WFOs this winter. For these sites, we are creating a side-by-side display to allow you to compare our current official headline text with proposed alternative text. These displays will be created continuously in real time based on our official products; however, these displays are being created for demonstration purposes only. We will continue to produce and disseminate all our official WWA products per current policy.

The map below depicts the WFOs participating in this demonstration with their individual scope of warning responsibility shaded purple. In the list below the map, those WFOs with active winter WWA messages are denoted by green links. WFOs with no hazard messages in effect for their area of forecast responsibility are will be denoted by grey links.

We encourage you to click on the WFO name at times when links are green to access our side-by-side message comparison. In addition to the actual message comparison, these comparison pages also provide links where you can provide your comments. We welcome your comments on any specific comparison for a given day or location via our team email address: hazsimp@noaa.gov, or on this demonstration in general via our comment form. The demonstration will end on March 31, 2013.

WFOs participating in test, see list below

*Mountain peaks on the Big Island of Hawaii get snow, which is why WFO Honolulu was selected as a location for the demonstration.

Our team has worked to translate every combination of winter WWA products that we could identify from our records. You can access the Translation Guide here for reference. We will continually monitor and, if necessary, add to the guide during the demonstration.

Based on an analysis of your comments, we will work with our partners and social scientists to determine next steps. If there is support for a simplified approach to winter hazards messaging, NWS will refine the concept based on the comments we receive. We also will work with our partners to determine the best way for their systems to ingest and process information contained in the new message formats.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How will the alternative messages be created?

A. We will automatically convert our WWA messages into the proposed new format using software designed specifically for this demonstration. There will be NO changes made to our official WWA hazard messages. Also, while we have removed computer-readable VTEC from the alternative messages, all VTEC code will be included in all of our official WWA messages.

Q. How will I know if alternative messages are available for viewing so I can provide comments?

A. The easiest way to see if alternative messages are available will be to bookmark this Web page, check the map for WFOs with green and gray links, then go to the product comparison Web page for the WFO of interest to you. You may also access this map via a widget found on the lower left of the NWS Home Page. Finally, access to product comparisons for specific, participating WFOs is provided from their respective home pages via the "Top News of the Day" link.

Q. How can I provide my comments on this demonstration back to NWS?

A. Provide your comments via our survey link on this web page or via links provided at the bottom of each comparison page you choose to review. We welcome general comments on this demonstration via the short survey provided. Email comments on a side-by-side case for a specific WFO to our team at hazsimp@noaa.gov.

Q. What about cases where there are multiple watches, warnings, or advisories in effect simultaneously?

A. As part of the automated software development, our team developed phrasing combinations to cover multiple messages issued at the same time. We have documented these rules in a Translation Guide. If you notice any wording problems or inconsistencies with the wording, please let us know at hazsimp@noaa.gov. Although we welcome all comments, we are most interested in your reaction to the proposed new language as a concept. If this approach is implemented in the future, WFO forecasters would be able to adjust these new terms and phrases to avoid errors.

Q. Why were these particular WFOs selected?

A. NWS selected participating WFOs to represent a diversity of winter weather regimes. The sites for this demonstration  feature a variety of terrain including coastal, elevated, lake effect-prone, and plains.

Q. Why are some standard sections of NWS hazard messages, including header information such as VTEC and the precautionary/preparedness information, not included in the alternative messages?

A. This demonstration is focusing on simplifying our winter weather WWA headlines, so we have edited out this information to keep the focus on headlines. We welcome comments from our partners as to how our official system could be adjusted if NWS adopts this or a similar alternative, especially with respect to VTEC.

Q. Will the missing VTEC codes have any impact on our official winter weather statements during this demonstration?

A. No. This is a NON-OPERATIONAL DEMONSTRATION. NWS will issue all current official WWA statements as we have to date. NWS software will create proposed alternative messages that ingest NWS' official winter weather hazard messages for participating WFOs only. These proposed alternative messages will be posted on our Web page for display and comment.

Q. If comments on this demonstration are favorable, how will VTEC be handled? Are there plans to terminate NWS use of VTEC?

A. There are no plans to terminate VTEC. If results from this demonstration are favorable, and future work to simplify and clarify our hazard messages is supported, we will work with partners to determine the best way to ensure machine readability of our operational products. No changes to the current VTEC system are planned at this point and there are no changes to VTEC being made as part of this demonstration.

Q. What graphical products will I see when I click on the NWS home page and access winter weather statements from the hazards map?

A. When you click on the weather.gov WWA map or click on a participating WFO's home page, you will access the same color-coded depiction of our official winter weather WWA products you have seen in the past. When you click on the map, you will be able to access these official products only. You will find the proposed alternative headline format ONLY on this separate Website and via specific, associated links.

Q. Are you considering changes to any of the multi-colored home page hazard graphics?

A. We will not propose new graphics for this phase of the demonstration; however, we welcome ideas on adjusting our current graphics to work with a simplified system.

Q. What if I notice an error in the output for the side-by-side comparisons or have additional questions not addressed here?

A. If you notice errors or have additional questions, please email the team. We will respond as soon as possible and add those of general interest to this FAQ page.

Q. Will hazard simplification expand beyond winter weather?

A. We will review your feedback to determine whether to expand the demonstration to include additional weather and water hazards.

Q. Will the hazardous wording messages be offered in mixed case?

A. We will post the new format in all capital letters for the demonstration to be consistent with our official WWA messages. There is a separate initiative within NWS to disseminate more text products in mixed case. We are using all capital letters for this demonstration to be consistent with our current products and to support user focus on the intent of this particular activity.

Q. Why are Wind Advisory and High Wind Warning products not being converted to the new language during this demonstration?

A. Wind products are created using different computer-readable header information than other winter weather products. This difference requires extensive additional programming, causing considerable challenges for our software, so we decided to not convert these wind products this year. Wind products, however, would be included if this concept is adopted.

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Comment Now!

Please share your opinions on the overall hazard simplification concept via our standard survey form, used by NWS for all experimental products. For this demonstration, please focus on the following questions:

Question 3: Let us know what you like about the proposed alternative

Question 4: Let us know what you do not like about the proposed alternative

Question 9: Comment on the current WWA system and suggest alternatives to this proposal

Thanks for completing this short survey.

To ask general questions about this demonstration, or share comments about a specific dated WFO message, please email the team at hazsimp@noaa.gov.We will answer as many questions as possible, depending on volume, and will add responses to frequently asked questions to the FAQ section.

Feel free to reply more than once as you review multiple products during the demonstration.

NOAA, National Weather Service
Office of Climate, Water, and Weather Services
1325 East West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
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Last Updated: December 17, 2012