Tornado warning lead times examined: How much is too much?

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – The average tornado warning lead time is around 15 minutes, which is plenty of time for people in danger to take cover.

The National Weather Service has worked for decades to increase warning lead times, but is there such a thing as too much time? ECU’S Geography Department head Burrell Montz thinks so.

“There’s no pat answer to how much warning time is the right amount of time. There is such a thing is too much warning, though. I really believe it; too much warning time,” said Montz, who argues that with a lengthy lead time, people have a tendency to put off getting themselves out of harm’s way until it’s too late.

So how much is enough?

“15-to-20 minutes I think is kind of the magic time period. Even 13 minutes, something like that is a good lead time,” Montz said.

What about the warnings of severe weather outbreaks that come out days in advance?

Montz thinks they’re good as long as the forecasts don’t get too specific.

“It’s a mistake I think to say five days out we expect this to happen. Maybe we can do that with hurricanes, but we’re even careful about that, so why would we do that with tornadoes when the situation is really, really so uncertain at that point in time,” questioned Montz.

Overall, the ECU department head said social science research on weather warnings varies greatly. She said more work needs to be done before we can truly understand what types of severe weather communication are most effective in saving lives.

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