Making the Most of Severe Weather Warning Lead Times

Making the Most of Severe Weather Warning Lead Times

The average lead time for a tornado or severe thunderstorm warning is 12 minutes. Do you know what to do in that 12 minutes before the storm hits?
MEMPHIS, TN ( - The Mid-South is home to some of the nation’s nastiest weather. Warnings are issued as destructive storms develop with as much lead time as possible. Still, some people still question if that's enough time, and if people are using that time wisely.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS) in Memphis, the average lead time for a tornado warning or a severe thunderstorm warning is around 12 minutes. They stress that it’s an average time and warnings vary from 1 minute to almost 20 minutes.

Meteorologists say knowing what to do with that time could make the difference between a life-altering mistake and hiding out a storm.

Benjamin Schott, the NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist says, “If you’re on the shorter time span you need to take action fast. If you’re on the farther end you may have more time to make sure you can get what you need to take shelter.”

Schott is the guy in the chair issuing warnings as they arise, and sometimes he feels there’s a bit of complacency.

“There’s just a natural instinct, an optimism bias that it’s not going to be that bad, it’s not going to affect me. Then you see time and time again, event after event, people have a hard time believing that something like that could happen.”

He mentioned to take action, by that he means get to your safe place as soon as the warning is issued. Whether it is the lowest level of your home, room with no windows, basement or shelter, get there. Once inside, then you can check on the situation, otherwise you’re at risk.

Schott advises, “If you don’t know exactly where you need to go, you’re not making it to the safest place. You’re putting yourself, your family members, your friends and co-workers at risk.”

As for those lead times, science and forecasting continue to improve, leaving you with more time to prepare. However, once you get over 30 minutes, it could be, in Schott’s opinion, too much.

“If people have to wait that long for the storm to get there the optimism bias kicks in. ‘It’s not going to be that bad, they were wrong, its not really there, it’s not going to affect me.’”

Schott later added that technology is currently being tested that may lead to one hour lead times on tornadic storms, but it will take another 10 to 20 years.
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