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NWS to phase out 'advisory' forecast term

Ryan Sandler has been tracking weather for decades, utilizing a specific lexicon to get the forecast out.

In that time, the National Weather Service meteorologist in Medford has used terminology such as “red flag warning” to describe when conditions are ripe for wildfire outbreaks, and “winter weather advisory” for snow that could cause travel difficulties.

But in a few years, he won’t be using the latter phrase. By 2024, the word “advisory” will no longer be used in forecasting, according to NWS officials. The ambiguous “special weather statement” phrase is out, too. It’s all intended to alleviate confusion among the general public.

“Research showed that a large majority of the public and some partners misunderstood the meaning of ‘advisory’ and confuse it with ‘watch,’” a Weather Service news release said. “The new paradigm will better support emergency managers, who need plain language headlines to support clear communication, along with messages in a bulleted, easy-to-read format.”

Sandler is in favor of the move but said it will take some getting used to.

“At first I was wary of it,” he said. “‘Advisory’ is ingrained, but I know I can get out of my meteorologist shell.”

The words “warning” and “watch” are sticking around. “Warning” implies conditions “where a life- and/or property-threatening event is happening or about to happen,” according to the National Weather Service’s website, while “watch” means “a life- and/or property-threatening event is possible — but not yet certain.”

“Advisory” historically has meant “an event less serious than a warning is happening or about to happen,” the site says.

“And it’s all over the board,” Sandler said. “There’s just so much confusion with it.”

Before the change goes into effect, NWS will update its policy, software and display systems. Public education, partner outreach and forecaster training will follow, then testing of the new messaging. The information will come out in statements, almost mini news releases, that the Weather Service will push out to media entities and their social media accounts.

“The information will still be out there,” Sandler said. “It’s still important, still significant. It just won’t have that title, and it won’t confuse people.”

For the nine-county region Medford’s Weather Service station covers, the most common advisories are “wind advisory,” “dense fog advisory” and “small craft advisory.” The latter is intended for boater safety along the Oregon Coast.

“There have been a few hiccups, especially with marine,” Sandler said, adding the U.S. Coast Guard has used the “small craft advisory” phrase for a long time. “That hasn’t been all figured out yet for them.”

Reach web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanPfeil.

\Mail Tribune / file photo