GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Starting this severe weather season, warnings from the National Weather Service will be more specific and provide a better idea of how serious the threat really is.
This week in 1980, downtown Kalamazoo was devastated by a tornado that produced winds of 150 mph. It left five dead and nearly 100 injured.
Since then, hundreds of tornado warnings have come and gone, as have dozens of weaker tornadoes. Each was dangerous in their own right, but none as damaging as the Kalamazoo twister.
So when you hear those sirens, do they mean the real thing this time?
"The warning system as it has been has desensitized a lot of people from making the proper choice," Jim Maczko of the National Weather Service explained.
In response to that problem, the NWS has created a new system of impact-based warnings designed to give the public more information so they can make the right decisions when a storm hits.
The wording of the warnings will be more specific, including a forecast of "considerable" or "catastrophic" damage for the most rare and serious storms.
"In the past, many warnings contained a lot of vague wording, and may not have addressed the threat properly, or over-warned," Maczko said.
Most tornadoes in West Michigan are EF-0s or EF-1s, causing about the same amount of damage as a strong thunderstorm.
The last time a West Michigan tornado met the criteria for "catastrophic" damage was during the Palm Sunday outbreak in 1965, when an F-4 tornado devastated Kent and Ottawa counties. The 1980 Kalamazoo tornado was an F-3 and would have been labeled "considerable" under the new criteria.
In another change under the new warnings, the NWS may hold back a warning when the storm threat is minimal, resulting in fewer false alarms. It will also distinguish between a weak tornado and a true tornado emergency where a large, spotted tornado is headed into a city -- like what happened in Joplin, Missouri in 2011.
While Storm Team 8 meteorologists always assess the threat level, the new clear wording from the NWS will help reinforce that message for all storms, big and small.
"We have some situations where we have a severe thunderstorm warning for marginal hail. That's not something you should go running to the basement for, but you should be aware of," Storm Team 8 Chief Meteorologist Bill Steffen said.
Storm Team 8 is watching our for you in your neighborhood when severe weather hits. Click here for:
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