Changes to the official severe weather warnings

The warnings will be in orange and the watches in yellow. Image: MetService.

The MetService is enhancing the way it communicates public alerts for severe weather.

From 21 May, MetService is introducing a new level of warning reserved for the most extreme weather events, as well as new colours and graphics, to more clearly signify the type of alert in place.

The weather organisation provides land-based severe weather alerts through a system of Outlooks, Watches and Warnings.

There will now be two levels of warnings for heavy rain, strong wind or heavy snow: an Orange Warning (orange hexagon graphic) and a Red Warning (red triangle graphic).

An Orange Warning will be issued when heavy rain, strong wind or heavy snow is forecast to meet warning criteria.

It signifies that people need to be prepared and take action as appropriate as there could be some disruption to their day and potential risk to people, animals and property.

The majority of warnings issued by MetService will be orange.

A Red Warning will be reserved for only the most extreme weather events, such the severe weather resulting from extra-tropical cyclones, where significant impact and disruption is expected.

It signifies that people need to act now as immediate action is required to protect people, animals and property from the impact of the weather.

People should also be prepared to follow the advice of official authorities and emergency services.

During 2018, MetService recorded 56 severe weather events in New Zealand that reached warning criteria requiring Severe Weather Warnings to be issued.

MetService General Manager, Meteorological Operations, Ramon Oosterkamp says the changes will make it easier for everyone to understand the severity of the expected weather.

“We know that ‘severe weather’ means different things to different people. By introducing these changes, we aim to give people greater clarity about what to expect, enabling them to be better prepared for the particular weather conditions.”

Ramon says the introduction of two levels of warnings is about the need to really draw attention to our most extreme events, particularly as climate scientists expect greater severity of weather events due to climate change.

“There are times when we know the expected weather will be extremely severe, such as the recent heavy rain in Westland, which caused colossal damage and the tragic loss of a life. At these times we really need to capture everyone’s attention and let them know, this is really extreme weather and to take action!”

“Flagging an event with a Red Warning will only happen after careful consideration and peer review by our severe weather team at MetService. Where appropriate, we will discuss the pending event with Councils or Civil Defence.”

The use of colour-coded warnings linked to impacts is recommended by the World Meteorological Organisation, of which the MetService is a member.

MetService’s Severe Weather Watches will now be identified with a yellow circle graphic. During a Watch we ask that people be alert, to be prepared for bad weather, and to keep up-to-date with advice from MetService as a Warning is possible.

“We are urging media outlets to adopt the same practice for communicating severe weather events, because we know that a consistent message across all channels is the most effective way of communicating with the public.

Ramon says the criteria for determining when forecast weather requires an Outlook, Watch or Warning will not change.

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