Skip to Content

Tornado season just got more complicated…


Earlier this week, the National Weather Service announced they are making changes to the tornado threat levels that Oklahomans have become all too accustomed to seeing each spring.

Apparently, the old system was too simple and didn't do enough to make people live in a constant state of fear and panic. At least that's what I assume based on this Silas "The Slammer" Allen article on

If you pay attention to weather forecasts, you might notice new terms making their way into storm predictions this fall.

The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center is adding two new categories to its list of threat levels. Officials with the Norman-based agency say the new categories will help residents better understand how likely storms are and avoid being taken by surprise.

Under the old threat level system, National Weather Service forecasters predicted slight, moderate or high levels of risk of tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and other weather. Beginning Oct. 22, forecasters will be able to predict a “marginal” or “enhanced” risk.

Greg Carbin, the center’s warning coordination meteorologist, said the new system breaks the old “slight risk” category into three new categories: marginal risk, slight risk and enhanced risk. The “moderate risk” and “high risk” categories won’t be changed.

Okay, so we took a simple, three level classification system that seemed to work and replaced it with a more complex, harder to distinguish five-tiered system. I feel safer already!

Seriously, did they not consult a focus group of Oklahomans before doing this? We're not exactly known as the brightest state in the nation. If you need proof, just take a look at the new threat levels placed in alphabetical order:

• Enhanced
• High
• Marginal
• Moderate
• Slight

Now without looking back at the NewsOK article, put the new threat levels in order from "Least Concern" to "Holy Shit, we're all going to die!" Not so easy, is it? I tried and got "slight" and "marginal" mixed up. I also screwed up and interchanged "enhanced" with "moderate." Granted, it's 2:00pm and I'm already drunk, but who isn't on a Thursday?

So, why exactly is the NWS making this change? Did they hire that goofball that slandered Aaron Tuttle to make some new policies? Here's the reasoning:

‘Misleading’ category

For example, if forecasters predict a 2 percent chance of a tornado touching down within 25 miles of a point on the map, weather bulletins will now show a marginal risk of a tornado. In years past, a 2 percent chance would have been categorized as a slight risk, Carbin said.

National Weather Service officials have for years fielded complaints from their partner agencies that the “slight risk” category was misleading or difficult to define, Carbin said.

Like the old system of categories, the new threat level designations are tied to percent chances for severe weather, Carbin said. Meteorologists and other weather experts deal mainly in percentage chances, he said, but those figures can be confusing to the casual reader.

For example, a 2 percent chance of a tornado might not sound threatening to most people, he said, but any chance greater than 0 percent could be a cause for concern. Categorical threat levels like “marginal risk” and “slight risk” can be more helpful for people who are trying to plan for severe weather.

But those categorical threat levels are imperfect and can lead to confusion, as well, Carbin said. The “slight risk” category was meant to explain that a chance for severe weather existed, but the storm was too scattershot or isolated to predict with much certainty which towns or neighborhoods would be affected, he said. So a thunderstorm or tornado would occasionally take residents by surprise on “slight risk” days.

“The word ‘slight’ doesn’t convey the right message when it comes to severe weather,” he said. “What we want to do is better define that ‘slight’ in terms of risk.”

Oh, so we were all acting way too calm and not living in a constant state of fear and paranoia when there was only a slight 2% chance that severe weather would hit within 25-miles of where we live. Thanks! Now that I know there's only a marginal 2% chance that a tornado will hit within 25 miles of where I live, I'll cancel all plans and stay inside hunkered beneath my tornado blanket with a copy of the Gary England Drinking Game.

Of course, I could be wrong. I think you need a PHD in complexity to fully understand that write up. I had to read it five times just to figure out what was going on. Now I know how an old person feels when they look at a Chipotle menu for the first time.

Anyway, if they're really going to mess with the system, they should go all out and make this even more confusing. I'd suggest introducing a corresponding color system using different shades of brown and red Crayola colors:

Mahogany: Marginal
Chestnut: Slight
Salmon: Enhanced
Scarlet: Moderate
Brick Red: High

They should also make the colors bedazzled and glittery. I know we'd all like that.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter