KTA to change weather alert system after tornado warning confusion

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KSNW) – There are some changes coming to how the Kansas Turnpike Authority (KTA) alerts its drivers of severe weather situations.

A KTA spokesperson said on Thursday it will verify all tornado warnings from AccuWeather, a private forecasting company, with the National Weather Service (NWS) before it sends alerts to its customers.

The change comes after the authority sent out a tweet on Wednesday night that said there was a tornado warning near Lawrence on I-70. The NWS did not put out a tornado warning for that location.

KSN asked the KTA why it issued the tornado warning. The KTA said it uses a variety of sources to gather data, but it relies on its contractor, AccuWeather, for alerts.

“Our goal is to give the KTA the advance notice that a major storm may be approaching so they can take the appropriate safety precautions,” said AccuWeather Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Executive Mike Smith.

Smith said that was how the situation played out on Wednesday night.

“We saw the signature of a developing tornado on radar, it was southwest of the turnpike and was moving towards the turnpike,” Smith said. “So because the radar signatures were strong and increasing, we issued a tornado warning.”

Smith said AccuWeather’s goal is to serve the specific client with the information it has requested. For the KTA, that means distinct, mile marker weather details.

“The National Weather Service’s job is to warn the public as a whole, so it warns large geographic areas, where we warn on specific clients,” he said.

The NWS said it takes multiple factors into account when it issues any warning. It says public safety is its top priority.

“The mission of the National Weather Service is to issue warnings, statements and advisories for the safety of the citizens within our jurisdiction,” said National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist Chance Hayes.

The KTA said it plans to meet with AccuWeather and the NWS in the next couple of weeks to avoid confusion in the future.

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