National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
News Headlines

Common Fears and Concerns Regarding Severe Weather

These pages were created from tips provided by meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Norman, OK and Kansas City, MO

Getting/Using Weather Info

Sometimes the local TV stations don't talk about the storms in my area as much as I'd like. How am I supposed to know what's going on?


Television is one of the best ways to get weather information, but it's not the only way. You should have multiple ways to get warnings and weather information.

You can get warnings and other weather information through a variety of ways.

  • There are numerous free phone apps, that provide forecasts and warning alerts as well as radar imagery so you can track storms.
  • You can find information on numerous websites, including ours.
  • NOAA Weather Radio is another way to get instantaneous alerts when warnings are issued from our office.
  • Social Media is another way to get weather information. Just be sure you follow reputable weather sites, such as NWS offices, TV Meteorologists, Local Emergency Management, and Private Weather companies.

I'm not familiar with the local area enough to know where all the counties and cities and highways are that they talk about when showing storms.


Grab a state highway map (Missouri and Kansas) and use it to help you track storms. Be sure to get one that has county outlines and names, since warnings and other information use counties to describe the locations.. Be sure you know what county you're in, and also those around you, especially to the northwest, west and southwest (the directions storms usually come from.)

Meteorologists also refer to cities and towns, interstates and state highways when describing storm locations and movement, so it's a good idea to know a little bit about the highways and towns near you.

Knowing more about your local geography can help reduce stress during severe weather. If you know a storm is not going to affect you, that's one less storm to worry about.

Remember that maps on your phone probably won't have the county lines or county names, and warnings and watches are described by county.

Think about getting a radar app for your phone. Many of them allow you to plot your exact location on the radar screen so you can always see where you are in relation to the storms.


How do I know when the forecast is bad enough that I should change my plans?


Making decisions based on a weather forecast can be a little tricky, and for severe weather it's usually best to lean toward the "better safe than sorry" approach.

Whether the weather could be bad enough to cause you to need to change your plans depends on many different of factors - what time of day the storms are expected, will you be near a shelter, will you have a way to hear warnings, will you be driving, etc. It also depends on what kind of bad weather is expected and how that would impact you - tornadoes, hail, wind, lightning, flooding, etc.


I just moved here and I'm not familiar with the local weather patterns. I don't know what I should be watching for.


Take a free National Weather Service storm spotter training course. These are usually offered in the early spring and provide great information about the storms in our area. In January and February of each year, check our homepage for the spring training schedule.

Get advice from friends or family who have lived here for a while.

Find good reliable sources of local weather information.


How am I supposed to know which storms are the really dangerous ones?


Find a reliable local source of weather information you trust. Obviously storms with tornado warnings always deserve special attention and action if you're in the path. You should also be paying attention to severe thunderstorm warnings, since they will be used to tell you about storms capable of producing dangerous winds and damaging hail.

There's a lot of detailed information available in the actual full text version of a National Weather Service warning that you may not see on a TV crawl or an app. Each warning will provide details on whether we're expecting hail or wind, and, if so, how bad will it be. The warning details why the warning was issued, where the storm is, which way it's moving and who's in the path.


Facts about tornadoes and the outlook-watch-warning system.

  • Most storms will not produce a tornado. Tornadoes - especially the dangerous ones - only form under a special set of weather conditions.
    • 60% of tornadoes that have occurred in Kansas and Missouri since 1980 are rated EF0, those with wind speeds of 65 to 85 mph. 
    • 27% of tornadoes that have occurred in Kansas and Missouri since 1980 are rated EF1, those with wind speeds of 86 to 110 mph.
    • That means, of all the tornadoes that have occurred since 1980 in Missouri and Kansas, 87% are on the lower end of the EF Scale.
  • Less than 1% of tornadoes in Missouri and Kansas ever reach EF4/EF5 intensity. And even in these rare tornadoes, those intense winds only affect a very small area compared to the size of the entire tornado path.
  • For the most significant tornadoes in Missouri and Kansas, EF3, EF4 and EF5, tornado warnings have an average lead time of 16 minutes advance notice.
  • On average, the Kansas City Metro and surrounding areas of western and northwestern Missouri and eastern Kansas will be under 6 to 10 Tornado Watches a year.
  • On average, our office issues 25 tornado warnings a year. Given we cover 44 counties, 37 in Missouri and 7 in Kansas, that means, the chance your county will end up in a tornado is very very small.
  • We have one of the best warning and weather information systems anywhere in the world, right here in Kansas City. From the excellent coverage from all the TV meteorologists to the local emergency management officials who operate the local sirens and warning systems, to the men and women at the National Weather Service providing information to help you keep you safe and informed; you live in an area that has experience dealing with severe weather and you benefit from that by getting great information. You have some of the most experienced forecasters in the world watching your back.
  • Severe weather outlooks are sometimes issued days before severe weather in our area. The further out they are, the less confidence we have on exactly what's going to happen, when and where it's going to happen or even if it's going to happen at all. Don't let outlooks stress you out. They're just a tool to give you information that can help you be sure you're ready just in case it happens. They are not a forecast and not a guarantee. Chances are very high that most people within a severe weather outlook area won't see any severe weather at all.
  • A tornado or severe thunderstorm watch is issued when we have more confidence that we're going to have severe weather, and a watch will be more specific in time and space. But even then, most people in a watch will not see severe weather. We issue watches to let you know you could see storms in the next few hours so that you can make sure you're ready.