National Weather Service considers simplifying warnings for small craft advisory

Should this boat have been advised or warned? (Contributed photo)

When I was a kid, several times each spring and summer an announcer would break in on the radio or TV station we were listening to or watching to announce a “tornado warning.”  At the time, satellite monitoring was non-existent and Doppler weather radar use was just beginning to be available. When an announcement came out, it was normally from phoned-in observations.

As meteorological technology improved, however, the current “Watch and Warning” system was instituted. We were all trained a “watch” was just an alert that conditions were such that tornadoes could develop; a “warning” occurred when a tornado had formed.

Those two alarm levels have been used to alert people of other potential weather problems. A winter storm “watch” means, pay attention, a blizzard could show up in a few days. A hurricane “warning” means, board up the windows and evacuate!

There’s also another term used in some cases: “advisory”.

In most cases, an “advisory” is an even more minor alarm. A winter storm “advisory” would mean at sometime in the near future conditions could develop that would warrant a watch or warning.

Almost everyone is familiar with these alerts, these days. But when the National Weather Service invented these terms for people on land, they left the marine warning nomenclature intact. On NWS marine forecasts, the wind predictions don’t warrant much more than wind speed predictions until they are expected to exceed certain minimums. Winds over 39 mph are considered gale force.

I hope I’m never in a boat in gale force winds. A less-wind situation exists in the NWS nomenclature in the form of a “small craft advisory”. “Small craft advisory” sounds quite tame compared to “gale warning,” doesn’t it? Currently, a small craft advisory is posted when the wind is expected to be 25 to 38 mph.

In a move that could simplify and potentially reduce misunderstanding of urgent weather messages used by recreational boaters to make critical boating safety decisions, the National Weather Service (NWS) has proposed renaming “small craft advisory” to “small craft warning” and is asking for boaters’ feedback. If you are interested in registering your opinion on the subject go to: The survey closes May 24, 2020.

The proposal to rename a “small craft advisory” to a “small craft warning” is part of a larger effort to reduce alerts to just two flagship headline terms: “watch” and “warning”. NOAA also says the name change would better align with all other marine warnings – gale, storm, and hurricane force wind – leading to greater understanding by recreational boaters.

If you regularly boat on the Great Lakes or even inland lakes, which can become treacherous, it behooves you to always check the forecasts – several forecasts, in fact – before heading out.

Categories: Michigan – Mike Schoonveld

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