Report finds colour-coded weather warnings 'not fully understood' by public

An internal government report has concluded that the colour-coded weather warning system has "limitations" and is "not fully understood" by members of the public.

Report finds colour-coded weather warnings 'not fully understood' by public

An internal government report has concluded that the colour-coded weather warning system has "limitations" and is "not fully understood" by members of the public.

The report specifically criticises the issuing of multiple warnings for the same weather events.

The system of issuing yellow, orange and red alerts for weather has been criticised in the past, with representatives from Met Éireann appearing before a Dáil committee in 2019 to discuss the confusion among the general public.

They were told that it can result in weather events being over or under-estimated in terms of severity.

Now, the Review Report of Severe Weather Events, prepared by the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management for the Department of Housing, Local Government and Planning, has acknowledged the "limitations of the colour-based warnings system".

The report analysed the responses to Ex-Hurricane Ophelia, Storm Emma, the 2018 heatwave and drought and several flood events to determine how effective the colour warnings were.

Specifically, issuing multiple and different levels for the same events - for example, different colour warnings for wind and rain - is noted as "confusing for the public" in the report.

It is believed the colour coded warnings are "recognised if not fully understood".

The aim of the different colours is to avoid confusion and mixed messages. Issuing a red, orange or yellow warning is designed to alert the public to the varying degrees of weather events.

The report acknowledges that Met Éireann's forecasting works "to best international scientific practice" and it is not critical of the forecasting but the warning systems.

"Met Éireann's current weather advisory, alert and warning system is based on 'threshold' parameters with some impact based considerations taken into account, whereby values for wind-speed, rainfall, etc trigger yellow alert or orange and RED warnings," it said.

"Met Éireann’s colour-coded warnings are designed to get attention, and we believe are widely recognised, if not fully understood at times."

The report recommends the creation of "a clearly mandated structure" for the issuing of warnings.

It also identifies the need for individual organisations and sectors to develop contingency policies for weather responses in the wake of recent weather warnings.

"The core advice is to be conscious of weather conditions and forecasts, look at what staff’s exposure to harm could be and to plan and decide accordingly," it states.

"For example, we are aware that a number of organisations put in place a blanket automatic position of not putting vehicles on the road in red warning weather conditions. As Met Éireann moves to impact-based warnings, it is essential that each sector develop its own tailored safety thresholds for their operations that are based on the ability to safely operate in up to a maximum hazard level in severe weather."

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