A real warning

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board June 17, 2011 11:45 am

We’re not branding the National Weather Service as Chicken Little, but we were getting rather annoyed by the onslaught of flood watches and warnings the agency issued earlier this spring for the Powder River in Baker City.

All the while the river, though certainly running high for the season, stayed comfortably within its banks.

The weather prognosticators, to their credit, have adjusted their threshold to reflect the realities of the river.

This is what you call “ground-truthing.”

Specifically, Jay Breidenbach, warning coordination meteorologist at the Weather Service’s Boise office, took a walk along the river a few weeks ago while it was flowing at a level that had prompted the agency to issue a flood warning.

He quickly saw that flooding was not imminent.

In response, Breidenbach significantly raised the river level that triggers a flood warning.

The Powder isn’t likely to reach that level very often, so flood warnings, which began to sound familiar this spring, are apt to be quite rare in the future.

We’re pleased about that.

Unnecessary warnings, besides being aggravating, can actually be dangerous.

People naturally begin to distrust warnings that repeatedly, and consistently, prove to be exaggerated.

“The warnings should mean something,” Breidenbach said. “We want to reserve them for when people really need to take action.”

We applaud the Weather Service for making sure that its warnings, from here on, will be ones that need to be heeded.