National Weather Service Looks to Improve Warnings for Spanish Speakers

Wichita Falls, Texas, lacks comprehensive weather notification systems for those who speak primarily Spanish.

by Christopher Collins, Times Record News, Wichita Falls, Texas / October 24, 2016
Standing flood waters over roads and fields at Addick's Reservoir in Houston, Texas, in May 2015. CaseyMartin / Shutterstock.com

(TNS) — The National Weather Service wants to do more to keep Spanish-speaking people abreast of severe weather events, but it may require cooperation from the news media and emergency management services.

 
At a workshop in Wichita Falls on Friday, Rick Smith, the warning coordination meteorologist at the weather service's Norman office, called Spanish-language weather warnings "a huge priority for sure."
 
"It's a huge issue," he said during a presentation at the event, which aimed to bring together TV meteorologists, first responders, weather service employees and others.
 
Texas currently has about 10.4 million Hispanic residents, the second most of any U.S. state, according to the Pew Research Center.
 
Hispanics — most of whom are of Mexican descent — make up 39 percent of the state's total population.
 
Later, in an interview, Smith recounted a 2013 incident in which several Spanish-speaking people were killed in a tornado near Oklahoma City. Weather warnings had been distributed en masse for the event but not necessarily in Spanish.
 
"It's sad when it happens to anybody, but it's even more sad when you're dealing with someone who may have not gotten the right information to start with," he said. "There was speculation that the lack of resources for getting notifications in their own language may have been a factor in that."
 
Some improvements have been made since — KTUZ, an Oklahoma TV station, has hired a Spanish-speaking meteorologist. And some of the weather service's products now are translated into Spanish.
 
"But we have a long way to go," Smith said.
 
Wichita Falls, which has a smaller Hispanic population than El Paso or Brownsville, for example, lacks comprehensive weather notification systems for those who speak primarily Spanish.
 
San Angelo and Abilene, Wichita Falls' sister cities, also lack those services, said Hector Guerrero, the warning coordination meteorologist at the weather service office in San Angelo.
 
"It's definitely something to look into. The better we can warn people about the weather in their own language, the better they'll be able to prepare," Guerrero said.
 
He and Smith also stressed the importance of improving weather notification systems for hearing- and visually-impaired people and for people who speak languages other than English or Spanish.
 
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