The mysterious counties of Minnesota weather warnings

We have reached — early this year — the portion of the severe weather season where I wonder if there’s a better way to indicate where a severe storm is than by listing the warning based on a county.

We in the seven-county metro have nothing against you, Cottonwood, except that many of us don’t know where you are (disclaimer: I know you where you are), and , hence, have no idea whether we should care about the vortex line multiplier doofrazzle echo that the meteorologist says has just been located over you.

Let’s noodle on this people. Is there a better way? Go!

And then there’s other question: Do we still need counties?

  • Jim G

    I can visually see Fergus Falls in my mind’s eye. I can say the same thing for most other county seats because I’ve driven to those cities to visit friends, relatives, or busness contacts. Try reporting storm warnings with the name of the county seat, or other prominent city in the proximity of the warning or watch. Then report the direction of travel and distance from these cities. They now have meaning for the listener which can be linked to the new information. This is basic learning theory.

  • Bob Collins

    Semi-related: One thing I find fascinating is at the Capitol, lawmakers are identified by the county they’re from rather than the city. Of course, some represent districts that span several cities. But a Minneapolis state rep is more a Minneapolis state rep than “the member from Hennepin.”

  • Tyler

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we have the technology to alert people via text message of weather warnings. This can be done on a cell-tower by cell-tower basis: when an emergency is issued for an area covered by certain towers, those towers (and those towers only) can generate a text warning to all the cell phones connected to those towers. It can be completely automated, and the cost to the carriers is absolutely minimal. Those text messages should be free.

  • jon

    I live on the border of counties, I need to see two counties on the scrolling bar on the TV to actually be alerted to issues, sadly they are at either side of the alphabet so opposite sides of the scrolling text.

    Ordering counties by location instead of alphabetically would make more sense, or ordering them by ETA.

    That being said, I sat in a storm shelter at work while the birds were chirping, and the sun was shining because there was storms clipping the opposite side of the county, and the company police was to take shelter when ever there was a warning. even though a different building for the same company less then 400ft away didn’t have to take shelter because they were in a different county.

    I guess computers and GPS being they way they are setting up a quadrangle of area’s that could be effected and listing the GPS points of the corners of those locations, and letting peoples phones and technology determine if they are in the path of the storm.

  • DL

    It’s more helpful when we hear things like “along a line extending from Alexandria to Big Lake,” etc. rather than the name of the counties those cities are in–especially if you’re traveling on I-94! County designations for warnings can be too large to be useful. If a tornado targets St. Peter and it’s reported as “Sibley County,” do the folks in North Mankato need to worry? And county designations can be too confining. If the tornado IS in North Mankato, and the Blue Earth County sirens haven’t sounded on the other side of the Minnesota River, what does that mean?

    Administratively, counties are certainly arbitrary units, as you see from the map, but they can serve their purposes. Other regional formats might be better in some ways, but eliminating counties without some other larger administrative unit could be devastating for certain towns and cities. Caution is advised!

  • BenCh

    Using counties in weather warnings makes us learn counties near where we live, similar to how people learn about foreign countries when we go to war.

  • Bob Collins

    I sat out today’s hailstorm in a hangar at the airport in South Saint Paul. I had a unique way of finding out that bad weather was coming — I looked up at the sky.

    It turned very nice immediately after the storm passed and once things quieted down, it was easier to hear the radio, which was now warning me that a storm was coming.

  • jon


    As some one not from Minnesota, I think the “a line from ‘some city you’ve heard of but have no idea where it is’, to ‘a city you’ve never heard of’.” is ridiculous.

    I don’t know how every one from Minnesota knows where every town in Minnesota is (do they require memorization of MN geography in grade school or something?) but unfamiliar town names are just as bad as unfamiliar county names.

  • Jeff

    Heck, I bet the vast majority of people living in the “seven-county metro” don’t know all seven. There usually isn’t a need to know them, so why learn them? As to what to use in a radio warning…there is no way to tell every listener where the storm is in relationship to them, so I propose that the warnings do what they do now — use county and towns and rely on people to use common sense and look at the sky. Sunny? Don’t worry. Cloudy? Pay attention. Stormy? Use caution.

  • Bob Collins

    That raises an interesting question. The more sophisticated the technology is for spreading a weather warning, is there a corresponding decrease in the use of, say, our senses (common and human)?

  • Jennifer

    I was traveling through two other states and had severe thunderstorm warnings and tornado warnings along the way. I had no idea what county I was in, the passenger was trying to find it on a map, but the county name was small, and the passenger wasn’t skilled at map reading.

    There’s got to be a way to improve that experience. I don’t think text messages are ideal, I don’t have a smart phone, would it know what county I was in and where I was headed? If I were alone the car (a more frequent occurrence than having a passenger), how would I read the text?

    It might help for radio announcers to mention the storm is along 35 about 50 north of the Iowa border, that at least gives a better idea if I’m in the in the thick of it.