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National Weather Service explains how it issues local winter weather alerts

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Posted at 8:01 AM, Feb 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-05 08:01:12-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The National Weather Service issues alerts, watches and warnings to keep the public safe, and our own meteorologists at FOX 17 then broadcast that information to our viewers.

“Our main mission in the National Weather Service is to protect lives and property,” said Meteorologist Nathan Jeruzal.

He’s been a meteorologist with the NWS for about 21 years with the past 18 of those based in Grand Rapids.

Jeruzal also grew up in Michigan, so he’s very familiar with winter weather. But it’s not always easy forecasting lake-effect snow.

“A lot of times in West Michigan it’s localized. You may have a band of snow that’s snowing two inches per hour at times, and then you may have sunshine in the middle of that,” he said.

Jeruzal is one of 17 staff meteorologists at the NWS location in Grand Rapids. They cover from the lakeshore over to US-127 near Jackson, up to US-10 around Ludington, and down to I-94 in the South Haven area.

They’re constantly watching the weather figuring out where things might get hazardous.

“As we get closer to the event, we have confidence that it’s going to occur, then we as a group talk about the situation. We always have two forecasters on at any one time, and at times there are more,” said Jeruzal.

Those forecasters then use their expertise to issue alerts, advisories, watches and warnings. Due to COVID some of them are working from home, but all alerts come from the main office in Grand Rapids.

“In this event coming up, it’s how are the winds going to affect us, how is the lake going to affect us; those types of things, and we all kind of discuss that,” he said.

Our local meteorologists at FOX 17 then take that information as guidance to help viewers understand the severity of what’s coming.

The NWS is constantly looking at new weather events to determine how they worked out so they can fine-tune the forecast and keep us all safe and in the know.

“What we’re trying to let people know is that there is hazardous weather that’s coming so that they can kind of prepare for that,” said Jeruzal. “This looks to be one of the more impactful events that we’ve had this year, maybe the strongest one. Give yourself a lot of extra time if you have to go out.”

If the National Weather Service feels the situation is serious enough across the state, it hosts webinars with local meteorologists, emergency managers, and superintendents.