National Weather Service changes local zoning map

Published: Sep. 15, 2023 at 10:00 AM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The National Weather Service is changing its Northern Alaska forecast zones starting September 19. The Fairbanks North Star Borough in particular will be broken up into many smaller zones.

“For Fairbanks we’ve created a forecast zone that primarily encompasses the metro Fairbanks area, from Fairbanks down to North Pole, up to Fox, and then over towards Ester,” Ryan Metzger, Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Weather Service, explained. “Elsewhere in the Fairbanks North Star Borough we have a separate zone that kind of covers the area around Two Rivers, the area out by Chena Hot Springs, then Eielson and Salcha has its own zone, and then there’s a zone that covers the Parks Highway heading south from Ester.”

Changes to the National Weather Service zoning system are expected to improve the accuracy of alerts.

The purpose of restructuring the zones is to avoid sending out unnecessary alerts. Under the system that has been in use, an alert is often sent out to an entire large zone even when only a small part of that zone is affected.

“The smaller zones will allow us to kind of more appropriately target where we put out warnings and advisories,” Metzger went on, “So that we don’t, say, put out a warning for Fairbanks where it’s just lightly snowing, when the heavier snow is up north of town along the Steese Highway or the Elliot Highway.”

The zones are also being structured to no longer cross borough boundaries.

This new map is the last step in a years-long plan by the National Weather Service to eliminate its excess weather alerts.