Tornado Forecasting
March 28, 2012

Tornado Forecasting Meteorologist Joshua Kelly

Every year many people lose their lives to tornadoes. So why is there not a better plan in place for warning the public about these tornadoes and when they are going to occur?

In earlier times there was not much in place for warnings. Now with the advancement of technology, tornado forecasting has gotten a lot better and we are able to provide warnings that give people enough time to take shelter.

So why are so many people still dying from tornadoes? Now it is starting to lean on the individual person themselves not taking the proper precautions when a tornado warning is issued and still the time is short for taking cover.

As we continue into the future, scientists and meteorologists alike will continue to work on advancements and try to get earlier warnings out to the public.

Right now the Storm Prediction Center in Norman Oklahoma offers a free to the public weather discussion for the next 7 days on where they think the severe weather is going to be occurring. So in all honesty, if anyone were to go check out that product, which can be found here, they would be taking the first step towards warning themselves. The SPC provides a daily outlook to the public of where they think the most likely severe weather events are going to happen.

Predicting tornadoes is quite tricky and takes a lot of work. Sometimes the key ingredients don´t come together until the last moment. That is why it´s very important to check their website daily for updates as a storm system begins to move into the area.

To better understand tornadoes we need to remember that they are a rotating column of air. This means they need a certain type of thunderstorm to form. That type of thunderstorm is called a Super-Cell thunderstorm. The super cell thunderstorm provides the rotating column of air that the tornado needs to live. To get that column of air to rotate we need a surface frontal boundary to come into the area. This will provide the rotating winds with the height which can support the super cell development.

Here is your own personal checklist to help you get started on figuring out if you are at risk for tornadoes.

1. Is there some type of frontal boundary over my area today such as a Cold Front, Squall Line or Warm Front?

2. How close to the Surface Low pressure am I going to be?  The surface low pressure provides the turning in the atmosphere.

3. Am I going to be on the front side of the cold front and squall line? This is very important because that is where all the warm air is found.

These are some basic things to look.

On the day of the event here are a few things to look at.  The first is watching the radar that can be viewed by using the internet and going to the local news channel or also the National Weather Service along with other various weather sites. When looking at the radar it is important to look for cells that appear to be separated from the vast inflow of all other moisture on the radar. The best place to start looking is out ahead of the actual cold front along the squall line that can form some 50-150 miles ahead of the front. These cells will appear relatively large and independent. These cells are the ones that need to be watched as they hold the most likely scenario of becoming a tornado producing storm.

Once, you have identified one of those storms, the next thing to do is look at the storms back right side as this is where all the ingredients are coming together in that cell and this is where the tornado is most likely to form.

As we continue to move forward in time, and as technology improves, we can hope for more advanced warning from tornadoes. The most important thing to remember is if you hear the sirens take cover fast. Also with the growing number of storm chasers we can use their input to help us predict where the tornado may go next. Storm Chasers provide a huge asset to the weather community in that they can bring real time data and also can archive the data from certain storms they maybe following that can in return be brought back to the lab for further study of why that storm did what it did. All of this will eventually lead to what I believe is going to be better and more advanced warnings for the public in the future.