|LOCAL FREAKISH WX SERIES: TORNADO
METEOROLOGIST JEFF HABY
Tornadoes are rare events for any local point. They can seem more frequent since they can often be seen from a distance and the number of
observers documenting the event is significant. There are several ways in which tornadoes are freakish events. First, the damage and
personal lose they produce can be intense. Second, the distance between two close locations can suffer dramatically different damage.
For example, a house can be severely damaged while a house a couple of houses down only has minor damage. Third, of all
meteorological phenomena they can be the most stunning.
Like hail, tornadoes tend to follow a streaked pattern along the ground. They do often deviate from a straight path at the start
or end of the path but much of the path follows the motion of a straight or gradually curving path while it is on the ground. Like
hail again, the path of damage width tends to be narrow when compared to the length of the path. However, some tornadoes do make
a quick touchdown before retreated from the surface. Some very rare monster tornadoes can be a mile wide.
One point I really want to stress is that tornadoes will do the unexpected. A forecaster that thinks they have tornado forecasting
figured out often makes mistakes. The saying I like to go back to is, “any strong or severe storm is capable of producing a tornado”. Knowing
for certain what environments and storms will produce tornadoes and will not produce tornadoes is not a certainty. There is a
balance between over-warning and under-warning. On one extreme, too many storms are tornado warned and on the other extreme not
enough are tornado warned. There is an element of judgment when deciding to warm on a storm. One mistake is to think a strong
thunderstorm environment will not produce tornadoes when in fact it does. Another mistake is to overplay the threat and it does
not materialize. Forecasters have to be ready to change their judgment at a moment’s notice. Tornadoes are such freakish events
and forecasting them has it challenges in that there is an expectation for a forecast to be more specific and quicker than it is. Tornado
forecasting requires moment by moment monitoring of radar, spotter reports and knowing the history
and environment that a storm has.
Many freakish reports occur from tornadoes. Some classic examples are the sound of a freight train, the debris reports, miraculous
survival stories, heartbreaking deaths, and dramatic rescues. Tornadoes are a primary reason for the interest many people have
in weather and storms.