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HARD TO FORECAST:
TORNADOES

METEOROLOGIST JEFF HABY

The general ingredients for tornadoes are intuitive to understand but forecasting the location they will occur is very difficult. Because of this, tornadoes are generally forecasted for a large area. Thus, a tornado occurring anywhere in that large area indicates confirmation of a forecast that had a tornado risk. The general ingredients for tornadoes are the interaction between speed/directional wind shear, adequate instability, low cloud base (low lifted condensation level), and lifting mechanism(s). With these ingredients in place, tornadoes can occur but where exactly they occur is very difficult to forecast in advance. The same can be said of where a severe thunderstorm will occur in general.

The forecasting of where a tornado will strike and the speed and direction of tornado movement is generally done at the formation stage of the tornado within its parent thunderstorm. This is accomplished with skilled, experienced and trained storm spotters along with using state of the art radar data that can display the precise 3-D wind field that is updated frequently within a storm. This can allow for several minutes of warning before a tornado strikes a location. Thus, when a tornado warning is issued, there is often only a short amount of time to get sheltered. The dissemination of a tornado warning issued by the National Weather Service is typically done through sirens, weather radio, television/radio, and smart phones.

The inability to pin point where a tornado will touchdown far in advance is one reason why tornadoes are so deadly. Severe storms are capable of producing tornadoes thus any severe storm should be taken seriously. Only a tiny fraction of land area experiences a tornado moving over it in any one year thus the rareness of the event causes some people to not pay as close attention to the threat. It is important to stay aware of the storm situation. Tornadoes are difficult to forecast and for this reason it is important to be able to take shelter at a momentís notice.