Is There Going To Be A Tornado Tonight – In 2016, a tornado made its way to a farm in Mineola, Kansas. Jason Weingart/Barcroft Media via Getty Images
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Is There Going To Be A Tornado Tonight
Shortly after midnight on March 3, 2020, Mo Udhwani awoke to his cell phone ringing loudly next to him. Page told him the storm was near his home in East Nashville, Tennessee. In the past, these warnings never amounted to much – but he hid in the garage just to be safe.
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It was a good thing he did. About seven to 10 minutes after the warning, the tornado hit the area with winds in excess of 130 mph. “The whole building was shaking,” said Advani, 32, who works in logistics. He worried about his survival: “Is this just it? Am I going out like this?”
Odwani survived, but the storm killed 25 people that night. “Seven or 10 minutes is definitely not enough time,” he says, reflecting a few caveats.
Hurricanes are the deadliest and most destructive weather on Earth. The next day, “it was like a bomb went off in East Nashville,” Odwani says. “Everything was destroyed.” However, people on the road have only a few minutes to protect themselves from winds that can exceed 250 or even 300 mph.
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This is one of the most vexing and persistent problems in meteorology. As of 2011, the average time for tornado warnings was just 13 minutes. But as the Washington Post reported, delivery times have worsened in recent years, falling to 8.4 minutes between 2012 and 2020. Some people have even fewer warnings. (Odwani says he didn’t hear the city’s warning sirens and might have continued to sleep if his phone hadn’t been nearby.) Think about it: If you had less than fifteen minutes to devastate, you what are you doing can be reached
The truth is, these minutes of warning actually represent progress. “If you look at the ’50s, even the late ’70s or ’80s, hurricanes kind of came out of nowhere,” says Jeff Weber, a scientist at the university’s Institute for Atmospheric Research. In 1990, the average estimation time was five minutes.
Between 1990 and 2019, tornadoes killed an average of 68 people per year, according to the National Weather Service. Hurricanes can also cause billions of dollars in damage each year.
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The lack of improvement in hurricane warnings is disappointing, given that forecasters have been predicting more severe weather, including hurricanes. In 2019, the National Hurricane Center’s forecast three days before a storm was more accurate than its forecast one day before a storm in 1990.
When tornado warnings come out, an actual tornado may not follow. The vast majority of tornado warnings issued by the National Weather Service are false warnings. In some years, the false alarm rate can reach 70-80%. Hurricane forecasting has not improved since the 2011 tornado disaster in Joplin, Missouri that killed 162 people.
Hurricane forecasting is clearly an unsolved problem in meteorology. But meteorologists are hopeful that they can fix it.
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“There’s no doubt in my mind that 100 years from now we’ll probably be more accurate in warning communities when a storm is literally falling out of the sky,” Weber says.
To do this, scientists must tackle these storms and begin to unravel the mystery of how they form.
Scientists know that hurricanes are often made up of large, intense “supercells,” which are particularly strong storms that rotate like mini-tornadoes. These storms are especially common in the central and southeastern United States, where warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico meets dry air from the western and southwestern mountains. They are especially formed in the spring and early summer.
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The problem is that meteorologists can see two supercell storms that look very similar, and only one of them produces a tornado. “Why is not well understood,” says Amy McGovern, a meteorologist at the University of Oklahoma.
This is the reason why the false alarm rate of storm warnings is so high: forecasters cannot easily tell when a storm will appear.
Scientists understand the ingredients that make up the type of supercell storms that produce the most violence.
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You need more moisture in the atmosphere and more wind or a change in wind speed and direction (this causes the storm to rotate). You also need atmospheric instability, which allows updrafts to form, or the upward movement of air that causes the storm to rotate along its vertical axis.
“You can think of each of these as four rings… and depending on how loud you are against the other, that determines what kind of storm you’ll have and how the storm will develop. How likely is it.” Robin Tanamachi.” Hurricane Scientist at Purdue University.
And then an upward motion forces the rotating air on a vertical axis to form cloud fragments. Vanessa Izkowitz/Wikipedia
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But everything that makes a storm happens on a much smaller scale—perhaps at the level of individual molecules in the atmosphere—and is strongly influenced by features of local geography. “Even trees can disrupt surface circulation like grass,” Weber says, and that can affect storm formation. Weather conditions that produce tornadoes in Oklahoma will not necessarily produce tornadoes in Alabama.
Most hurricanes produce strong winds without even causing motion. “The question we’re trying to solve is how do you take that circulation and concentrate it into a place where you have this very narrow, intense vortex that we call a hurricane?” Tanamachi says. Meteorologists have not yet agreed on the answer to this question.
It is possible, if not impossible, for tornadoes to form below, start as disturbances on the ground and then move upward to become associated with lightning. “There may be a small eddy or eddy at the surface that somehow interacts with the updraft in the thunderstorm,” Tenamachi says. “And then it’s like the figure skater is flapping her arms, you know, she’s pulling her arms up and down and moving faster and faster.”
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But it’s also possible for tornadoes to be released from a storm cloud — or a combination of the two: “In some cases, both happen at the same time.” It looks like the storm is building from top to bottom all at once.
Why do scientists not understand how hurricanes form? Currently, weather radar can’t see well the fast, relatively low-altitude conditions that cause heat, Tanamachi explains. “The processes that control the formation or non-formation of tornadoes appear to occur on time scales of a minute or less and are only a few hundred feet above the surface, which is a very difficult area to scan with radar,” he says. “
So the trick of tornadoes—whatever distinguishes the tornadoes that produce them from the thunderstorms that don’t—is as hidden as a magician’s trick. According to the researchers, the way to improve storm forecasting is to deal with them directly.
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Weber explains that hurricane forecasts have improved greatly in recent decades because scientists have been able to study their every movement so closely. This helps them move slower than hurricanes and last for days. We can fly planes in and out of the eye wall of the storm and collect all kinds of data.
On the other hand, hurricanes are small and short-lived. The scientists who study it don’t have enough data to factor it into their predictions. (Weber jokes that scientists sometimes feel cursed: tornadoes rarely appear when scientists are out in the field looking for them.) Worse, tornadoes easily damage scientific equipment. “Any sensors or equipment you have in place will often fail before they can sample anything you’re trying to collect,” Weber says. Therefore, it is very difficult to obtain complete data on these events.
But it is not impossible. Weber says researchers need to make more direct observations of storms — they need to track them. Scientists “literally go down and try to put sensors on the ground in front of storms, where they think the storm’s path is going, so they can get data.” (1996 film
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“It’s not too far from reality,” he says of his methods for researching hurricanes.
Some very detailed citizen science can also help. “Even if we get really good pictures of them all
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