Is There Going To Be A Tornado

Is There Going To Be A Tornado – A stovepipe tornado cuts through a field in Mineola, Kansas in 2016. Jason Weingart/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Share All Share Options: No one knows how storms form – and the mystery is dangerous

Is There Going To Be A Tornado

Is There Going To Be A Tornado

Shortly after midnight on March 3, 2020, Mo Odwani woke up. The screen told him that a tornado was heading toward his home in East Nashville, Tennessee. Before, this warning was never more common – but he took refuge in the garage to be safe.

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He did something good. About seven to 10 minutes after the warning, the tornado reached 130 mph winds. “The whole building started shaking,” said Odwani, 32, who works in logistics. He worried he wouldn’t survive: “It was like, ‘This?’ This is how I get out?”

Is There Going To Be A Tornado

Odwani was safe, but a storm in the area killed 25 people that night. “Seven or 10 minutes is definitely not enough time,” he said, showing what little warning he had.

Cyclones are the most dangerous and destructive weather conditions on Earth. The next day, “it was like a bomb went off in East Nashville,” Odwani said. “Everything is destroyed.” However, the injured person had only a few minutes to escape the wind that could reach speeds of 250 or 300 mph.

Is There Going To Be A Tornado

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This is one of the most frustrating and stagnant problems in meteorology. In 2011, the average tornado warning time was only 13 minutes. But lead times have worsened in recent years, dropping to 8.4 minutes between 2012 and 2020, the Washington Post reports. Some are even less careful. (Othwani says he doesn’t hear the city’s warning sirens and can sleep if the phone isn’t nearby.) Think about it: If you had less than a quarter of an hour to prepare for the damage, what could you do? ?

Luckily this warning minute actually represents an improvement. “If you look back in the ’50s, even the late ’70s or ’80s, hurricanes … they came out of nowhere,” said Jeff Weber, a scientist at the university’s Institute of Atmospheric Research. In 1990, the average lead time was five minutes.

Is There Going To Be A Tornado

Between 1990 and 2019, an average of 68 people were killed by tornadoes per year, according to the National Weather Service. Hurricanes can cause billions of dollars in damage in a given year.

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The lack of improvement in hurricane warnings is disappointing because meteorologists are good at predicting other forms of severe weather, including hurricanes. In 2019, the National Hurricane Center’s forecast three days before a storm was more accurate than the day before a storm in 1990.

Is There Going To Be A Tornado

When tornado warnings go out, the actual twister may not follow. Most of the tornado warnings issued by the National Weather Service turned out to be false alarms; In some years, the false alarm rate can be as high as 70 to 80 percent. Tornado forecasts have not improved significantly since the 2011 tornado disaster in Joplin, Missouri, which killed 162 people.

Hurricane prediction is clearly an unsolved problem in meteorology. But meteorologists are optimistic that it can be solved.

Is There Going To Be A Tornado

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“There’s no doubt that 100 years from now we’ll be able to have a much higher level of accuracy to warn communities when a hurricane is out of the sky,” Weber said.

To do that, scientists must face these storms head-on—and begin to unravel the mystery of how they form.

Is There Going To Be A Tornado

Scientists know that hurricanes are usually formed by large and violent “supercell” thunderstorms, especially violent storms that spin like mini-tornadoes. These storms are especially common in the central and southeastern United States, where moist, warm air from the Gulf of Mexico meets dry air from the western and southwestern mountains. They bloom mainly in spring and early summer.

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The problem is that meteorologists can see two supercell thunderstorms that look the same, and only one of them will turn into a tornado. “Why is it not understood,” said Amy McGovern, a meteorologist at the University of Oklahoma.

Is There Going To Be A Tornado

That is why the false alarm rate for hurricane warnings is so high: forecasters cannot easily tell when a storm will appear.

Scientists understand the materials that make up the type of supercell storm that produces the most violent storms.

Is There Going To Be A Tornado

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You need a lot of moisture in the atmosphere and a lot of wind shear, or variation in wind speed and direction (which makes the storm spin). You also need atmospheric instability, which allows updrafts to occur, and the lifting or movement of air that spins the storm on a vertical axis.

“You can think of each one as four handles … and depending on how you set each one up against each other, the type of storm you have will determine the likelihood of tornado formation,” he said. Robin Tanamachi is a hurricane researcher at Purdue University.

Is There Going To Be A Tornado

An updraft then spins the swirling air around the vertical axis, forming a supercell storm. Vanessa Ezekowitz / Wikipedia

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But everything that triggers hurricanes exists on a much smaller scale – perhaps at the level of individual molecules in the atmosphere – and is strongly influenced by the idiosyncrasies of local geography. “Even trees can interfere with surface circulation as opposed to grass,” and that can affect the formation of tornadoes, said Weber. Atmospheric conditions that produce tornadoes in Oklahoma do not necessarily produce tornadoes in Alabama.

Is There Going To Be A Tornado

Many storms create swirling winds without producing a twister. “The question we’re trying to solve is how do we take that circulation and direct it into a very narrow vortex that we call a storm?” says Tanamachi. Meteorologists have not yet agreed on the answer to this question.

Cyclones develop from the base upwards, starting as storm disturbances and merging. “Maybe there is a small eddy or eddy on the surface that, for some reason, is attached to the skin of the storm,” says Tanamachi. “Then it’s like a skater swinging his arms, you know, he’s pulling his arms and extending them and spinning faster and faster.”

Is There Going To Be A Tornado

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But it is also possible for a tornado to descend from a storm cloud – or a combination of the two: “In some cases, they can both occur at the same time,” says Tanamachi. “Hurricanes form simultaneously from top to bottom at the same time.”

Why don’t scientists know how storms form? Now, Tanamachi explained, the weather radar can’t see fast conditions at relatively low altitudes that lead to twisters very well. “It seems that the process that controls whether a tornado develops is on a time scale of a minute or less, and at several hundred feet of the surface this is a difficult area to scan with radar,” he said.

Is There Going To Be A Tornado

So, any trick of the storm – anything that separates the storm from the storm – is covered by the magician’s skill. Scientists say the way to improve storm forecasts is to meet them.

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Hurricane forecasting has gotten better in recent decades, Weber explained, because scientists have been able to carefully study their every move. This allows them to move more slowly than hurricanes and persist for several days. “We can fly planes in and out of the eyewall of the typhoon and collect all kinds of data.”

Is There Going To Be A Tornado

Hurricanes, on the other hand, are small and short-lived. The scientists who read them don’t have the data to base their predictions on. (Weber joked that scientists sometimes feel cursed: tornadoes rarely appear when scientists are out in the field looking for them.) To make matters worse, tornadoes easily damage scientific equipment. “Any kind of sensor or device that you want to collect is usually destroyed,” Weber said. “So it’s very difficult to get a complete data set on this event.”

But it is not impossible. Scientists need to make more direct observations of tornadoes, Weber said — they need to chase them. Scientists “actually run down and try to put sensors on the ground ahead of the storm, where they think the storm track is going to go, so they can get data,” he said. (1996 movie

Is There Going To Be A Tornado

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, he says, the hurricane research method “is not too far from the truth”: “When the hurricane comes through the city here, all the residents go to the basement and all the scientists go to the rooftops”.

Some careful citizen science can also help. “Even though we got amazing pictures from everyone

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