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Tornado forecasting: Scientists aim to focus location, timeframe

A travel trailer sits inn the rubble of a house in Mayflower, Ark., Monday, April 28, 2014, after a tornado struck the town late Sunday. A storm system ripped through several states in the central U.S. and left at least 16 dead in a violent start to this year\'s storm season, officials said. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

WASHINGTON — Scientists are working to improve tornado forecasting to help save lives and give emergency responders more notice.

Researchers at the National Severe Storm Laboratory are working on the Warn-On-Forecast project, which narrows the location a tornado can hit and gives people about 30 minutes notice before it strikes, says NationalGeographic.com writer Brian Clark Howard.

The project is slated to be done by 2020.

Scientists are combining high-resolution satellite data, forecasts around the country and temperature and moisture levels to better predict a tornado.

“It can predict, hopefully, what the storm is going to do, when a tornado’s going to form, where it’s going to go,” Howard says.

The scientists are working to double the existing 15-minute warning time to 30 minutes. They say the added time and more focused location will help people get to shelter and other emergency responders.

“People who are probably most apt to jump on this info are emergency managers, town officials, hospitals. A lot of those big entities need time and planning, so if warning time can be doubled from 15 minutes to half-an-hour, for those types of people it can make a huge difference,” Howard says.

When some people get tornado warnings, they don’t react because the warnings span such large areas — sometimes up to half a state. Howard says studies show that many people take precautions only when they see a tornado or get a call from a neighbor.

“Having more focused smaller boxes, people will pay more attention to warnings when they get them,” Howard says.

The research can not only better predict tornadoes — it can help study the environment, too. Improved information about forecasts can improve knowledge about renewable energy, dust storms and wind farms, Howard says.

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