Experimental forecast model can predict tornadoes hours in advance

The scientists did not want to speculate on a time frame for when this may be accessible to forecast offices across the country, but they say they want it to be reliably precise before it's released

TANGIPAHOA PARISH --  Scott Morrow will never forget the experience of hiding in his Amite house while a tornado ripped it apart December of 2014.

It's left such an impression that any thunderstorm with the same capability, coming anywhere near his rebuilt home, drives him out of it.

"Maybe that's silly, but I had that tornado take that roof off my house," he said, and it's changed the way he thinks.

Stories like Morrow's are behind a new idea being tested in the heart of tornado alley.

"It's called the 'Warn on Forecast' project and it's goal is to predict individual thunderstorms the way that forecast models typically predict other phenomena like a hurricane," said NOAA Research Meteorologist Patrick Skinner. "You know, they can break that out several days in advance. A thunderstorm is smaller, so we're only able to predict it for one or two hours, but that's still a lot more lead time than we currently have."

A collaboration of researchers and forecasters in the NOAA severe storms laboratory recently put the experimental model into a real-time scenario.  It pinpointed a likely starting point in the Texas panhandle and path into a small western Oklahoma town. Ninety minutes later, an E-F 2 twister developed as they predicted.

But testing continues.

"Tornado warnings in the future may be based more on the probability of a tornado at any given location and time, instead of just deterministically saying that you are under a tornado warning, yes or no," said Todd Lindley, Science Operations Officer at NOAA NWS in Norman, Oklahoma.

The technology is expected to work even in places like metro New Orleans that don't normally see frequent tornadoes, but have had plenty lately.  They've occurred from Laplace to Kentwood and Mandeville to New Orleans East.

That's something Morrow said would definitely ease his mind, and many others, when it comes to severe weather.

The scientists did not want to speculate on a time frame for when this may be accessible to forecast offices across the country, but they say they want it to be reliably precise before it's released.

© 2017 WWL-TV


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