Weather Investigation: A Possible Tool For Forecasting Tornadoes?
July 10, 2013

Weather Investigation: A Possible Tool For Forecasting Tornadoes?

Tornadoes are one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, things on the face of this Earth that we live on. So, what would it be like if we could ever get tornado warnings past 15 minutes and around 30 minutes? Could it save more lives? Will it ever be possible to predict tornadoes well in advance? All of these are questions that research scientists set out to better understand each year in Tornado Alley.

I did a small research project myself to understand these monsters more. I found some really interesting aspects that could be trigger pullers to help identify tornadoes and which area they will most likely hit, versus a place they may not hit — one of the other dilemmas that face meteorologist today.

The sampling I did was rather small and just scratched the surface of the data that needs to be identified, but here are some interesting facts that I found in my short research.

First, I took a list of the EF-5 Tornadoes that have hit the United States. I used for this project the following locations:

  • Andover, KS (1991)
  • Greensboro, KS (2007)
  • Smithville, MS (2011)
  • Tuscaloosa, AL (2011)
  • Joplin, MO (2011)
  • Moore, OK (2013)

These storms were all rated EF-5’s (the earlier ones would have been noted as F-5 before the scale change). Here is what I looked at: I took an upper air sounding the morning prior to the areas noted above getting hit and looked at the winds, temperatures and freezing levels. The conclusion I came to is that of all six of these storms had strong inversions in place during the morning before the storms hit. What this means is that there was a pocket of warm air above the ground at each of these places. My second observation noted that the freezing level for all of these locations was above 650mb in the sky; this would allow for plenty of cold air to sink down to the surface. So, my conclusion on these storms was that when that warm pocket of air burst, it pushed strongly upwards into the freezing layer, creating an intense upward vertical motion.

For the second part of this project, I took three tornadoes from this year that were EF0-1 rated and looked at the morning sounding prior to these storms. I noted that one of the three had an inversion and it was the EF-1 storm, while the EF-0 storms didn’t have an inversion in the morning. This brought me to the conclusion that the stronger the inversion, the larger the tornado potential is. The examples above showed that. This was only a small sample taken, but it showed that trend. Something like this is what I observed:

  • EF5 Tornadoes Inversions of 100-130mb
  • EF1 Tornado Inversion of 2-5mb
  • EF0 Tornado no inversions

An interesting way to look at potential tornado outbreaks is to monitor the depth of the inversion during the morning upper air analysis.  So, the last part I looked at a non-tornadic storm; however, it was severe. This storm took place this year in Jackson, MS. There was a 36mb inversion in place during the morning; however, no tornado. I wondered what would have possibly been the cause. That is when I realized that the upper level winds were not in favor for rotating cells. Had the winds been in favor of a rotating cell, this could have been a tornado, not just straight line wind damage. This is something that I will continue to do more research on to see if it’s a possible indicator that can be used to help make better tornado data available to the public, such as watches and warnings of a tornadic storm.

So, this is just a research analysis that I did. It shows that more analysis like this it could become another tool down the road for potentially identifying tornadoes and where they may form in advance in regards to which cell they would form in.

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