A Critical Gap in Tornado Warning Technology: Lessons of the Recent Tornado Outbreak

From the Cliff Mass Weather Blog

Cliff Mass

A terrible tragedy occurred on Friday evening, as strong tornadoes struck across a multi-state swath from Arkansas through Kentucky.  Early estimates suggest that 50-100 individuals lost their lives and hundreds were injured.

A destroyed candle factory in hard-hit Mayfield, Kentucky
The death toll was undoubtedly enhanced by the nighttime occurrence of these storms and their development during the winter season, which is unusual but not unprecedented.  The storms occurred in two coherent lines oriented southwest to northeast, as shown by the tornado reports (red dots) provided by the NOAA/NWS storm prediction center.  For reference, the tornadoes hit Mayfield, KY around 10 PM Friday evening.

My colleagues at the National Weather Service (NWS), both at the Storm Prediction Center and the local NWS forecast offices (such as Paducah, Kentucky) did an excellent job in predicting the threat and provided timely watches and warnings before the tornadoes struck.
Surely these skillful forecasts and timely warnings saved lives.   But they weren’t enough to prevent massive loss of life. 
In this blog, I will review the forecasts/warnings and suggest that new smartphone-based warning systems are both needed and possible.  Technology that could save many lives from such severe storms.
The National Weather Service Forecasts
Earlier that day (1:17 PM), the Paducah National Weather Service Office noted that the expected meteorological conditions were similar to those accompanying previous cool-season tornado outbreaks (see below).

Furthermore, at the same time, the NOAA/NWS Storm Prediction Center (SPC) put out a tornado watch that encompassed Mayfield and other locations that were later hit by tornadoes (see below).

Later in the afternoon, the watches were repeated and became more strident, and as severe thunderstorms, with supercell structure and rotation developed, tornado warnings (which indicate an imminent threat) were communicated (see below for 3:29 PM CST). 

The tornado warning made by the NWS Office at Paducah for Mayfield at 9:03 PM was stunningly good (see below).  This warning was communicated roughly30 minutes before Mayfield was devastated.

I could show you more NWS forecasts, model predictions, and more…and you would be impressed.   The region was given skillful and timely warnings about the potential for strong, damaging tornadoes.  NWS forecasters and the NOAA/NWS Storm Prediction Center staff can be proud of what they did.
But many people still died.   
I would suggest that the technology exists to mitigate the tornado risk substantially.  A technology I have been thinking about for quite a while:  automatedsmartphone-based warning systems, driven by state of science observations.   But first, let’s talk about the nature and limitations of severe storm and tornado forecasting.
Limitations of Tornado Forecasting
Forecasting technology for severe thunderstorms has come a long way during the past decades.  Meteorologists have high-resolution forecasting models (such as NOAA/NWS High-Resolution Rapid Refresh HRRR), improved meteorological radars and satellite systems, improved knowledge of the structure and evolution of severe convective storms and machine-learning techniques now assist severe storm prediction (see model forecast below).

9-h NOAA/NWS HRRR model Forecast at 03 UTC 11 December (9 PM CST 10 Dec)
Improved models and forecast guidance help meteorologists recognize threatening situations and predict the occurrence of severe storms for a region.   However,  roughly three hours or more out, our models cannot predict the exact locations and intensities of incipient severe storms.   Only when the storms have developed and are moving on clear paths can forecasters provide detailed forecasts of tornado occurrence and track….and even then, only for the next few hours.
I should note that NWS tornado warnings have a False Alarm Rate (FAR) of roughly 70%.  So approximately 70% of the warnings don’t pan out.
From experience, people and businesses know that the forecasts are not perfect and thus don’t necessarily act promptly or effectively to shelter in place or move away from the threat.  And then there is the issue of communication….they may not even know of the threat….  particularly an issue for nighttime storms.
The Predictability of the Recent Event
An important point about the recent event was that the tornadoes were long-lived and moved on a relatively straight, continuous path.   Large, intense tornadoes are often associated with supercell thunderstorms with rotation updrafts.   We can see the large areas or rotation using Doppler radars, which tell us the velocity towards or away from the radar of the precipitation associated with the storm
As shown in the figure below, alternating colors (in this case red and green) in a small region are the sign of rotation in the radar-based Storm Relative Motion (SRM) imagery:

Here is an animation of the SRM imagery from the Paducah radar during the period before the tornado hit Mayfield.   The rotation start was moving straight to the NW with little change in intensity.

We can track this rotation over time, and doing so, the path of rotating storms for the period around the worse tornado occurrence on Friday evening is shown below.  You can see the amazingly straight path of the narrow zone of rotation that extends from Arkansas, into Tennessee, and Kentucky.  There is also a line of rotation associated with other severe storms to the north.

The point of all this is that simple extrapolation of severe storm motion provided an excellent short-term forecast for the next hour or so for this event.

Tornado guidance must be delivered in real-time to individuals or businesses, so they can make optimal, immediate decisions to save life and property.  For tornadoes, folks must determine whether they are threatened at all, and, if so, whether to shelter in place or to get out the way of the storm.  

Smartphone-Based Tornado Warning App

Almost everyone has a smartphone and such phones know exactly where they are since they have GPS.  

Now obviously, we could feed National Weather Service forecasts, including tornado watches and warnings, to smartphones, providing the forecasts appropriate to the location in question.   This is low-hanging fruit…and obvious.  

But in active situations, things are happening too fast and too localized for NWS forecasters to be guiding people….automated software has to take over.

Using  Doppler radar imagery (which is available roughly every 5 minutes), the instantaneous path of the storm could be determined in real-time and the storm’s location and path could be made available on the smartphone, with constantly updated information on the probability that the smartphone’s location being overrun.  The estimated time of arrival could be noted.  

But there is more.  Modern radars can also track the debris cloud of major tornadoes….and thus have confirmatory information of the position and movement of the tornado vortex

The smartphone could not only provide a warning of imminent tornado passage but could provide information on the best direction to flee if no sheltering location is available–generally at right angles to the storm path.   A distance of a few thousand feet can make a huge difference if there is no place to shelter.

It is also possible that smartphones THEMSELVES can provide critical weather information to facilitate determining tornado location and movement.  Many smartphones possess very capable pressure sensors, something I know about because I have been researching the meteorological applications of such sensors for over a decade.

Tornadoes have a large pressure signature and smartphones could collect and communicate such pressures in real-time.  Such smartphone pressures observations could be used by automated systems to determine tornado intensity and path, and thus improve guidance to individuals making critical decisions.

I have tried talking to Apple and Google about helping collect smartphone pressure data to improve weather forecasts.  So far, they have listened politely and done nothing.  Perhaps that could change.  Or perhaps Amazon could help.

In summary,  a smartphone app, applying real-time meteorological data, could provide extraordinary valuable guidance during tornado outbreaks, and perhaps save many lives.

It could be done.  And I suspect only a government organization would take it on because of liability concerns.

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Tom Halla
December 15, 2021 6:09 am

Very localized warnings via cellphone might deal with the false alarm issue with the current warning system.

Reply to  Tom Halla
December 15, 2021 7:50 am

During last Friday’s storms, all the sirens in the county where I live went off for about 10 minutes. On the very eastern edge of the county, the trailing edge of one of the watch boxes just barely nicked the county line. Less than 1% of the total county area was under this watch box and in the area of least concern for that box.
We are training people to ignore these warnings.
For those people who don’t have smart phones, didn’t bring them with them, or have older ones without GPS, we will need to keep the siren system for at least a few more decades. However starting a change over to a system such as Dr. Mass describes here would be something I could support.

PS: My phone is about 3 years old and I don’t believe it has a pressure sensor. At least I’ve never seen any indication of it on any of the system panels. I’m as big a privacy advocate as anyone else here, and if my phone did have this capability, I would be willing to let my phone participate in a program of updating pressure and location data during a weather emergency.

Reply to  MarkW
December 15, 2021 12:09 pm

How about both (redundancy), smart phone plus siren?

Reply to  EOM
December 15, 2021 2:16 pm

You do have a point. There will always be those who left their phone at home, or who’s batteries have gone dead.

Paul Johnson
Reply to  MarkW
December 15, 2021 10:18 pm

And most of them will be standing next to someone whose phone is working.

Reply to  MarkW
December 17, 2021 5:46 pm

If your area has sirens, does the local weather put doppler radar tracking on TV?

When I lived in New Orleans, any twister/tornado/waterspout near the city got it’s own tracking picture on local television. They’d post the tornado’s actual position, speed and current direction.
None of the waterspouts that I watched on TV were stronger than EF-0 storms.

During our last tornado watch in Virginia, when the storms arrived, the local radar went off air. As usual, we watched the barometer and the skies for clues.

So much for technology saving the day.

Rich Lentz
Reply to  MarkW
December 18, 2021 11:55 am

PS: My phone is about 3 years old and I don’t believe it has a pressure sensor. 

Try “Sensor Test” available on Google Play store. Shows all sensors on your phone. Many I never realized it had.

Reply to  Tom Halla
December 15, 2021 1:27 pm

Need a more modern sensor for local alerts, then all it needs is a siren relay connected to a local smartphone. Don’t overthink the problem.

Reply to  yirgach
December 16, 2021 10:55 am

Good idea as long as its battery stays charged.

Kevin kilty
December 15, 2021 6:13 am

70% false alarm rate is going to be a real issue. We already get Amber alerts, we get alerts about strong winds and sudden snow squalls. So, we are getting alerts of all sorts — most are false alarms and we begin to ignore them.

Pressure sensors surveillance? Seriously. People at Google don’t even know what the typography of the U.S. is, and they may not even know that pressure goes up and down hugely with change of elevation. Perhaps surveying only stationary phones might work.

Pillage Idiot
Reply to  Kevin kilty
December 15, 2021 6:37 am

I live in Tornado Alley and am very happy with the current system and a 70% false alarm rate.

Upon seeing the warning, one parent starts the safety procedures and the other starts watching our local TV broadcasts for exact storm tracks.

The kids put all of the pets in the basement and know that it means things are serious and to be ready for a rapid response.

Not once have we ever gotten a surly teenage response to doing that slight amount of work due to a false alarm.

All serious adults should be able to jump over the low bar set by impatient teenagers.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Pillage Idiot
December 15, 2021 8:07 am

I would hesitate to call them false alarms. When a tornado warning is put out, it’s because one has been spotted, so it’s not really a false alarm.

Pillage Idiot
Reply to  Tom Abbott
December 15, 2021 8:24 am

Agreed. However, there is no definition of “false alarm” in the article that reports the 70% rate.

In our area, some of the warnings are issued based on the “signature” of a tornado detected in the doppler radar returns. I suspect some of these are false alarms, because I have seen the warnings be quickly rescinded when a longer duration view did not support the designation of a tornado. However, in my personal experience, this scenario is far less than 70%.

I have also observed tornadoes that “skip” across the ground. We had one such tornado pass within 1000′ of our house. (Part of the swarm on 5/3/99 that included an F5 tornado that hit Oklahoma City with 300+ MPH winds.) As we drove around town for the next few weeks, there were spots of moderate damage for 200-300′ and then gaps of 1000-5000′ with no evident damage. The line of the sporadic damage through the city was quite persistent.

I assume that some portion of the tornadoes that trigger a warning stay up in the clouds and cause zero ground damage. Would that also be another type that bumps up the “false alarm” rate?

Jack Okie
Reply to  Pillage Idiot
December 15, 2021 1:42 pm

Having lived in OKC most of my life, I’ve seen the pattern repeat many times: Tornados typically move from southwest to northeast along a line that takes them south of OKC, through Moore and then Tinker AFB / Midwest City and then roughly up along I-44. Watching the May 20, 2013 storm approach it seemed to be heading straight for OKC. At what seemed to be the last minute the storm turned right and clobbered Moore yet again. I have never heard an official reason for this behavior, but topography seems a likely answer.

The smart phone app sounds like a good idea. If people think false warnings are a problem, they should consider the wisdom of the extra canteen in the desert – better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Jack Okie
December 15, 2021 5:41 pm

“At what seemed to be the last minute the storm turned right and clobbered Moore yet again. I have never heard an official reason for this behavior, but topography seems a likely answer.”

Where I live in eastern Oklahoma, I have seen storm fronts on many occasions look as though the Big One is heading right at me, and then about 20 miles away, the solid line of the front starts breaking up and splits apart and the bad weather goes north and south of me, and I’m mostly in the clear in the middle. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it has happened enough over the years to get me wondering if some surface feature was having an effect.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Pillage Idiot
December 15, 2021 5:37 pm

“I assume that some portion of the tornadoes that trigger a warning stay up in the clouds and cause zero ground damage. Would that also be another type that bumps up the “false alarm” rate?”

The lower-powered tornadoes will drop a tornado to the ground and then it will kind of run out of gas and the tornado will pull back up into the clouds, and then the weather front will proceed and the same circulation area will spin up again and drop another tornado that pulls back up shortly and so on. So, yes, that could add a lot to the tornado count as compared to before we had good radar.

One storm chaser lost the tornado he was chasing in the dark, and drove around a little, and then he reported that he thought he might be located inside the tornado he was chasing, and about that time, as he was stopped on the side of the road, you could see debris start flying through the air in front on his truck via his dashcam.

it only lasted a few seconds and then the tornado moved away, and it just demonstrates that a low-powered tornado like this EF0 is not much more dangerous to property than a high wind. The storm chaser and his truck withstood it very well, although you probably wouldn’t want to be standing out in the open unprotected. This tornado was about as wide as a four-lane highway and was blowing about 75mph.

Reply to  Tom Abbott
December 15, 2021 10:26 pm

Tornados that skip along the ground by churning up a destructive path and then lifting up, only to set down again, suggests to me that the mass of the debris a tornado has lifted up off the land may be interfering with the ability of its funnel to continue along the ground sucking up more debris until a certain proportion of the mass of that debris has been flung out of the funnel, at which point it descends back to the ground again.

Reply to  Pillage Idiot
December 15, 2021 8:34 am

I was impressed by the local forecasting in our metro area, the doppler radar clearly showed the tight rotation and identified precisely where two tornadoes formed in real time. One hit to the west and killed a woman in a somewhat lightly populated area of the exurbs and one hit to north and collapsed an Amazon warehouse tragically killing several workers. The debris detection mode even showed all the crushed debris being sucked up and distributed. It seemed obvious that something really bad might be happening there. Prior to forming, both storms featured the classic notch indicative of supercell rotation. So if you see such a notch coming your way, hunker down!

Looking at the Amazon damage I don’t think those folks had a chance. Some are saying they should close down and send workers home when there is severe weather risk but if that were the case every business would close down 20 days a year here. Perhaps they need to build underground sheltering areas for workers in these places that have no basements.

Reply to  Kevin kilty
December 15, 2021 7:52 am

We gave up on the weather alerts from out phone because every time there was a strong thunderstorm we would get flood warnings, and we live miles from the nearest creek that might flood.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  MarkW
December 15, 2021 8:15 am

There are a few bugs still to be worked out. 🙂

Paul Johnson
Reply to  Kevin kilty
December 15, 2021 10:32 pm

Tornadoes do not happen in mountainous areas. The pressure magnitude and change rate from an approaching tornado would likely dwarf any variation in elevation, except in a fast elevator. In a typical tornado warning scenario, most cell phones would be stationary anyway as people hunker down. But if you only want stationary data, just instrument the cell towers.

John Garrett
December 15, 2021 6:42 am

Honesty and competence are so amazingly rare.

It’s refreshing to see both exemplified by this discussion.

Thank you, Cliff Mass !!

Randle Dewees
December 15, 2021 6:43 am

It could be done. And I suspect only a government organization would take it on because of liability concerns.”

The best bet would be a third party app – the talent to do this isn’t in the gov, at least available talent that isn’t completely smothered doing something else. The liability is a problem – getting injured or killed in a car accident fleeing an oncoming tornado seems likely due to driving conditions and operator stress

Perhaps the app can get around this by providing as close to realtime tornado position as possible, but no recommendation on what to do.

Reply to  Randle Dewees
December 15, 2021 7:18 am

Exactly my thinking. Government IT is uniformly crap because all the effort goes into ass covering.

I wanted to do similar here (UK) with flood warnings but the government wont release the data except as a pretty little pretty useless map for numpties

I was massively lucky in the electricity data that I used for Gridwatch, was available from a commercially sponsored entity.

Anthony or Cliff must have the requisite contacts. If they are prepared to allow access to the data, the job is very doable entirely privately.

Which, in my experience is mandatory to get anything done properly and fast.

You dont need to give advice – if a central service exists, then local teams involved in .e.g. rescue and property protection – police/sherriffs/fire department and the whole local goverment machine can go around banging on doors: what is massively vital is that accurate up to the munute data is available at a known location. Publis with the usual disclaimers that its not your data and is supplied on a best efforts basis with a link to a 100 page legal document making sure that you cant be blamed for anything, and then just do it.

Randle Dewees
Reply to  Leo Smith
December 15, 2021 7:49 am

Well, IT runs hot and cold (and lukewarm) in the gov in my experience. All too often it’s a dumping ground for individuals that either are not technically proficient or are too weird to make it on a team. But IT isn’t there to develop new imaging processing techniques, missile guidance, aero performance modeling, energetic chemistry modeling etc etc. The people I knew (including me) that actually did something were too busy doing that something to be interested in fooling around with apps.

Ben Vorlich
Reply to  Leo Smith
December 15, 2021 8:03 am

Thank you for Gridwatch and the effort in creating and maintaining the data, I use it to see how windy the day is before I get up. The Wind electricity generation number is more reliable than most weather forecast apps.

Michael Jankowski
December 15, 2021 6:51 am

I already get such alerts on my smartphone. Didn’t sign up for it.

Supposedly an issue at the Amazon facility in IL is that they had to have their cell phones in their lockers or something.

Cell service in some locations is garbage (local grocery store either blocks cell service intentionally or has something that interferes with it).

Not sure how full the story is yet, but it sounds like they had advanced warning. It was not safe for people to leave and drive home. They had a designated shelter and plan in place at the facility (unless I am confusing it with the Amazon facility in IL). It wasn’t enough. I grew up in KY…we had tornado drills regularly. These events are taken seriously. As rabid as the college basketball fanbases are, they will interrupt those games for severe tstorms that have tornadic potential (although some people complain that every local network will cover the storm).

Reply to  Michael Jankowski
December 15, 2021 7:55 am

If your building is large and has a metal roof, cell phone reception in that building can be difficult.

Also many commercial buildings have many electronic devices that are communicating with each other, this can also cause interference if they are near cell frequencies.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Michael Jankowski
December 15, 2021 2:09 pm

Looking at the aerial of the candle factory, it seems obvious that whatever internal hallway was deemed safe was likely just CMU construction, probably cinder block, not even concrete. No chance that sort of construction will hold up in a tornado.

December 15, 2021 7:03 am

There is a privacy issue here as well, allowing people’s locations to be read without permission and sending them data bases on geolocation is an invitation to abuse.

What might be better is a simple app that people could run on their phones in times of high risk that could poll a central server giving storm and wind location. Very little data need be transferred.

What is needed is a way to get meteorological data onto some sort of website and then its down to third party application designers to do the apps for IOS and Android.

Absolutely no need to involve Apple/Google etc at all.

What is needed is something like a grid of lat-long/windspeed/wind direction triples. Around a supplied co-ordinate center.

Given an up to date database of wind speed against latitude and longitude, that’s not hard to do.
Central server

Background process. Collate all wind speeds/ directions/ locations from all sources and insert in a database every 5 minutes… (How big does this need to be, do you keep historical ?)

User website for computer access. Request users position, and generate a map of windspeed in an area within 50 miles radius.

Use level API for smart phone. Given coordinates of user, return windspeed/direction/location for all points within 50 mile radius (say).

Smart phone app
Get geolocation data from phones GPS, OR allow enetry of – say – someone elses location like elderly relative.
Send geolocation to server API
Receive local wind data on smartphone
generate map and /or ring alarms.

I can’t do the smart phone app but I sure can do the server.

Given access to the data, and that’s something you could find out Anthony, building a web site is not massively expensive. And you can support it with donations until someone else decides to sponsor it.

Once the publicly available data exists, app designers will use it.

Reply to  Leo Smith
December 15, 2021 7:58 am

It would have to be poll based, that is during an emergency, a centralized system starts polling all the nearby phones. When the emergency is over the polling stops.
When the emergency is over and there were no tornadoes, all data is wiped.
If there was a tornado there may be a need to preserve that data long enough to analyze the storms. In either case, depersonalizing the data so that it can’t be traced back to any individuals phone is also possible.

Reply to  Leo Smith
December 15, 2021 12:36 pm

I don’t know about iPhone, but Android requires that you specify that your app uses location information, which then requires the user to explicitly agree to the use of location data before using the app.

Reply to  Leo Smith
December 15, 2021 1:38 pm

If you have a modern <5 year old cell phone, there is no such thing as location privacy due to E911. Your geolocation is available to all the providers as well as third party, ie Google, FB,Twtr, etc. If you have data turned on you are not alone…

Reply to  yirgach
December 15, 2021 2:19 pm

Making your location available to E911 shouldn’t have to require it to be available to all applications.

Reply to  MarkW
December 15, 2021 3:08 pm

Again, I don’t know iPhone. But for Android, making location available to one app does not make it available to any other app. It’s a per-app permission. And as a programmer, you can’t access it unless you request that permisison.

That said, there is no guarantee about what those collecting that data do with it. Including the goog.

December 15, 2021 7:31 am

Slightly off topic, but several “commenters” have been trying to make hay over the fact that the Gulf temperatures are slightly above normal.

Well that’s to be expected after a year with fewer than average hurricanes, and most of them small.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  MarkW
December 15, 2021 8:14 am

Good point. There has been an absence of hurricanes this year, much to the chagrin of the alarmists. They had such high hopes for demonizing hurricanes this year, but no hurricanes showed up to be demonized.

Maybe we’re in another post-Katrina period where no major hurricanes hit the U.S. for 12 years after the 2005 hit by Katrina.

And besides, the extra warmth was not the trigger for the tornadoes that took place last week. See my comment below about dry weather in Oklahoma.

Reply to  MarkW
December 15, 2021 9:47 am

There were 7 tropical cyclones that tracked through the GOM in 2021. 4 of those were hurricanes. 2 of those of were major hurricanes.

Reply to  bdgwx
December 15, 2021 12:12 pm

1) Below normal
2) It’s not just the number but how long they stayed over the Gulf.

Janice Moore
Reply to  bdgwx
December 15, 2021 1:33 pm

You have some ‘splainin’ to do, bdg.

NOAA data here: https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/data/tcr/index.php?season=2021&basin=atl (The National Hurricane Center’s Tropical Cyclone Reports contain comprehensive information on each tropical cyclone, … Tropical cyclones include depressions, storms and

hurricanes.) emphasis mine.

says that there were NO hurricanes (only “Tropical Storms”) in the Gulf of Mexico in 2021.

Much less, 2 “major” ones.

Reply to  Janice Moore
December 15, 2021 2:21 pm

The model says that there were 7 TS’s, 4 hurricane’s and 2 major hurricane’s. Therefore there were. Are you a science denier?

Janice Moore
Reply to  MarkW
December 15, 2021 3:14 pm

I’m cereal.😊

Bill Powers
December 15, 2021 7:33 am

Growing up in tornado alley in the 50’s/60’s we lived old school. Civil Defense (air raid) sirens throughout the communities worked great. It is up to the community to teach people what to do once the siren sounds. Added plus you don’t have to worry about Russian/Chinese EMP taking out every cell phone tower and silencing your 70 inch flat screen.

Reply to  Bill Powers
December 15, 2021 9:04 am

What would they have to gain using an EMP? That would likely be an act of all out war. The first retaliation would be an EMP counter-strike so it is a MA(T)D (T for tech) situation even if we showed restraint and just did the “eye for an eye” thing. All societies are dependent on tech now and no country realistically would want their people to suffer the economic devastation and reversion to early 20th century tech.

Then again I ask myself “what does Russia really stand to gain by invading Ukraine” and “what does China really stand to gain by invading Taiwan”. Would annexing/occupying these countries really make their countries better off?

Since we don’t have any western defense treaties for these nations I suppose they might think they could get away with it especially with the western economic dependence on exports from these countries (for Russia, the critical gas and oil supplies for Europe). But on the other hand war and occupation are expensive undertakings and you will almost certainly have to deal harshly with a resistance.

Reply to  menace
December 15, 2021 12:14 pm

What do they have to gain?
Pride and a distraction from the problems at home.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  MarkW
December 15, 2021 2:12 pm

Yes, never underestimate the political utility of a nice bit of aggression against a weaker neighbor.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  menace
December 15, 2021 5:56 pm

“What would they have to gain using an EMP? That would likely be an act of all out war.”

Oh, definitely an act of war. Even the Biden administration would have to respond to that kind of attack, although they might have to lock Biden, the appeaser, and mental deficient, in a closet while they do so.

Susan Rice will handle it.

December 15, 2021 7:45 am

Excellent reporting and discussion by Cliff Mass. The photo included of the very clear vortex of a tornado though not from the current outbreak has outstanding clarity. Is it a single frame photo or a frame from a video? If from a video or time lapse series is there a link where I can view it?
I am interested in watching close up the detailed behavior of the cloud base near/just outside the vortex as well as overall cloud development at the leading edge of the cloud formation.

I’m commenting here on WUWT rather than Cliff’s blog as this is pretty much my ‘home site’ and I follow it daily. I’ve spent quite a bit of time doing my own search but others more involved in tornadoes probably have access readily available. Any observations does not have to be this tornado as presented but the clarity of it is excellent. A link or links would be greatly appreciated.

Reply to  eyesonu
December 16, 2021 5:54 am

I just post this image on Jim Steele’s previous post on tornadoes. Not what I was looking for but shows where mega phase change is taking place if photo is real. I am looking for a clear detailed daytime view.

comment image

Peta of Newark
December 15, 2021 7:57 am

Do tornados make any noise? Any particular noise?
If so, us either phone’s mic or its speaker as a mic to listen for the things and then, as folks classically did for sensisng wind direction (lick you finger and rotate), hold the phone up and rotate.
It’ll tell you which direction it’s in, ordinary common sense will give you wind direction so then move at whichever right-angle to the closest shelter

Pillage Idiot
Reply to  Peta of Newark
December 15, 2021 8:45 am

I have observed three types of tornadoes in the central plains of the U.S.

The first type is a supercell tornado during daylight hours. These are readily visible and sometimes even have clear sky behind the tornado. In that case, ground speed and direction can be readily determined. This type of tornado should not be capable of killing anyone that observes the storm AND has a proper shelter.

The second type of tornado that occurs during daylight is a “rain wrapped” tornado. Typically there is some interference between adjacent supercells such that some are just rain-bearing thunderstorms and others are supporting tornadoes. A ground observer cannot observe an incoming tornado in this situation. However, in my personal experience these storms are ALWAYS associated with hail. The ugly green tint in our hail clouds is easily observable during the day. Even if you can’t see the tornado, people should still take cover in that situation. Usually, these storms are fast moving. Shelter in place and listen to your radio. Any rain-wrapped tornado should quickly pass your location.

The third type are tornadoes that occur at night. We only rely on the weather service to give us data on those.

I have never stayed close enough to a tornado to hear the roar. However, if you can hear the roar – seek shelter! I don’t want to bet that my family got lucky and the tornado has already “past” us. The risk/reward ratio is heavily skewed on that decision!

I don’t intend to “victim blame” with these comments. If you have shelter, then seek shelter! Tornado safety is mostly common sense leavened with some experience.

I suspect some of the deaths in the recent outbreak will be due to people sheltering in place (correctly), but their shelter failed to withstand the power of the tornado. (They are capricious bitches!)

Reply to  Pillage Idiot
December 15, 2021 1:50 pm

I’ve experienced a few daytime tornadoes in the US midwest, the general warning is sky changing to yellow due to the pressure change. It is quite noticeable and a sure hint of disaster to follow.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Pillage Idiot
December 15, 2021 6:12 pm

“The second type of tornado that occurs during daylight is a “rain wrapped” tornado. Typically there is some interference between adjacent supercells such that some are just rain-bearing thunderstorms and others are supporting tornadoes.”

Adjacent supercells can steal energy from each other. I think that is what happens a lot around my area as you have a solid line of thunderstorms coming at you and then individual supercells start asserting themselves and they suck the energy out of surrounding cells. This causes the solid line to break up and the big supercells start bulging out in front of the general line. One of these was evident in the tornado outbreak last week.

If you are lucky, you are in the area where the energy had been sucked out, and then you basically experience strong thunderstorms, not tornadoes as the front passes through.

I only ran to the tornado shelter one time. I had moved to this house and it had a storm cellar and I didn’t have occasion to use it for several years. And then one night I was watching the tv radar and a tornado looked like it was headed right for me.

It was pouring down rain outside, and I ran outside about 50 feet to the storm cellar, and opened the door on top and stepped down on the wooden ladder that led down to the floor, and about the second step down I took, the ladder broke, and I found myself standing in chest-deep water.

What had happened was over the years, the storm cellar had leaked water into the shelter, and the wooden ladder that was down in the water had rotted and that’s why I fell down.

I stood there for about 20 seconds debating whether I should stay there or just go back in the house and take my chances, and I decided to go back in the house.

The tornado, which was a small one, later classified as an EF0 tornado missed my house by a couple of hundred yards. It hit a few outbuildings of my neighbors, but didn’t do much damage even so. Not very powerful. But, of course, you don’t know that until it’s all over.

I fixed the storm shelter and it doesn’t leak anymore. I haven’t felt the need to use it since that time. Thank Goodness. It’s a good shelter. It’s down in the ground. One has to be down in the ground if an EF5 is coming. So I’m ready, if one ever comes.

Tom Abbott
December 15, 2021 7:59 am

From the article: “Or perhaps Amazon could help.”

There you go! Amazon ought to have a little incentive to listen to you.

I think you have a good idea with using the smartphone. It might be better than storm chasers for letting a person know exactly where a tornado is and which way to run away from it. The storm chaser can tell you where the tornado is, but can’t tell each individual which way to run to safety.

And on this tornado outbreak subject: President Biden and other alarmists are trying to say that the warm temperatures that existed at the time of the tornado outbreak were the cause of the outbreak.

I think Oklahoma provides a perfect example of why this claim is untrue.

Oklahoma was in the path of the storm front, yet the storm front passed through Oklahoma as a dry front, without causing thunderstorms or tornadoes to break out, even though the temperatures in Oklahoma were elevated like in surrounding States.

Why the difference in Oklahoma and the other States east of Oklahoma where the tornadoes broke out?

The difference is Oklahoma had very dry air over the State, so the cold front went through without spawning any tornadoes, even though the cold front and the warm front it ran into were the same for Oklahoma and the other States affected. The thing that made the difference was there was no moisture over Oklahoma and there was abundant moisture just east of Oklahoma, and when the cold front ran into the moisture beginning in Arkansas, that’s when the tornadoes broke out.

You can see on these charts that there was very little activity in Oklahoma during this period of time, yet all the conditions were the same except for the moisture content of the atmosphere.

It was the moisture that made the difference, not the temperatures.

Somebody tell Joe Biden.

Ireneusz Palmowski
December 15, 2021 8:10 am

Watch out for wind and tornadoes.comment image

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Ireneusz Palmowski
December 15, 2021 8:21 am

Yes, it’s getting windy around here. Burn bans are in effect.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Tom Abbott
December 15, 2021 10:37 am


Look at the Nullschool picture of the jet stream for today.

The focus of the jet stream energy (marked) is in the center of the U.S. and trending towards the northeast.

The jet stream position is why the winds are blowing fiercely across the central U.S. and the storms that will form will fire up right where the jet stream turns north from the dip (marked) and up alongside the east side of the dip will be where the storms are located.

One has to know where the jet stream is, to figure out the future, short-term, weather.

A local meterologist from Tulsa by the name of Gary Shore enlightened me to the importance of jet streams a long, long time ago. He started showing the jets streams on his daily weather forecasts, and all of sudden the weather started making sense, where it never had before.

Thank you, Gary, for your pioneering presentations.

I wonder how the windmills are doing in these strong winds?

Carlo, Monte
Reply to  Ireneusz Palmowski
December 15, 2021 10:34 am

65+ mph gusts here right now (w. Denver area).

Randle Dewees
December 15, 2021 8:11 am

Oddly, this whole episode has made me nostalgic for Tornado Alley. Some of my earliest memories (late 50’s) were intense evening storms that would have my mom scooting us kids down into the basement of our hilltop (Ozarks – Anderson Missouri) farmhouse. I don’t know (I was 3 to 5 years old) how she got the tornado warnings, but I assume it was by radio or TV. Down in the basement we had an ancient, even for that time, round tube TV that we watched a transmitted radar screen on. Usually, I quickly crashed out on one of the folding cots. No tornados ever came our way, but our house got wacked by lightning several times. My little sister got some hair scorched off her head once.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Randle Dewees
December 15, 2021 8:22 am

“My little sister got some hair scorched off her head once.”

That’s sounds like a pretty close call! 🙂

Randle Dewees
Reply to  Tom Abbott
December 15, 2021 9:09 am

I think the house had some rudimentary lightning protection, a lightning rod at each end? The house was built around 1875 as the school master’s house for a private school. It is still there, owned by “Jamie”, a boy I used to play with that lived across the lane in the old schoolhouse. When I went there in 2013, taking my old Pop to a WWII reunion in nearby Branson, we visited with Jamie’s mom who still lived in the schoolhouse, though I missed seeing Jamie. This is at the edge of the Ozark Plateau, and on a rounded hilltop, very exposed lovely place. The Master’s house is tall – 2 stories and a loft. Combined with the basement I had lot of levels to play in, though the upper level was scary to me (I was sure a bear lived up there). My mom was pretty observant and gathered us into the basement before real storms. But there was one flash storm that happened so fast that Sis was upstairs in her bed when the lightning hit. The strike blew holes in the roof and siding. She had a bit of a bald spot but seemed fine otherwise. BTW, my dad was working at the time as an itinerant chemist setting up missile site rocket fuel facilities, so he was gone a lot in those years.

Because of family I doubt I ever get to leave California. If I do, I don’t know if I could leave the West. But I sometimes think an old farm in the hills of eastern Tennesse would be nice.

Reply to  Randle Dewees
December 15, 2021 9:23 am

House built on a hilltop in 1875. Were they concerned with rapidly rising sea levels due to climate change even then? Forward thinking for the time! 😉

Reply to  eyesonu
December 15, 2021 12:18 pm

Back then bottom land was for farming. Hilltops were only good for building on.

Randle Dewees
Reply to  MarkW
December 15, 2021 9:18 pm

We had 40 acres, 5 of the flatter acres was an apple orchard, lots of work that didn’t pay much. Most of that lot was hardwood jungle. And yes, you weren’t going to make a living farming up there.

December 15, 2021 8:58 am

The Amber Alert System immediately came to my mind. Problem is, as several people have already pointed out, alerts that don’t pan out will quickly train people to ignore them. Another issue is so many structures don’t have sufficiently robust storm shelters. Going to a small interior room is well and good for a glancing strike. When the entire structure is obliterated, well, the point makes itself. Catastrophic events happen, all we can do is plan for them and use the warning systems to the best of our ability. Going overboard on more and more systems that people will ultimately ignore won’t really help.

Reply to  2hotel9
December 15, 2021 9:34 am

Yea, crying ‘wolf’ with every hurricane that leads to mass hysteria that doesn’t happen. Seems every one offshore is a Cat 4 and comes ashore as a ‘big fart’ really gets folks to closely heed future warnings! Hype kills. Covid hype mandates are killing even more! Trust the government and its bureaucracies as they know what’s best for everyone!

And let me note: Who would you trust, the government and its tentacles or the media? Or perhaps neither.

Reply to  eyesonu
December 16, 2021 4:20 am

Over hyping weather is a tool leftards love for pushing their made up climate religion. And no, I don’t trust either.

Randle Dewees
Reply to  2hotel9
December 15, 2021 10:07 am

Yeah, we get those government alerts on radio and cell phone for flash flooding potential at areas up to 100 miles away.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  2hotel9
December 15, 2021 2:20 pm

The difference with Amber Alerts is that there is a very high probability of a true occurrence. The fact that you, personally, don’t spot the suspect vehicle isn’t a knock on the system. The idea is that with a million pair of eyes taking a look around, someone will spot the vehicle. Entirely different dynamic.

Reply to  D. J. Hawkins
December 16, 2021 4:12 am

As Randle says above, Amber Alerts system undermines itself by being so broad. We get them here in rural western PA from 5 states. After the first 6 months people just stopped paying attention to them. Same for severe weather alerts from NWS, 9 times out of 10 it is for an area 100 or more miles away and a storm system moving away from our area. People. Stop. Listening. To. Them. Doing things stupidly for a “good” reason is still doing them stupidly and it hurts the cause it is supposed to serve.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  2hotel9
December 20, 2021 6:01 am

If you lived in Uniontown, PA, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to get alerts for West Virginia, Ohio, and Maryland, all within about 50 miles of Uniontown. Clearly it would make less sense if the incident was in Columbus, Ohio, but I thought the system was keyed to regional locations.

Reply to  D. J. Hawkins
December 20, 2021 1:54 pm

In north Butler county, 1/2 mile from the Allegheny River. We get notifications from Ohio, Michigan, WV, VA, NY, Delaware, Maryland and NJ about amber alerts, weather is Ohio, WV, NY, Maryland and NJ. Talked to a couple of people yesterday down at our firehall and they showed me the amber alert list, I had ignored them so much I missed a couple.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  2hotel9
December 21, 2021 8:52 am

OK, based on that geography it seems the system is a bit too much of a shotgun approach. On the other hand, I don’t recall getting alerts for other than NJ and NY. I will have to pay closer attention.

Reply to  D. J. Hawkins
December 22, 2021 6:19 am

Our local phone expert(she is 22) says it is also dependent on service provider. I use Cricket, they access everyone else’s systems, a couple of other providers do the same. Angie holds Phone School for us FOGs when we get our phones hopelessly cludged up.

December 15, 2021 10:06 am

“automated smartphone-based warning systems”

On a related note: I have read that the Amazon workers are complaining that they were endangered by the company’s “no smart phone” policy.
Obviously there’s more to the story, but your suggestion brought it to mind.

Ireneusz Palmowski
Reply to  TonyG
December 15, 2021 10:26 am

Yes, companies should be the first to respond to warnings, or build shelters for employees.

December 15, 2021 10:49 am

The problem with having a smartphone app is many employers (mine included) have a no employee owned cellphone policy while working. Most people just go without rather than check out a company phone. In fact, it has become desirable so that the employee is not encumbered with the electronic leash.

December 15, 2021 11:48 am

I live in an area where there is no cell coverage (what is a “smart” phone?). Paradise.

We don’t get hurricanes or tornadoes, but we do get wildland fires. Our County has a system called Code Red, and we sign up for phone (land line), email, or both alerts should there be some sort of area-wide emergency.

Don’t see why something like this wouldn’t work.

Reply to  LKMiller
December 15, 2021 12:20 pm

Doesn’t work if you aren’t at home.

Reply to  MarkW
December 15, 2021 2:55 pm

Point taken. But it is a system that works for most people. One would guess that most people pay at least some attention to the weather. I’m a couple of thousand miles away, and I knew there was a real chance for tornadoes in this area.

December 15, 2021 12:07 pm

Wow! On your smartphone diagram, you might need a N-S-E-W symbol and one or two, no more, very local landmarks or road names so that one can quickly orient oneself. This thing must be idiot proof; people can get pretty stupid when they are badly frightened.

Reply to  EOM
December 15, 2021 7:23 pm

I believe the screen shot you mention was just an initial concept to illustrate (sell) the idea. You are correct that obviously whatever app ends up being rolled-out to the public would (have) be more informative and directive.

December 15, 2021 12:33 pm

NWS paducah is saying ‘the’ Tornado moved 128 miles across its forecast area from 8:56 pm to 11:10pm
So that is 60mph…for the whole time. Thats really fast track or was it multiple tornadoes across a storm front

Ireneusz Palmowski
December 15, 2021 12:53 pm

The squall line in Kansas and Nebraska.comment image

Robert of Texas
December 15, 2021 3:01 pm

If we “adapt”, then a 15 minute warning is sufficient. We do not need 2 hour warnings with a 70% false alarm rate – that just teaches people to ignore warnings.

Adaptation is through building codes. Requiring the attaching of a roof to the house walls should be a requirement. All new housing in affected areas should require a “Tornado Closet” be built within it. All new business buildings would need Tornado Shelters of sufficient size. Businesses would over time be required to add shelters. All of this is basic common sense in areas that experience enough tornadoes.

Now a 15 minute warning works – people have a place to go.

Robert of Texas
December 15, 2021 3:17 pm

Just reread the article, and based on my personal experiences, asking people to flee the path is a recipe for disaster unless they have a LOT of time. If you are already in a vehicle and moving then sure, it makes sense. If you are in your house and have to gather up kids and pets – not so much.

I have survived close encounters with tornadoes several times. Once my vehicle was straight in the path of an unreported tornado – luckily a fairly weak one which just rocked my vehicle and slid it around. I have seen downed power lines, failed traffic systems, and downed trees and tree limbs BEFORE the tornado is even near. This can cause large traffic jams.

Now imagine several hundred people trying to flee in high wind and rain with only minutes to spare. The tornado path is not exact, and might pass through, to the right, or to the left of your house…it’s guesswork at this point. You are far better off inside a house sheltered in an inner closet or bathroom with pillows and mattresses above you then inside a vehicle wandering through rain, high water, and various obstructions.

The great tornado of “1999 Bridge Creek–Moore” destroyed my mothers home – there wasn’t a wall left standing. My mother sheltered in an inner closet and survived the tornado with hardly a scratch. There were a lot of other lucky people what day, and some not so lucky. Had my mother attempted to drive away from that tornado she likely would have been killed – it was up to 1 mile wide at times. She was old, could barely drive in rain or at night, and the streets were flooded.
All just personal experience – not scientific – but wisdom comes from experience.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Robert of Texas
December 15, 2021 6:47 pm

“Just reread the article, and based on my personal experiences, asking people to flee the path is a recipe for disaster unless they have a LOT of time. If you are already in a vehicle and moving then sure, it makes sense.”

I was thinking the driving public would be the ones to benefit from this the most. The App could keep them from driving into a tornado accidentally.

Michael S. Kelly
December 16, 2021 1:28 am

My wife pointed out to me the huge irony of the fact that the same storms which took out electric power to hundreds of thousands of people also destroyed a candle factory. The loss of life in that event was truly tragic, and my heart goes out to the families left behind.

Ireneusz Palmowski
December 16, 2021 1:47 am

The “vortex” air does not mix with the midday air, but pushes it out.comment image

December 17, 2021 5:38 pm

Unless there are solid deep underground shelters, there isn’t much such technology can actually accomplish.

Nor should one assume a few thousand feet can make a difference. Powerful tornadoes are often very wide tornadoes, and that few thousand feet easily fits in the path of large tornadoes.

Then there is the power of EF-4 and EF-5 tornadoes.
If you paid any attention to the after pictures, you likely noticed that the tornado left a lot of concrete pads where houses used to sit. That and trees broken in all directions are signs of an EF-5.

Without an underground bunker, there is no place these folk could’ve gone and been safe from an EF-5 or EF-4..

Using Doppler radar imagery (which is available roughly every 5 minutes), the instantaneous path of the storm could be determined in real-time and the storm’s location and path”

What appears to be a straight path from outer space is actually a chaotic path with twister(s) swinging back and forth. Often at 30 to 50 miles per hour.

Unless the people warned are very fit, five minutes is not enough time to remove them from the path of a severe storm.
Worse, in the country, tornadic storms cause inky nights. Knowing where the storm might be means people might drive right into said storm.

Instead, you got your underwear in a pinch and you want to increase everyone’s mobile phone costs for something that does not actually supply any real value or safety.

Rich Lentz
December 18, 2021 12:00 pm

Why does my entire message occasionally disappear when I use spell correct? Only happens on this web site. [ I am using Chrome browser.]

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