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Slide Notes

Sources: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Photos: NOAA Photo Library and U.S. National Archives, and FEMA photo Library.

Tornado Forecasting

Published on Nov 18, 2015

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Tornado Forecasting

How War Gave Rise to Modern Meteorology
Sources: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Photos: NOAA Photo Library and U.S. National Archives, and FEMA photo Library.

US Weather Bureau Founded: FEB 9, 1870

  • President Ulysses S. Grant establishes a national weather service.
  • The service is created under the Secretary of War.
  • The bureau is to provide meteorological observations to the military.
  • Observations would take place in the north, interior and coastal regions.
Photo: NOAA Photo Library

US Army Signal Corps SGT. John P. FInley: 1882

  • Finley pioneers the first possible tornado forecast methods.
  • Finley would assign more than 2000 ‘reporters’ in this task. 
  • A tornado outbreak sparks Finley’s development of 15 rules.
  • In 1888, Finley publishes his rules in the American Meteorological Journal.
Photo/ NOAA

The Tri-State Tornado: Mar 18, 1925

  • The infamous Tri-State Tornado tracked for 219 miles.
  • It began in Missouri and continued across Illinois into Indiana.
  • 695 people were killed and 2,000 people were injured.
  • Monthly Weather Review Editor observes 9 of Finley's rules.  
  • Finley's rules have credibility for the first time. 

A Day That Lives in Infamy: Dec 7, 1941

  • The Japanese stage a surprise attack at the U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor.
  • The U.S. enters World War II, sparking development of new technology.
  • Radar technologies are used in the detection of warships and aircraft.
  • Radar images obscured by rain open the possibility for use in forecasting.
Photo/ National Archives - US Navy

Tornadoes Added to Weather Reporting: 1944

  • In the 1870s, the Army Signal Corps banned reporting the term tornado.
  • Fear of sparking a panic was the primary reason for the ban. 
  • Reporting expanded to include tornadoes, thunderstorms, hail and high wind.

Tinker Air Force Base TorNado: Mar 20, 1948

  • Maj. Ernest Fawbush and Capt. Robert Miller study prediction methods.
  • Tornado causes $10 million in damages and destroys 32 military aircraft.
  • Air Force mobilizes an investigative board from D.C. after the incident.
  • Fawbush and Miller began their investigation to predict the next tornado.

First Tornado Forecast & Warning: Mar 25, 1948

  • Fawbush and Miller analyzed the weather pattern of the storm.
  • While researching, a similar weather pattern formed over the Plains.
  • Fawbush and Miller issued the first tornado forecast on March 25.
  • Another tornado hit, causing $6 million in damages, but claimed no lives.
  • Despite some skepticism, the forecast is deemed a success.

The Tornado Project: 1950

  • Radar is implemented on a larger scale, including use in forecasting.
  • Radar was provided by the Weather Bureau and Air Weather Service.
  • It included 134 weather stations and 34 cooperative stations.
  • The data provided would pave the way for modern forecasts.

Birth of The Storm PREDICTION Center: 1952

  • The success of the project spawns its adoption for civilian use.
  • A unit is established at the Weather Bureau-Army-Navy Analysis Center.
  • After a successful trail, it is recognized as the Severe Weather Unit.
  • By 1953, the unit is renamed the Severe Local Storm Warning Center (SELS).
Photo/SELS - SPC

Palm Sunday Outbreak: April 1965

  • The outbreak spreads across six states. 
  • Tornadoes cause $200 million in damage and kill 271 people.
  • Despite radar and satellite images, communication is slow.
  • Media outlets can not provide warnings due to jammed phone lines.
  • The National Severe Storms Laboratory improve methods after outbreak.

Tetsuya Theodore Fujita's F-SCALE: 1971

  • F0 (Gale: 40-73 mph winds) F1 (Weak: 73-113 mph winds)
  • F2 (Strong: 114-158 mph winds) F3 (Severe:159-207 mph winds)
  • F4 (Devastating: 208-261 mph winds) F5 (Incredible: 262-319 mph winds)
Photo/ NOAA

Robert C. Miller's Rules: 1972

  • Following advances with Fawbush, Miller publishes a set of forecast guidelines.
  • The guidelines become the main reference for severe weather forecasting.
  • Researchers share and expand upon by his work with other meteorologists.
  • Miller's rules pave the way for the forecasters and researchers of the future.
Photo/ NOAA

Forecasting and New Technology: 1960-1990

  • Computers allow for the use of numerical weather prediction models. 
  • NSSFC forms the Centralized Storm Information System.
  • Deployment of Doppler Radar became a vital asset in tornado forecasting.
  • Real-time radar and improved satellite imagery push the field forward.
  • Doppler Radar allows for the detection of precipitation, wind circulations.

Improved WarNing: May 3, 1999

  • 74 tornadoes touched down across Oklahoma and Kansas.
  • 30 minutes of warning lead-time was given to the public in 1999.
  • 46 died and 800 were injured. 
  • More than 8,000 homes were damaged, causing $1.5 billion in damage.
  • Improved technology helped significantly reduce the loss of life.
Photo/ FEMA photo library

Greensburg Tornado: May 4, 2007

  • NWS notified the public to seek shelter 12 minutes before the storm hit.
  • 39 minutes of warning lead-time was possible; 11 people died.
  • The tornado was the first classified as EF-5 on the EF-Scale.
  • Almost the entire city was destroyed, causing $153 million in damage.
  • The Greensburg Tornado deployed the implementation of the EF-Scale.
Photo/ FEMA photo library

ENHANCED Fujita Scale: 2007

  • EF-0 (Light: 65-85 mph winds) EF-1 (Moderate: 85-110 mph winds)
  • EF-2 (Considerable: 111-135 mph winds) EF-3 (Severe:136-165 mph winds)
  • EF-4 (Devastating: 166-200 mph winds) EF-5 (Incredible: >200 mph winds)

Modern ForeCasting & The Future

  • Dual Polarization Radar has been implemented to analyze precipitation.
  • NSSL is implementing  Multi-function Phased Array Radar (MPAR) .
  • MPAR can increase average tornado warning lead-time to 20 minutes.
  • The current warning lead-time average is 13 minutes.
  • New technology can provide improved knowledge of tornado development.
Photo/ NOAA