Detecting Tornadoes Early

Lisa Fielding
April 28, 2018 - 8:15 am

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- April 27 is called The Super Outbreak of 2011 --  the largest, costliest, and one of the deadliest tornado outbreaks in U.S. history.

"This was a remarkable historic tornado outbreak across the southern potion of the United States. There were over 300 people killed on that day alone," said Dr. Victor Gensini, Assistant Professor, Department of Geographic & Atmospheric Sciences, Northern Illinois University. 

But is there a way to predict these storms earlier?

"We're focused on lead time. The time that elapses as to when the tornado was reported and how much warning there was from the National Weather Service," Gensini said.

"What we're trying to do at NIU is to extend the lead time as to whether or not these big severe weather outbreaks are going to happen in the two week or even three week range."

It's similar to what meteorologists do with hurricane forecasts. Computer models that allow scientists to see storms that could potentially produce tornadoes.

"Are the conditions favorable 2 to 3 weeks in advance? We haven't been able to do with tornadoes, it's harder to predict. We're never going to be able to say with confidence that downtown Chicago or your house or this state is going to get hit in 2-3 weeks in advance but what we can say is that these are the weather patterns that are perhaps more favorable for producing these severe weather events across the U.S."

Gensini said earlier prediction can help citizens, hospitals & municipalities to at least better prepare for the potential.

"For hospitals, who need to get a lot of people to shelter, that's critical to give them plenty of lead time. The best thing to do is educate people about how serious these events can be," he added.

 But how early is too early? Gensini said scientists won't be able to predict exactly where and when that far out but the key to safety is education and preparation.

"There's been an increase in technology and we can crunch these data sets at higher and higher resolu8tions which allow us to resolve the storms that are producing tornados and that's only going to get better as we move forward."

 Gensini added that this year, we're in a La Nina pattern, which tends to produce more tornadoes in the southeast. April, May And June are more prone to tornadic activity.