MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - The Mid-South is one of the most deadly regions for tornado fatalities in the U.S. When a tornado warning is issued, Mid-South residents have between 12 and 14 minutes to get to safety. National Weather Service forecasters issue warnings based on radar trends and observations. Sometimes lead times for a tornado could even be shorter. Scientists with the National Severe Storm Lab (NSSL) in Norman, Oklahoma are hoping to change that.
A new project is hoping to increase warning time to an hour for people in the path of severe weather. It’s called “Warn-On-Forecast”. Scientists are aiming to improve computer forecast models that will forecast a storm before it even develops. The advanced model would continuously re-compute fine detailed forecasts using satellite and radar to predict where a storm is about to develop. The computer model would then depict an area where a tornado is most likely to strike. Meteorologists would be able to issue warnings up to an hour in advance for areas with highest probability for a tornado.
Tom Salem, National Weather Service Meteorologist, says, “How will people react if we issue a warning an hour before-hand? Will you take shelter for an hour? I don’t think most people want to, but if they have extra information, maybe they'll take ‘better’ shelter.”
The advanced warning may play a bigger role in preparedness and with evacuations of hospitals and large venues. Emergency managers will be able to pre-position local officials to areas that are likely to be hit by a tornado. Outdoor events and sporting events may have ample time to evacuate large crowds where currently, a 14 minute lead time would make that impossible.
The technology for the Warn-On-Forecast is still overcoming obstacles and maturing. The advanced forecast for severe weather warnings may not be implemented for another 10 to 15 years.