Data May Show Why Deadly Tornadoes Emerge
Several year ago, the federally funded program known as VORTEX2 was set up to help meteorologists determine why some of the violent thunderstorms referred to as supercells generate powerful tornadoes. Most of these storms produce weak twisters or none at all. Under VORTEX2 scientists are working to discover why some supercells are particularly devastating and to help forecasters provide earlier warnings. The U.S. records an average of approximately 1,300 tornadoes each year and approximately 25 percent are classified as deadly, with winds of at least 118 miles per hour.
Under VORTEX2, 120 scientists and students tracked supercells across the Great Plains during the May and June tornado seasons in 2009 and 2010. The program’s meteorologists are now analyzing the data to enhance their understanding of how tornadoes develop. Josh Wurman, one of the eight scientists on the steering committee of VORTEX2, said that the program seeks to increase the average warning time from today’s average of 13 minutes before a tornado strikes to 20 or 30 minutes. Wurman said that the program could also reduce the false alarm rates from the current 70 percent to 50 percent or lower. Russ Schneider, director of the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said that alarms are so frequently false because radar indications are ambiguous.