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  • Todd Yakoubian

Update... False Tornado Report

A false report of a tornado near Cabot was sent to the National Weather Service in North Little Rock on April 11th. Meteorologist Dennis Cavanaugh explains.

Later last week, a huge supercell thunderstorm tracked across far northern and northeastern Arkansas with several reports of a tornado. After Dennis and his team surveyed the area, no tornado damage was found. This opened up the possibility that it had happened again.


In my previous blog post, I wrote, " I truly believe most of them were not malicious. They did not knowingly send in bad information. They were truly trying to save lives. "


After investigating the northern Arkansas tornado warning of April 15th, Dennis Cavanaugh says, "Upon further information released by the president of Spotter Network, I am much more confident that the spotter network report of a 'large wedge tornado headed into Walnut Ridge' was made in good faith, although later proven to be inaccurate. Storm spotting at night is extremely difficult and I DO believe this person saw a wedge shaped wall cloud that, from his perspective, looked like it was in contact with the ground.


However, I also found that this report was made AFTER we issued a tornado emergency for Walnut Ridge and therefore didn’t play a role in our decision making anyways. Several other storm spotters, law enforcement, and firefighters also thought they saw a tornado associated with this storm.


Because it was a very well organized supercell in a low LCL environment, I have no doubt that from many angles it looked like a wedge shaped cloud was on the ground. The problem at night is that you have to rely on lightning strikes to see the clouds, and lightning strikes appearing in the perfect location to give a good view of the wall cloud are rare.


So I think Friday night was an instance where we had persistent radar rotation associated with a well organized supercell, and people on the ground had the unfortunate task of trying to spot at night, and made good faith reports of a cloud that looked exactly like a tornado, but simply wasn’t in hindsight. It also doesn’t help that both ours and Memphis’s radar can only sample thunderstorms at over 10,000 ft AGL for those counties in northeast Arkansas. That means radar essentially can’t “see” the lowest 2 miles of the storm which would have helped immensely in this case to make warning decisions.


As it is, we collectively did the best job with the technology and information that we had at the time. And despite the many reports of a tornado our only message to emergency managers, law enforcement and firefighters in these communities is to CONTINUE to storm spot and do the best job you can reporting what you see to the NWS. Without their help, we have NO information for the lowest 2 miles of thunderstorms in that area."


Dennis also says, "Yeah, basically we are working with SpotterNetwork to collectively do our best to make sure false reports are difficult to send using that software. The company itself is simply a non-profit organization looking to connect storm spotters with the NWS. They certainly don’t have any malicious intent. "


Notice Dennis mentioned the lack of radar coverage in northern Arkansas. This is a well known radar hole. I have mentioned this several times along with the radar hole in southeast Arkansas. When will this be fixed? Talk to your representatives in the U.S House and Senate. They would be the ones to help get the ball rolling on it.



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