Why You Should Never Panic When A Tornado Warning is Issued
As a kid, I was terrified of tornadoes. Maybe that's part of the fascination I have had with the weather since the age of 6. I wanted to learn more about this incredible force of nature and that's what helped guide me into the field I work in today.
There have been remarkable advancements in the detection of severe weather and tornadoes. Doppler radar has been a key part of that. However, it's not perfect and has limitations. Radar scans the sky and it can take up to 5 minutes for a full scan of the atmosphere. There have been many times tornadoes develop and end within that short time and therefore go undetected. During times of severe weather, those scans of the lower atmosphere are received within a minute to improve detection. Also, some tornadoes occur far away from radar and under the beam. They literally go undetected and under the radar. Bottom line, radar is great, but has limitations.
Tornado warnings are issued by local National Weather Service offices around the country. Our primary office is located in North Little Rock. These talented meteorologists have a heavy responsibility to get it right and are continuously working to detect tornadoes and reduce what is called the "FAR". That stands for False Alarm Rate. Statistics are normally better for the bigger, more destructive tornadoes. They are usually worse in years that have lots of small, weak, brief tornadoes. So what is that for our local office? I have a few stats below for the last 10 years.
Why should you never panic? Most tornado warnings are false alarms. As a matter of fact, an overwhelming majority are false alarms. When a meteorologist sees significant rotation on radar, it's hard not to warn it. We're still trying to learn why some storms produce tornadoes and some storms don't. Major advancements, technology, and training are always underway to try to reduce that.
Next time a tornado warning is issued, take that information seriously and seek shelter. Also, remember tornadoes are very isolated, sometimes difficult to detect, and according to the odds, quite possibly not happening. However, this is Arkansas and we do have tornadoes. Some years more than others.
FYI, the probability of detection (POD) the percentage of tornadoes that occur after a warning is issued, compared to the number of tornadoes that occur when no warning is issued.
Thanks to the local NWS office for these statistics.