NOAA 2001-R303
Contact: Pat Viets


Every year, about 70 Americans are killed by tornadoes and 1,500 people are injured. An average of 1,200 tornadoes cause more than $400 million in damage to homes and businesses, schools and churches annually. Considered nature's most violent storms, peak tornado activity occurs during the months of March through early July.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters and researchers from Norman, Okla., in the heart of tornado alley, marked the beginning of tornado season today, highlighting better warnings from significant advances in weather technology made in the past 10 years and encouraging all Americans to be prepared for severe weather.

Following two years with high numbers of tornadoes, the year 2000 was relatively quiet. However, two outbreaks illustrated the fact that tornadoes can happen anywhere at any time. On Feb. 13, a tornado raged through Camilla, Georgia overnight, causing 11 deaths. Six weeks later, a tornado struck Ft. Worth, Texas, killing five people on March 28.

New technology developed by NOAA researchers has helped National Weather Service forecasters provide significantly better warnings when tornadoes strike. But warnings do not work if people don't heed them and take action to protect themselves and their property, said Mike Foster, meteorologist-in-charge of the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Norman, Okla.

"As tornado season begins, now is the time to develop a tornado safety plan before you need it," Foster said.

Research Leading to Better Forecasts
Ten years ago this month, the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Norman, Okla., began the first operational test of the new Doppler weather radar, called the WSR-88D, developed by NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory, also located in Norman. At that time, the National Weather Service's average tornado warning lead time was six minutes. Now, with radars installed throughout the country, tornado warning lead times have nearly doubled, improving to an average of 10 minutes in 2000. In fact, strong and violent tornadoes rarely strike without warning.

This spring, the Norman Forecast Office will again test new radar technology being developed by NSSL, Foster said. The new dual-polarization radar uses two pulses instead of one, providing more information for forecasters to better predict flash floods, hail and winter weather. Polarimetric technology could be added to the current WSR-88D Doppler weather radars used by the National Weather Service throughout the nation

"By combining new technology with experienced forecasters and rigorous
training programs, the National Weather Service expects to maintain its excellent tornado warning lead time average and continue decreasing the death tolls," said Bill Proenza, director of the National Weather Service for the southern U.S.

Weather Safety Tips
To be prepared, the National Weather Service suggests doing the following things before severe weather strikes:

  • Develop a plan for you and your family at home, work, school, and when outdoors.
  • Identify a safe place to take shelter.
  • Have frequent drills.
  • Know the county/parish in which you live or visit.
  • Keep a highway map nearby to follow storm movement from weather bulletins.
  • Have a NOAA Weather Radio with a warning alarm tone and battery back-up to receive warnings.
  • On the Internet, go to for National Weather Service watches and warnings.
  • Listen to radio and television for weather information.
  • Check the weather forecast before leaving for extended periods outdoors. Watch for signs of approaching storms.
  • If severe weather threatens, check on people who are elderly, very young, or physically or mentally disabled.

Tornado safety rules:

  • In a home or building, move to a pre-designated shelter, such as a basement.
  • If an underground shelter is not available, move to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor and get under a sturdy piece of furniture. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside.
  • Stay away from windows.
  • Get out of automobiles.
  • Do not try to outrun a tornado in your car; instead, leave it immediately for safe shelter.
  • If caught outside or in a vehicle, lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands.
  • Highway overpasses do not provide shelter from tornadic winds.
  • Be aware of flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.
  • Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes. You should leave a mobile home and go to the lowest floor of a sturdy nearby building or a storm shelter.

More information about tornado forecasting and research is available online at: