NOAA AND NATIONAL
WEATHER SERVICE REMIND AMERICANS TO BE PREPARED FOR TORNADO SEASON
Every year, about 70 Americans are killed
by tornadoes and 1,500 people are injured. An average of 1,200
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.
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,"
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
- 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 http://www.weather.gov
for National Weather Service watches and warnings.
- Listen to radio and television for weather
- Check the weather forecast before leaving
for extended periods outdoors. Watch for signs of approaching
- If severe weather threatens, check on
people who are elderly, very young, or physically or mentally
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
- 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
More information about tornado forecasting
and research is available online at: http://www.noaa.gov/tornadoes.html.