Faster Tornado Warnings Coming? | News
A new program developed by the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) called Warn-On Forecast aims to help provide more warning time for tornadoes, flash flooding, and severe thunderstorms. Current data shows that trends in yearly-averaged tornado warning lead times are starting to plateau (average lead time right now is 13-15 minutes), and any further increases in that lead time is becoming more difficult to obtain. This new program, however, would allow meteorologists to predict severe weather simply by inserting current radar data into a computer model. That computer then uses that data combined with algorithms, formulas, and statistics to determine probable directions and behaviors of a storm. Unfortunately, this program is not ready to be used right now.
"The [obstacle] is just computer speed," explains David Stensrud, the chief of Forecast Research and Development at NSSL. "To make a forecast valid, you have to get the model very quickly. You need computers that are very fast, and they need to be fairly inexpensive."
In other words, while the NSSL has access to very good computers, they are not quite up to the speed of what they would need to implement this project in the next 1-3 years. And while the technology may advance enough to have those computers available in that time frame, they will simply be too expensive right away for the NSSL to be able to afford them.
"This is a 10- to 15-year project," Stensrud reveals. "One could imagine in 10 years from now that you could actually get weather service warning information on your cell phone or on your GPS unit for your car. No matter where you are, you could get information telling you where the threat is relative to where you are."
The problem is, you don't want too much warning time because then people become complacent. In a survey done by the CAPS program at the University of Oklahoma, they asked that very question to 136 National Weather Service Center visitors.
Even though the majority of people polled said they would think the situation was less threatening is they had more lead time, another poll question of the same group of people said that there was no such thing at too much lead time.
The new program will have to take into account that just because new technology may be out there to give people better lead time for tornadoes, it doesn't mean people will use that time for what it was intended for....getting to a safe shelter early.