Q&A with the National Weather Service, how they track tornadoes and storms

Some downpours can turn typically traveled roads into deep reservoirs. Hail can make brand new cars look like they’ve been beaten with a baseball bat.

We've seen damaging winds that knock-down trees and powerlines, potentially cutting off power to tens of thousands of Mid-Southerners during the severe weather season.

That’s why we study every storm or complex of storms that move through into the Mid-South. We’re determining if it’s going to be a line of storms where wind damage might be the primary threat, or are they going to be potentially tornado-producing storms.

FOX13 talked to Gary Woodall, the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service, to take a closer look inside the NWS.

Q: What exactly are you looking for before you issue the red polygon?

A: The radar that we use is a Doppler Radar, Doppler Weather Radar and that will tell us not only where the precipitation is and roughly how heavy the precipitation – but it also shows us motion toward or away from the radar antenna.

Q: After the recent tornado outbreak that caused more deaths in this one event than we saw in 2018, a lot of conversation has been about the lead time for a warning. Can you explain exactly why that lead time is as good as it's going to get right now?

A: Tornado forecasting and tornado warnings have come a long way in the last 20 to 30 years or so with doppler radar and research – and a better understanding of how these tornado producing storms work and function. But it's still somewhat of an art as well as being a science because we see a rotating signature on the radar – doesn't necessarily mean that the storm is producing a tornado. In fact, rotating storms that we call supercell thunderstorms, only about 15% of those will go on and produce tornadoes.

Q: During a severe weather event, there's a lot going on. How exactly do you work with us to make sure we get the public all the information they need?

A: Teamwork is an incredibly important part of the warning process. Because while we issue the tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings – were very dependent on our media partner and our local emergency management partners for getting that information, getting that warning out to the public, their viewers, their listening audience or their citizens.

Q: What do you say for folks that have lived here for decades and they've seen multiple warnings issued, whether they're severe thunderstorms or tornado warnings – they've just adapted, and they don't quite take them seriously anymore?

A: Well what happens in the past is not certainly a guarantee of what's going to happen in the future, and whenever we issue a tornado or severe thunderstorm warning, again, it's a decision that not only we have made on our own here, but we've made with the assistance of our electronic data and storm spotter reports and it's a serious threat that we're seeing. Praying for a different outcome is good – but having a plan is the best thing you can do to prepare for a severe weather threat.

According to the National Weather Service, there are 280 severe weather-related fatalities a year.

Anything that we can do here in Severe Weather Center 13 to reduce that number by at least one makes everything we do worthwhile.

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