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Tornado prediction better but still has long ways to go


About 15 minutes before a massive tornado leveled Moore, Oklahoma Monday, the National Weather Service issued a “tornado emergency.” It still wasn’t enough to prevent at least 24 people from dying and it has many wondering why we can’t do more to predict where the dangerous storms will touch down.

University of Washington meteorologist Cliff Mass says the science has actually improved dramatically.

“In contrast to 30-40 years ago, we can see when these storms form, we can see the ones that have the potential to have tornadoes,” Mass told KIRO Radio’s Luke Burbank Show.

There’s a big difference, though, between predicting the conditions conducive to a tornado and actually pinpointing where tornadoes will actually form.

“You run a forecast model. You have to know in phenomenal detail what the atmosphere is like at a very great resolution and we just don’t have enough data to do that sometimes,” he said.

According to Mass, the biggest improvements are warning people well in advance of the possibility of tornadoes, but if they don’t seek shelter in a protected place, the warning are worthless. Such was the case with the elementary schools leveled in the tornado.

“Tornadoes like that can level a building down to the concrete foundation, so you just can’t take shelter in the building,” Mass said.

Mass said the technology and science is constantly improving, and should continue to expand the window of time for warnings to help more people get away from a storm, rather than the current 15-30 minute time frame. Forecasters should increasingly be able to predict the potential severity of tornadoes before they hit, increasing the chance people will take warnings seriously before it’s too late.

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