Tornadoes can be devastating natural events that cause immense destruction resulting in millions, sometimes billions of dollars in damages.
This is why scientists and meteorologists have been working for years to try to develop systems and learn how to predict tornadoes, as this would undoubtedly save lives as well as dollars.
Today, we’re going to answer a question that often comes up when discussing tornadoes.
Can tornadoes be predicted?
No, sadly it’s nearly impossible for tornadoes to be predicted with accuracy. However, meteorologists can, at best, predict the potential for tornadoes which can give people time to evacuate before a tornado hits.
Can Tornadoes Actually Be Predicted?
When it comes to predicting tornadoes with accuracy, it’s nearly impossible, and something that scientists and meteorologists have been working on for decades.
Whilst scientists do know how tornadoes form and can predict the likelihood of a tornado forming in certain areas, predicting a tornado touching down with accuracy is not possible.
However, it’s something that is constantly being pushed towards as large tornadoes are devastating to communities and the environment.
Due to how severe some tornadoes can be, weather stations try to forecast them coming to give people time to prepare and evacuate if needs be.
Forecasters try to predict tornadoes as far ahead of time as they can, but in history, the only warning you would get is if you looked outside and visibly saw a tornado.
Thankfully tornado warnings today have gotten a lot better, and although predicting them can be difficult and sometimes unreliable, tools like radar help meteorologists have a good idea of if a tornado is coming.
How Do Scientists Know When A Tornado Is Coming?
Meteorologists at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) issue daily forecasts, or convective outlooks, for organized severe thunderstorms over the U.S. based on current forecast models and weather observations.
They also monitor areas they think are at the highest risk of tornadoes. If the conditions start to develop, SPC forecasters issue a severe thunderstorm or tornado watch that typically lasts four to six hours.
Meteorologists rely on massive computer programs called numerical weather prediction models to help determine whether conditions will be right for a tornado.
These models are designed to calculate what the atmosphere will do at certain points over a large area, from the Earth’s surface to the top of the atmosphere.
Data is gathered using weather balloons launched around the globe twice each day, in addition to measurements from satellites, temperature profilers, weather stations, and aircraft.
The weather prediction models start with current weather observations and attempt to predict future weather, using physics and dynamics to mathematically describe the behavior of the atmosphere.
The predictions are then outputted in graphs and text, often over maps to give a more accurate look at which areas may be affected.
That said, tornado warnings are still not great. Most times, people only get a warning of a tornado around 13 minutes ahead of time, leaving them little time to prepare.
What Makes Tornadoes So Hard To Predict?
It may help to start by looking at how scientists identify hurricanes to help understand why it’s so difficult to predict tornadoes.
Hurricanes are violent tropical storms, but unlike tornadoes, they are usually pretty easy to predict.
Usually, hurricane warnings give people at least 2-days to prepare, which is more than enough time to pack up their belongings and travel out of the area if needed.
Hurricanes form very differently from tornadoes. They form over the ocean, then travel for days, sometimes even weeks before they hit the land.
Scientists can easily figure out where a hurricane is likely to hit as well as how strong the hurricane is predicted to be.
However, tornadoes are not like this. They form over land and very quickly touch down before wreaking havoc on the landscape.
Tornadoes can form and touch down in a matter of minutes, which means scientists do not have days or weeks to predict them.
Instead, scientists rely on weather maps to try to predict where a tornado will spawn, but it’s incredibly difficult because of how quickly it can form.
That said, scientists pay attention to the type of weather conditions that could potentially spawn a tornado, and the first thing they look out for is a thunderstorm.
They also look for strong winds coming together in different directions that have the potential to create a tornado.
However, the difficulty in predicting tornadoes is that not every supercell thunderstorm creates a tornado, so it’s hard to say with accuracy if a tornado will spawn.
In today’s modern world, scientists are using all of the latest technology to try and predict tornadoes, and they hope that in the near future they will be able to predict tornadoes up to 1-hour in advance.
Whilst this isn’t the 2-day advancement that scientists can provide in the event of a hurricane, but its certainly a lot better than no warning at all.
Luckily, people that live in tornado hotspots tend to have tornado shelters they can use even if a tornado comes in quickly.
What Are The Warning Signs Of A Tornado?
Despite tornadoes being incredibly difficult to predict, there are some sure warning signs that can alert residents of a potential tornado forming.
Scientists are doing all they can to come up with new technologies and ways to predict tornadoes, but there are still many unknowns as to how and why they form.
Below are some of the warning signs that a tornado may develop:
- The color of the sky may change to an incredibly dark, sometimes greenish color.
- Severe supercell thunderstorms with frequent thunder and lightning.
- Large hail may fall, often in the absence of rain
- Wind may die down and go silent just before a tornado forms.
- A loud roar that sounds similar to a freight train.
- A cloud of debris, or debris falling from the sky.
- A rotating vortex coming from the clouds of a thunderstorm.
Whilst tornadoes can occur at any time, they are most frequent in the late afternoon between the hours of 3 pm to 9 pm.
The months of April, May, and June are known as tornado season and are the most likely months that tornadoes will form, especially in the U.S.
There are also zones such as Tornado Alley, which covers Central America and the states with the flattest, dryest land that is prime for tornadoes.
States such as Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, and South Dakota are all states of Tornado Alley that have the highest likelihood of tornadoes during tornado season.
So, can tornadoes be predicted? No, sadly not. Tornadoes are incredibly difficult for scientists to predict as they can spawn and touch down in a matter of minutes.
However, scientists are now getting better and better at predicting the type of weather that has the potential to cause a tornado, such as supercell thunderstorms alongside strong winds.
In the near future, it’s hoped that tornadoes will be able to be predicted up to 1-hour in advance, giving people some warning to reach cover.
Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this post and have learned something new today about why tornadoes are incredibly difficult to predict.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post and feel free to stick around to learn more about tornadoes and other types of weather phenomena.
Hey, I’m Sam – the founder of GustyPlanet. I’ve had a fascination with all things weather for as long as I can remember. I witnessed my first tornado at the age of 6, and since then became an avid storm chaser that is hooked on learning as much as I can about extreme weather. This blog was created to share my knowledge and to expand and delve deeper into the wonderful world of weather phenomena. I hope you enjoy your stay here and thanks for visiting.