How do you count tornadoes seen?

Discussion in 'Advanced weather & chasing' started by ChristofferB, Apr 24, 2018.

  1. ChristofferB

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    I thought I'd start another thread spawned from my thread about the amount of the Dodge City-tornadoes. I have read some blog posts, watched a lot of videos and tried to count the amount of tornadoes from that day. It is difficult because I mainly have to go by my own photos and videos from the day. Looking through them I realize it really isn't easy to make a distinct count on the amount of tornadoes.

    First of all, I don't consider "competing" with other chasers or anything like that. I see counting tornadoes as mainly a subjective thing - I mark them down with date and place, with a note on how it happened, how picturesque it was etc.

    I realize there are many grey zones in terms on when to count a tornado or not. We all know the definition of a tornado but it would be nice to see how you reason in your own tornado counting (if you count tornadoes), in terms of these examples:

    1. The Dodge City second meso (in the beginning) that spawned multiple vortices. At first I thought I saw "3-4 tornadoes" but in the discussion afterwards I learned that since they were under the same meso, it should be seen as one multivortex tornado. I wonder though, I have seen multivortex tornadoes (such as the one later that day) and it always looks like a wedge with fingers rotating around the circulation. In the second meso of Dodge City, they looked more like rope funnels that stayed put, if only for a short time.

    2. Tornadoes that stem from the same mesocyclone which drops a tornado, holds up for about 2-3 minutes perhaps with the same lowering/funnel and then creates a new tornado. An example of this is the Dodge City outbreak when that MASSIVE wall cloud first spawns a multivortex tornado that is never fully condensed, it then holds up for 2-3 minutes before it drops the barrel tornado.

    3. Tornadoes in storms that you are watching but where you cannot distinguish a tornado while watching. By enhancing photos when you come home you can see you were in fact looking at a tornado. Usually HP or perhaps night time tornadoes. Included here could also be the off case in which you actually managed to photograph a tornado but did not in fact see it.

    4. Water spouts

    5. Land spouts

    6. Tornadoes of which you can only see a portion (i.e. the top part) and cannot confirm by yourself that it is actually touching the ground, but through SPC or other chasers can confirm it was in fact a tornado.

    7. Tornadoes of which you cannot distinguish visible rotation on the ground (perhaps because you are too far away) but you can see a funnel "pretty much" all the way to the ground. No confirmation by other chasers or SPC. Usually this applies to spin-ups and short lived bird farts.

    Which of these cases would you, personally, count or not count?
     
  2. Jacob Hernandez

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    1. Oof, tough one. I have not personally seen a multiple-vortex tornado clearly, but I think I would be able to tell if there were three to four vorticies dancing around each other vs three or four separate tornadoes and satellites. I think this one would really come down to my judgement. If I couldn't tell if it was a multi-vortex tornado or not, I would just assume that it was one. Therefore, one tornado.

    2. I would split those into two tornadoes, imo. There's no magic time difference between tornadoes that automatically separates them. To me, if one tornado touches down (regardless of how it looks),
    lifts, then another one touches down after a distinguishable period of time, I would count those as different tornadoes.

    3.I have a perfect example of that. This is the May 6th, 2015 Bridge Creek EF-3.
    I know there is a tornado in there. This was taken when the tornado was at it's maximum width and intensity, but the meso is almost fully rain wrapped. I really believe that that left side of this feature is the tornado, but I do not know if I can actually confirm it. It would matter a lot to me, as if I did see it, it would be my first tornado. As of right now, I do not count it because I cannot confirm that I can make out the full tornado.

    4. Only if they were under a mesocyclone. Typical waterspouts would not count for me

    5. See #4

    6. Yes, but I would be frustrated.

    7. I would not count that as a tornado, just a funnel.
     

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  3. Warren Faidley

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    I actually stopped counting years ago as the number is not important to me. Quality, not quantity for a photographer. When I did count, I only counted a tornado (from the same storm) if the original tornado completely dissipated (including any funnel cloud) and a completely new one formed. If it was a persistent cone funnel for example, dropping multiple tornadoes, I only counted one. I guess it just depends on your preference.
     
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  4. Dan Robinson

    Dan Robinson WxLibrary Editor
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    I like counting and keeping stats, it's a little geeky but it's part of the fun of chasing for me.

    1.) I count separately any distinct tornado cyclone-level circulations that are not a single multivortex tornado, even if they are part of the same meso/RFD occlusion. Example:

    http://stormhighway.com/storms/tornadoes/waynoka-ok-vg-041412-2c.php

    Multi-vortex is one tornado always.

    2.) The same tornado cyclone periodically intensifying and weakening I count as one single tornado. I suppose there could be some arbitrary cutoff of some length of time passes in between each intensification phase (10 minutes maybe?) but honestly I can't think of many examples where this would be an issue.

    3.) I only count if I (or my video camera) can see some visual tornado feature (debris, at least one side of condensation).

    4.) Would not count a waterspout as a tornado. I really don't have a logical reason, it just doesn't seem like they belong in the same class as land-based tornadoes.

    5.) Landspouts count

    6.) If it's confirmed as a tornado and I can see any part of it, it's a countable tornado.

    7.) Given typical cloud base levels (not 2000m LCLs), a funnel at least 2/3 of the way from ground to cloud base is almost certainly always a tornado, and I will count. This is based on experience with viewing these up close. There is *always* a ground circulation under these capable of damage, many times you can't see it unless you are right there next to it. Because you're a mile away and can't see it doesn't mean it's not there.
     
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    #4 Dan Robinson, Apr 24, 2018
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2018
  5. Quincy Vagell

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    Like Dan, I do enjoy stats and keep a detailed log of all tornadoes I have seen. With that said, I am a little bit stingy with what I will actually count as a tornado.

    1. The Dodge City event is the only chase in which I really had to estimate how many tornadoes I actually saw. Initially, I thought my estimate of 8 was high, but other chaser accounts were much higher. I blended my own footage with SPC/NWS reports to come up with the conservative estimate. If it's one large circulation with occasional "fingers" coming out, like what I witnessed in Coleridge, NE on 6/17/18, then I count it as one tornado. In other words, multi-vortex = 1. Some of the Dodge City tornadoes looked like bonafide separate tornadoes, even if they were, at times, short-lived.

    2. I would count this as one tornado. If there was a significant gap between, then maybe there can be a discussion, but like you said, that's not very common.

    3. If I cannot see a tornado, due to clouds/rain curtain, then I won't count it as a tornado. I've become less fond of HP tornadoes over time and for me, I'm more interested in quality over quantity. This happened on 3/19/18 in Alabama, when I was looking at a storm that was producing a tornado at the time, but there was nothing remotely close to conclusive from my vantage point. Verdict, not a tornado that I'll count in my stats.

    4. Technically a tornado, but I probably wouldn't count them for my own record keeping, unless it was with a supercell or an embedded QLCS-type.

    5. I don't personally count these as tornadoes, but by definition, they are. The processes by which a non-supercell landspout forms is much different than a classic tornado.

    6. I count these, but not until there's SPC/NWS confirmation. I would probably consider it if other chasers had conclusive video of it at the same time that I did.
    Mayflower, AR (4/27/14) is a good example of this. It was clearly a wedge tornado, but trees blocked visibility of the lowest portion of it.

    7. If there's no SPC/NWS confirmation, I usually won't count these. If there's no confirmation from anyone, period, then there's no reason, in my opinion, to count it.
    I can recall a couple of examples of this, in which the NWS did later confirm a tornado, usually based on conclusive footage. I've seen these listed as "no damage" tornadoes and/or EF-unknown.

    For me, tornado chasing is about photography first and then learning through reanalysis after the fact. I have a binder with observed soundings near confirmed tornadoes I have chased. The environments in which a non-supercell tornado forms are usually distinctly different from a classic supercell. Sure, I may chase these events occasionally and may even enjoy photographing them, but I don't see a need to include them in personal tornado counts.
     
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  6. JamesCaruso

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    I don’t keep a cumulative count of the tornados I have seen during my 20-year chase career. At this point I kind of wish I had. It’s weird because I am kind of a geek when it comes to documentation and I have a written account of every chase, but they almost never include details about exactly how many tornados I saw. Maybe because of the subjectivity noted in the various scenarios noted by Christoffer, and the difficulty I personally have of even keeping track of the evolution in the heat of battle. I also don’t tend to have the time to do a ton of post-chase analysis, particularly of a complex day like Dodge City. Probably stunts my growth as a chaser, but it is what it is. Anyway, although I don’t keep a cumulative career count, I can still comment on whether I would consider myself as having “seen a tornado” on a given day in each of the scenarios:

    1. Multivortex would be 1 tornado to me
    2. I would probably count the multiple touchdowns multiple times, assuming a decent time gap between them
    3. Definitely not. If I didn’t see it or notice it at the time, I get no satisfaction out of counting it because I find out later it was actually there. In fact, I would feel nothing but regret about failing to experience it “in the moment”
    4. Sure, why not?
    5. Sure, why not, some landspouts can be impressive and they are serendipitous events to witness
    6. Yes, if it’s about two thirds of the way down, which as others noted almost guarantees there is a circulation on the ground. Since we know not all tornados condense all the way to the ground I think this is valid to count - but if I can’t actually see the ground circulation it’s not as satisfying and I would probably asterisk it if I were actually logging it; and in telling people about it I would probably caveat it with an explanation.
    7. Pretty much the same as #6 in my view




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  7. John Farley

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    Having taught statistics for years, of course I have to be a numbers geek and count! :) My approach is pretty similar to Dan and others. With regard to ones I catch on camera or video but did not see or was not sure about at the time, I count them. After all, I did at least document it photographically. Waterspouts I do not count as tornadoes, not that it matters much since I have only seen two in my life and neither was chasing. Landspouts I do count, though I am not sure I have ever seen one. What I HAVE seen is other kinds of non-supercell tornadoes such as occur with mesovortices on the leading edge of bow echoes, and those also count if the circulation extended to the ground. One thing I do differently from others in my count is have a category of "possible tornadoes" which covers situations like 7. If the NWS or someone else's video confirms what I was looking at was a tornado, I count it. But absent that, there are times when you just don't know and can't decisively say it was or was not a tornado. In cases like that, I count it as a "possible tornado."
     
  8. Todd Lemery

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    If I’m watching a tornado and blink, when I open my eyes it’s a new tornado. If I see a funnel cloud, tornado. Dust swirl under any cloud, tornado. See one on Utube, tornado. Last year was a bad year and I nailed thousands. It’s awesome!
    Seriously though, I’ve never counted before, but plan on keeping a simple log starting this year. I’ve never been very organized....
     
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  9. Dave C

    Dave C EF1

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    I don't feel a purpose or get any validation from counting. I am out there for an experience with nature and myself. While i try to chase days with photogenic storms and avoid busts by picking solid setups to spend my time and money on, I don't particularly require that I see tornadoes to be happy either. If there is a really interesting setup or environmental conditions I witness which yield one or more tornadoes, I might make some notes, but tornado count isn't key among them.

    I find the competitive count that is thrown around sometimes distasteful and for people out there for very different reasons than I am. Scientific interest or personal use of statistics is a different matter, something I could see benefit and enjoyment in. Either way I am not judging anyone, but I steer well away from looking at my chasing days as a place where score is kept for any reason. Ruins the vibe I am after and there is enough counting and factoring in regular life.

    @Todd- funny stuff, gave me a chuckle: "If I'm watching a tornado and blink....." LOL well played.
     
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  10. ChristofferB

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    Thanks for all the interesting input! Another situation I forgot to add was:

    8. Satellite tornadoes

    #1. I was a bit too lazy to add a pic but this is the part that I meant:

    https://twitter.com/StormChasingUSA/status/736589079660265472

    My initial thought, as you can see, was that there were 4 tornadoes. After being enlightened by other chasers and considering this was just two mesos, I personally now count this as two. Still, this is not the typical multi-vortex as you have real, proper funnels and not just those suvortices that looks like rain shafts which I find to be the most common.

    #2. When I wrote the question this was the part I meant (around 5:35): (my video from that day at 20x speed). It shows some proper circulation under the cloud and it seems to hold up for a while (remember the 20x) before it starts the multivortex that turns into a barrel. Looking at it again now, it seems to be one continuous tornado though. The wall cloud is licking the ground so there isn't much of a funnel cloud from which it begins.

    #3. I had a case in Nebraska last year where we discussed for hours whether there was a tornado or not. This is a photo from the event: https://twitter.com/StormChasingUSA/status/875100659711844352 - I personally counted it but I guess I will remove it from my list. As someone of you replied, what's the point really to include it?

    #4. We saw a lake waterspout last year in ND: https://twitter.com/StormChasingUSA/status/873331846825816064 - it was under the meso so it was tornadic. As it just happened to cross a lake I guess it might not even be considered a water spout (?). I guess we would have had a hard time seeing it if it would have been on the ground. Not my most impressive tornado, for sure.

    #5. I count land spouts as tornadoes, purely by definition. They can look amazing as well!

    #6. This happened during the CO/WY/NE-outbreak last year. We saw the lowering, saw the tornado report from that day, but in no way could we confirm if there was a tornado there or not. Same as in #3, I guess: what's the point, then?

    #7. I count these as well, if it really seems likely they are touching the ground. It is usually a matter of gut feeling and how far down it is. For example:

    - Not counted: https://www.instagram.com/p/BcU7M5oFr2T/?taken-by=stormchasingusa
    - Counted: https://www.instagram.com/p/BX0Y8BBF3HT/?taken-by=stormchasingusa (this was in fact a tornado, but if this would be the only thing I saw I would count it).
    - Counted: https://www.instagram.com/p/BWe6LOHFcNr/?taken-by=stormchasingusa (I believe it was a bit further down as well, before I took the photo). Crap tornado though...

    #8. My only satellite tornado: https://twitter.com/StormChasingUSA/status/603804302289707008 - in the tweet I wrote "subvortex" but I guess this is a satellite? I didn't count it as two tornadoes though - would you?. This is also a case of something I would mark down as a tornado (the larger "wedge"), although I can't see ground circulation and the funnel is not fully condensed. It just seems highly likely.

    ---

    I agree with many of you. It is not about the quantity and not about bragging. I just like documenting it as I find it amusing. I often get the question from friends etc about how many tornadoes I have seen and I always give a rough number. It is an interesting topic to discuss but I don't care all that much.
     
  11. Bob Schafer

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    Years ago I came up with a rule of thumb that I used for quite a long time but don't so much any more, though I still believe it works pretty well: If I am 80% (or more) convinced that a storm feature was a tornado, I count it. At 80% I think the number of false positives will just about evenly cancel out the false negatives. Does it even matter to anyone or anything? No, and like many others my personal career count is logged just for fun and is not intended to be gospel or have any tangible purpose whatsoever.
     
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  12. Chris Dickerson

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    I’m probably an extreme outlier in that I’ve never counted the tornadoes I’ve seen, other than an estimate at the end of each season.

    Storm chasing to me has always been like surfing; getting as close to the power of nature as possible without wiping out. I always remember “the big days” vividly, but there are so many chases where I’ve seen amazing sights and structure without even a chance of a touchdown. I know folks who consider every chase without a tornado to be a bust, whereas I consider every chance I have to chase as a blessing. After many years, I’m still as excited to just be out chasing as I was at the beginning. Also, my “real job” entails multiple daily reports and talking to clients. Just getting out away from everybody and staring down a supercell at the end of an empty road is SO cathartic to me.

    Somebody’s gotta be the “wonder of nature” guy who approaches chasing as a quasi-spiritual adrenaline burn, and I guess that’s me, lol
     
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  13. ChristofferB

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    Chris: I definitely agree with you but I don't see one thing not being compatible with the other. I love chasing and just to be out there looking at the storms is just amazing. For me, counting the tornadoes is more something I do after the season or at least during the long hours of driving.

    Having said that, I wish I could have your spiritual approach and to see each chase as a blessing. I am usually not 100% satisfied if there is no tornado, but I do enjoy many chase days with nice structure, great lightning etc. One cannot be 100% satisfied all the time, it wouldn't even be fun it were like that.
     
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  14. Chris Dickerson

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    Oh I’m not saying they’re mutually exclusive, just not my personal thing.

    And by 100% satisfied, I look at it in the sense of a novelty t-shirt I always see that says “A bad day fishing is still better than a good day at work”.

    I always recap my chases; what worked, what I need to improve, etc. But my framework is much more loose than some, and to be frank, I don’t have the meteorological education (yet) to test my hypotheses of intricate variables. There are some folks on here that blow me away with their knowledge, and if I had the same, I’d probably be more inclined to take a different approach.

    Some chases don’t pan out the way I’d hoped, but I’d still rather have a subpar chase day any day of the week, simply because it gets me away from all the distractions of the connected world, the deadlines of work, et al.
     
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  15. Jamie G Cox

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    I'm still waiting to see tornado number one. I bailed on a couple targets that ended up spawning tornadoes and I was within about 5 miles of a small one, but have yet to actually see a tornado. I haven't chased outside of southern Michigan, northeastern Indiana, northwestern Ohio yet.

    If anyone needs a driver for this week, I am free from Monday until Wednesday night/Thursday early morning lol.
     
  16. JamesCaruso

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    Maybe slightly OT, but to the points made by Chris and Christoffer, I think my perspective is sort of between yours... It really doesn’t bother me to not see a tornado, as long as I can experience an impressive supercell. But I am still trying to have the right mindset to think of it as a blessing just to be out there. I mean, I do *think* that way, and tell myself that, but that only goes so far, and I don’t always *feel* that way. If all I get is a garden-variety storm, I’m pretty disappointed. I might feel great just to be out there on the first day or two of a chase vacation, but as the available days dwindle and I’m in danger of coming home without any good supercells (again, don’t really care if there are no tornados) I start getting pretty cranky. Even if I do see some great supercell structure but miss a tornado that did occur and that others saw, I get really pi$$ed off at myself.

    This has the potential to be quite the psychologically unhealthy hobby without really working at obtaining the right mindset!
     
  17. Jeff House

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    More for chase vacations, I consider just one intercept success. Will it satisfy? Well, that's a whole other question. Only bust is if all days fail. Intercepts half the days is considered a big success. 2/3 days satisfies well.

    Broadly I agree with all above it is more than just tornadoes. However tornadoes are the main purpose. One of my favorite chase days last trip was 5/22/16 when we somehow did not see the Memphis TX tornado despite being there. However the inflow was jaw dropping mind boggling awe inspiring. 1-2 mile long train of dust was going into the storm. At one point I was afraid it's a ghost train so we pulled back. Believe it was more typical broad inflow over dry terrain. Anyway it was so eerie and awesome!

    Woodward and all of the DDC cycles the next two days made the trip a resounding success. However the no-tornado Memphis TX day is also a great memory. Chapman/Bennington 2 remains a tough miss though, we stayed too long east of ICT, but DDC pretty much takes away the pain.

    I did not go last year. Total Solar Eclipse IMBY was a nice trade though. Had saved the time just in case. Looking very forward to this year!
     
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  18. Todd Lemery

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    Not to continue the path off topic, but the one thing better than seeing a tornado is putting someone else in position to see their first tornado. To see that look in someone’s eyes and to know you helped make that happen is priceless. I’ll have the opportunity to do it that again as soon as next week with a retired gentleman that has always wanted to, but has never seen a tornado. I know there’s a few people on this site that kind of specialize in that kind of thing. Kudos to you
     
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  19. Shane Young

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    To be honest, I always encouraged folks to just count days... and to use a criteria of a clear touchdown of meaningful time (always called it the one minute rule, though there's no necessary precision in that). The point is you see it... you don't need to check your video later or need someone else to confirm it... have time to "enjoy" it and take it in (generally the idea was you get time to stop and watch it/take pictures/etc... though certainly storm motion and position can make that a challenge at times).

    And then when it comes to count for a day, I never saw a ton of point, for the exact reasons you mentioned (what constitutes separate touchdowns gets so foggy). In the end, is a 30 minute long track tornado better or worse than 3 tornadoes lasting a few minutes each? (Or 10 brief touchdowns!?!) Admittedly I didn't have days where I clearly saw multiple long-lasting tornadoes, so that might be an influence. But had enough days where there were murky 2nd and 3rd tornadoes.

    In the end, when you look back, each day has special reflections, but what matters is how many of the special days you had?
    Or really... even just that you got each day that was an opportunity to get out to chase in the first place :)
     
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  20. Jeff House

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    Yes, I tend to remember tornado days much more than even cycles and certainly more than total tornadoes. Within a day I agree total tornado minutes is most correlated to satisfaction. Can be one long tornado or multiple cycles.

    Then you have the intangibles. Two of my best meteorological chases were DDC and Harper/Attica. However two more with fewer cycles, but still great multi-cyclical shows, are ranked as high thanks to the mix of chase partners or somebody's first great tornado day. Those for me are Rozel and the Hennessey OK show a few days after Quinter. Could not go Quinter day but Hennessey was a nice consolation. Somebody else mentioned Hennessey on here a few days back. Maybe due to Quinter, Hennessey is a forgotten 3-4 cycle show.
     
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  21. James Wilson

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    My opinion of which I have changed my mind a few times ...

    1. A multi-vortex tornado is one tornado as such we do not call it a multi-vortex tornadoes IMO

    2. I count all tornadoes out of the same mesocyclone as long as it touches and is gone (no funnel or anything) for at least a minute. Skipping is still one to me.

    3. If at the time I think I see one and then later enhance and confirm it counts. If I am enhancing photos and see one it does not count.

    4. I have not seen a water spout yet so I would have to think on that

    5. I count land spouts but they are like bird farts to me.

    6. I count these if for example I see the edge of a rain wrapped wedge. I consider I saw a tornado if I only see the top but do not count it usually unless I can see at least some swirl or debris.

    7. This one is usually just a maybenado unless the radar at the time strongly supports a tornado.
     
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  22. Greg McLaughlin

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    Here is a brief tornado I count, however the NWS decided not to call this an official tornado because they couldn't access the property to survey any possible damage. The storm was tornado warned at the time of this video.
     

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