How do you count tornadoes seen?

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Jul 5, 2009
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Newtown, Pennsylvania
I count for myself. I really couldn't care less what anyone else is doing or not.

I don’t think most of the posts in this thread are intended in a competitive way. I took at as just, you know, when you love chasing, it’s fun to discuss all of these subjective nuances on the continuum of possible experiences. I, for one, have a somewhat geeky interest in taxonomy, so this topic kind of relates.

Having said that, I am sure that for some chasers their “count” is a source of competitive pride, and I could see this making a great topic for a future Dead Chasers Society video!
 
Aug 22, 2015
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Hastings, Nebraska
For me personally I have land spouts and other non supercell tornadoes in their own category. Otherwise any tornadic circulation ( as in visible ground debris) I see is counted to me as a tornado. However, I am very hesitant when it comes to actually calling things a tornado. I have to clearly observe ground and cloud circulation before I will even say its a tornado, even in my video.
 
Aug 27, 2009
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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.
I agree completely on that. Tornado days is a far more interesting number in that case. I mean, a DDC day obviously beats any other day but for more reasons than the shear amount, but I usually prefer seeing 3 tornadoes in 3 days than 6 tornadoes in one day. Still, it is not a matter of a count to relate to someone else's count but more of a variable to evaluate a season. 2018 I had one single tornado day with 5-6 tornadoes (Cope, CO, land spout fest) on a 16 day chasecation, and although that Cope day was amazing, I would have preferred to have had more tornado days spread out through my chase.

Although tornadoes are my primary goal they are not always what I remember the most of a tornado day. For example Pampa, TX 2016 (a few days prior to DDC, same day as the better Spearman, TX, tornado) offered 4 tornadoes but the lightning that day is what I remember the most. It was the best (or worst, if you will) I have ever witnessed. Like artillery striking down on us, shaking the ground so you could feel it even inside the car.

I guess most of us mainly wants to be awe-struck when we chase. Tornadoes almost always create that feeling but a well structured supercell could beat many tornadoes, a beautiful setting, amazing lightning, large hail, interesting features etc would beat many of the tornadoes I saw in Pampa.
 
Jun 16, 2015
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Oklahoma City, OK
quincyvagell.com
Reviving this thread a bit for a question/topic and a few other relevant observations from the past few weeks.

For anyone who chased the rain-wrapped tornado near Lawrence, KS on May 28th, are you counting that as a tornado seen, even if it was not clearly visible? It may not matter much. For my own stats, I am going to count it as a tornado, since it was a historical EF-4 and I may have driven through the beginning of it. (as a reference, I was only a block or two away from where a tour van was flipped around the same time) It was a bit different than most rain-wrapped tornadoes I've been near and there was no safe way of seeing it, unless you were in its direct path, or if you got lucky and managed a brief view of the wedge.

Another tornado that I saw that might be worthy of this topic was a brief tornado I saw on May 25th of this year, near Anton, TX. When I first saw a funnel cloud forming out of the corner of my eye, I went back to footage later to review the event. The NWS never counted this as an actual tornado, perhaps because my initial reports to NWS Lubbock were to report it as a funnel cloud/possible tornado. It was tornado-warned around this time, but there was no apparent damage and the probable tornado was short-lived.
There were a couple of other reports of brief tornadoes later that event. As I mentioned on Twitter, these were not classic cases of tornadoes forming within a well-developed supercell, but instead hybrid supercells that, through boundary interaction, produced a few brief spin-ups.

We've discussed landspouts in this thread and while I do understand that they are tornadoes by definition, I rarely count them in my own personal stats. I observed a landspout like this on May 31st near Marathon, TX. This landspout was one of the odder ones that I have seen, as it was displaced away from the storm (by a couple of miles), was clearly not even close to being connected to any cloud base and just seemed to be an oddball. I will count it as a landspout, but not by definition of what I would count as a tornado seen.

I'm referencing this thread in another post, but I thought it might also be a good time to revive this as many of us who chased during the historical stretch in late May of this year may have a few more cases to discuss that could be argued as counting or not counting as tornadoes seen.
 
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Mar 30, 2008
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Norman, OK
www.benholcomb.com
Like @Shane Adams, I count for myself. I count multivortex as 1, satellites as a separate tornadoes (seems kinda contradictory, but eh), and landspouts count, although I've never seen one. As far as quincy's question, I counted April 27, 2014 Vilonia/Mayflower tornado as I was in position to see it, I could hear it but between rain wrapped, dark and unsafe terrain, we hung back a distance. I still experienced the inflow winds, the aural effects and even could smell the famous tornado damage smell right afterwards. The only sense I didn't have was sight and touch.

My list is at Storm Chasing Statistics - Ben Holcomb
 
Jun 1, 2008
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Chattanooga, TN
www.linkedin.com
Regrettably we did not get any simultaneous multiple tornadoes. However Wed May 22 we did see two cycles of single tornado each. Two cycles certainly extends the show.

DDC is the ultimate example of multiple cycles, multiple tornadoes each. Clark, it doesn't get any better than that!

What part is better? If one measures by tornado minutes, do you double count twins?

Well, we have one day to help answer that. Rozel had two cycles. Second cycle had another funnel, which unbeknownst to us at the time touched down. We were far enough so no safety issue. While the double was nice, the two cycles is what extended the show.

Personal preference: I'll take two consecutive cycles (single tornadoes each) over a double at once. Two cycles is a longer show.
 
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Aug 9, 2012
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Galesburg, IL
www.facebook.com
I count mainly for myself, not that it really matters all that much. Days with incredible structure+lightning combo sometimes outweigh tornado days for me, mainly because I'm into the photography side of things. Anyway, I'll play along. Here are a couple example from this last spring here:

1st image is south of Mangum, OK looking northeast from NW of East Duke. I was way out of position on the storm and couldn't discern anything visually with my eyes other than fast moving haze and what I thought was the right edge of something. Several days later after I got home from my trip and looked at photoshop. After contrasting the image and dehazing, and then seeing Matt Zuro's photo from a similar vantage point, I deduced what I saw was likely the Mangum tornado. Would I count this? I don't know. I was way too far away, so I really didn't get the "experience". So for me, probably not, but others might. Doesn't really matter, image quality is downright terrible:

18613

Here is an example of something I would count. This was NW of Benson, IL on May 27th. Originally I thought this was a high based funnel cloud, however Hunter Anderson was able to videotape ground circulation as he was a lot closer than me and ILX confirmed a brief EF0 tornado in the area:

18614

Final example of something I would count. Rushville, IL on May 22nd. I originally didn't count this because of the uncertainty, being at night, being a good distance away and all that jazz. However NWS Lincoln confirmed a 2 mile long damage path from an EF0 tornado just east of Rushville, IL in the direction I was looking and used my photo to confirm that. So that is an example of something I'd probably count, given I was able to help a local WFO confirm something, even though there was minor tree damage in the area so it probably still would have been confirmed had I not been there:

18615

18616

Anyway those are my few example from this year, sorry they couldn't be better, haven't had the best of luck this year...although it could have been worse I suppose.
 
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Jun 16, 2015
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Oklahoma City, OK
quincyvagell.com
I also count Mayflower, even though I did not have a clear visual.

In the past, I did not count tornadoes unless they were verified by the NWS, but sometimes there are brief touchdowns that do no damage. Yes, NWS sometimes acknowledges EF-0s or EF-?s, but not always. In recent years, if I had enough evidence that there was a tornado, and/or it was collaborated by other chasers, then it makes sense to count it my personal records. Needless to say, it's pretty rare that I will see (count) a tornado that the NWS does not acknowledge.

For me, counting mainly comes down to stats. I have several chase spreadsheets that I maintain. In recent years, I've seen several tornadoes, but not many that were photogenic, or at least not ones that I was able to properly photograph. I like to go back and analyze where I saw tornadoes, when I saw them and under what conditions they were the most favorable. So, for me, it's about research and going back to see how I did with the forecast. I like to see what patterns there are and there are some periods of time that stand out as a sore thumb as being regular times in which I have seen tornadoes. For example, most chasers have had a lot of luck in mid to late May, as you'd expect, but aside from 2016, I've not had much success in that period. This year changed that a bit, but most of the tornadoes I saw were brief, rain-wrapped or otherwise not easily photographed during the same stretch. I've had more success in June and other periods stand out, such as the final week of April...

I also agree that I will take structure/lightning over a brief glimpse at a mushy funnel or something else that is low-contrast or rain-wrapped. Many of my best non-tornado chases were with long-lived supercells in the High Plains/northern Plains that, often, did not come close to producing a tornado.
 

James K

EF2
Mar 26, 2019
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Colorado
Since I haven't yet seen my 1st tornado, I'm going by thought alone on these.

1: I would count a multi-vortex as a single unit

2: I'd probably count then as separate tornadoes. (if the funnel didn't fully disappear, I'd probably count it as one)

3: That's a tough one..I really don't know if I would or not (I tend to think if I videoed it I'd say 'yes' , but if just a still photo 'no')

4: Yes I'd count a waterspout (even if it technically isn't a 'real' tornado)

5: Yes I'd count a landspout (even if it technically isn't a 'real' tornado)

6: Yes, as long as it was officially confirmed as a tornado, I would count it as well.

7: I'd just count it as a funnelcloud, not a tornado.

8: I'd probably count a satellite tornado as a separate...but it'd really depend on how close it was to the main one.

9: Dust devils.. I wouldn't count them as tornadoes, but might start keeping some track & even videoing if I get the chance.
I've seen YouTube videos of larger ones where the 'funnel' looks pretty darn tornado-ish, and have in person seen smaller ones on multiple occasions. (infact a small dust devil is the only thing I've ever got...lets just say a good up close personal view of :lol: )
 
Dec 8, 2003
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Southeast CO
www.youtube.com
"Officially confirmed as a tornado"? What, by the SPC? There have been tons of tornadoes that I can tell you right now were 100% absolutely positively real bona-fide tornadoes that were not "officially confirmed". FWIW.

BTW, that's not a knock on the SPC. It's not their job to document every single tornado, and there's no way they could possibly do that even if they were supposed to.
 
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Sep 29, 2011
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Fort Worth, TX
www.passiontwist.com
I count based on visual observations. Basically, I count tornado cycles. Some chasers count mesocyclones, but IMO that's selling yourself (and the storm) short. I've seen multiple tornadoes come and go from the same mesocyclone without an obvious hard occlusion/handoff between tornadoes. May 3, 1999 is a great example. Ongoing tornado roped, disappeared, but the rotation above persisted and continued along with the storm. Minutes later, another tornado from the same rotation. That's two tornadoes by counting tornadoes, one by counting mesocyclones (which would be incorrect as far as actual tornado count).

To be "fair" I've posted a video clip that displays an example where I only counted the entire sequence as one tornado, while many other chasers credited themselves with multiple tubes. The reason I count all of this as a single tornado is simple: The parent rotation was continuous, and the ground circulation (even though the condensation vanished many times) was constantly present.......

 

James K

EF2
Mar 26, 2019
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6
Colorado
Bob Schafer said:
"Officially confirmed as a tornado"? What, by the SPC? There have been tons of tornadoes that I can tell you right now were 100% absolutely positively real bona-fide tornadoes that were not "officially confirmed". FWIW.
SPC, NWS, even just a local TV weather report (actually another chaser/spotter video would be enough for me too .. so I guess thinking about it, it doesn't have to be "official" by the books)