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Warnings based on Rotating Storms vs. Actual Tornado Touchdown

First off - "debris ball" is WAY overused. Until you are looking with dual-pole, you can't be sure that it's debris.

But the problem with your theory is that 1) areas with low spotter coverage would never get tornado warnings 2) many tornadoes are short lived, as in 10 minutes or less. Considering it would take a minimum of 3-5 minutes to get a report in and the warning sent back out, by the time you're sending it the damage is pretty much done.

Oh don't get me wrong, I think the current system is fine and that the reasons people give for choosing to ignore tornado warnings that they receive are ridiculous, and that the "problem" isn't warning procedures or radar detection, but peoples' cavalier attitudes toward weather and refusal to be proactive about it. I guess I was just suggesting that changing the system in a way that will address those peoples' "complaints" can only result in a less-efficient system and more deaths and injuries.
Why doesn't the NWS change the software code to scan more frequently and get quicker updates?
The faster you rotate the antenna, the more beam smearing will occur. This can be compensated by accepting fewer pulses per sample volume, but then you will increase the noise in the data. There have been attempts to overcome this via oversampling: http://bit.ly/mgkFhk

Or at least have a mode to switch to when you have a situation where more frequent updates would be useful? Is it a data infrastructure issue?
The WSR-88Ds can operate in different modes that can be machine-selectable or manually overridden.

One other way to speed up volume scans is to reduce the number of vertical tilts. Since the data nearest the ground has more value in warning decision making, interlacing additional 0.5 degree elevation scans in the volume scan also helps - this is what TDWR radars do now.

Or, have an electronically-steered beam like a phased-array radar (PAR).
Just chiming in here with a few ideas..

1) NWS has a Text alert system. (http://inws.wrh.noaa.gov/) To date, I don't know anyone that doesn't have a cell or is not with someone with a cell at all times. So that should help solve the problem of getting the message out there. Similarly, there could easily be a system where social network users are notified via those systems by the NWS, in case they do not want to receive texts. Information for this system could really be getting out more than it is already. Public service announcements are FREE to put on air, should they be accepted by the stations/networks. It's actually one way indy/novice videographers get their start. :)

Problems I see with this.. Cell/data tower overload, loss of power, etc. Sadly, this system sounds great, in theory, but I'm just not so sure about how reliable it would be in a severe weather situation. Still, I think it's worth looking into because, with today's rapidly developing technological society, I'm sure we can come up with some sort of fix/workaround. Maybe something satellite based? I dunno.

2) I'm not too familiar with how the weather sirens work, and if they all work the same or they are region/county/city specific, but it would be greatly beneficial to have shorter warning bursts to indicate the need to be aware of potentially incoming severe weather. I know in Dallas, where I grew up, they would do something like this from time to time, but the so-called "short" bursts seemed to last almost a minute. Would it be possible to have a series of say, 3, really shorty bursts?? Almost like Morse code, or the NWS Alerts for the radio. If this is not possible, perhaps installing a new siren-type system on the same siren-poles that would do the trick?

So, maybe you can have 3-short burts for "hey, turn on the tv, radio or get online/noaa", a series of 30-second or 1-min bursts for "tornado warning in your area, possible tornado, prepare shelters "& a long, consistent sirent for "verified touchdown. seek shelter immediately. meteorologists have predicted you are in the path of a tornado".

Problems I see with this, however are.... Liability, potential for inaccurate forecasts/warnings & desensitization People are desensitized to sirens these days in the plains, valley, etc. but creating such a detailed system for warnings may have a similar effect. People may not heed a "possible tornado" warning when, in fact, there was a tornado, just not spotted. or, shortly after this warning was made, a tornado winds up and touches down on someones house immediately after, yet before the sustained siren went off & thus creating a minimal, yet potentially dangerous window where there is simply no way to know for sure if you are in danger or not in between the warning "steps" or w/e..

Additionally when the sirens are going off, you are hearing more than one siren in your area. If there are sirens signalling with intermittent series, it would prolly sound like a jumbled mess. I'm sure, however, that with today's technology, audio engineers can figure out a way around this. Still, a roadbump, nonetheless.

3) Well, I had a 3rd idear.. but it's totally left me now.. hehe.. I'll post it up tho when I can remember what it was. @_@

And touching the subject with the reporting/spotting accuracy..

I'm not really sure about a fix for this yet, but I do see what could be causing a lot of problems. First, I'd like to say that the twitter/social network/texting ideas sound great but would be potentially undependable based on the same reason for "#1" - cell/data towers & power. Therefore, a threshold-type algorithm would be impractical but, possibly, having forecasters or their associates monitor them manually and make determinations themselves might be more practical.

Sadly, the thing that's best for forecasting has also become the worst, imo - the advent of modern mass-communication technology. It's given us so many routes to receive reports, however, that is also the problem in itself. Just watch any news station during a recent outbreak and you will see them mention all the various sources that they are receiving information from. I think this IS great, don't get me wrong, but it also seems to cause confusion and clutter within the studios and potentially slow-down forecasts.

Not a solution, but just a thought.. If there could be more organization on how spotters & civies send in information, then this might help streamline things, logistically. I know in Dallas, SKYWARN communicates with the meteorologists via Ham Radio, which is (imo) highly effective. However, Hams are few and far between these days. =\

All-In-All, I think there is one thing that just about anyone can do or request/nag/demand be done with little monetary or physical effort, considering the alternatives that will help solve a lot of these issues is and that is... more PSA's, more iniative and proactiveness, and less reactiveness.

OK IM DONE.. I swear.. and sorry for the epically long post. =[
1) The NWS alert system is for EM/media/related. But I agree, there are plenty of free systems to do that. Text messaging is MUCH more valuable than NOAA Weather Radio for one big reason -- market penetration. Less than 5% of the public has a NWR. Nobody takes that radio around with them while mobile. Cell phones are a little better at that ;)

2) Sirens are simply made to let people know "bad things could be coming, turn on your TV or check the web and find out why."

I'm not sure what you mean about a lack of organization. There is a very good system for reporting that (SpotterNetwork) and a great system for coordinating with all partners (NWSChat.)
there is no algorithm that we know of YET. everything in this world is made up of math, and numbers, there is a code, it just hasn't been discovered yet and it may not make sense to us yet. and we may never find it, but I believe that you thinking there is no code, is just your opinion, as my belief that there is a code is my opinion

It's infinitely more complex than just finding the correct equations. Comparatively speaking, that's actually the easy part -- and it is far from "easy".

Just because we can find the equations, doesn't mean we know how to solve them. The atmosphere is governed by the partial-differential equation(s) known as the Navier-Stokes equation along with the other fundamental laws of the universe. The problem here is that we don't know how to solve the Navier-Stokes equation except in very idealized situations. Everything else is an approximate solution. Even though we can get the approximate solution correct out to several decimal places, Lorenz showed that this isn't good enough. What most people would consider "noise" (the part of the solution well right of the decimal point), turns out to have potentially dramatic impacts on the final solution.

Assuming we could solve the Navier-Stokes equation(s), there is still the issue of modeling the continuous world we live in by a series of discrete grid boxes. The whole notion of the "butterfly effect" can be explained as details that occur sub-grid scale (beneath the resolution of the model) can potentially have dramatic effects on the final solution. We already saw this with our global models that cannot resolve convection. We have to parameterize convection and hope that we get the impacts correct. Moving to convection-allowing models has improved the impact of thunderstorms on numerical forecasts, but we still aren't modeling all of the thunderstorm, because most of the thunderstorm still occurs sub-grid scale. As a general rule of thumb, you need a minimum of 4 grid-boxes, and really at least 8 grid-boxes, to be able to resolve a feature in a numerical model. This means to resolve a 2-km thunderstorm, you need a minimum resolution of 500 meters and really a resolution of at least 250 meters.

Just having the computing power doesn't mean that we can correctly model the atmosphere. We then have to have correct initial conditions at the resolution of the model. This means that to model the 2-km thunderstorm, we'll need surface (and upper air!) instrumentation every 250 meters. Can you imagine how dense of observational network would have to be to correctly model even the most intense tornadoes? What about the weaker, and typically smaller, ones?

As challenging as it will be to build the computing resources to improve the precision of the solutions to the equations we already know, getting observations on higher resolution scales is the more difficult to achieve.
Those of you who have read Warnings know that it makes the case that meteorologists can now, with high accuracy, specifically warn of the path of major tornadoes. Yet, it appears that many emergency managers still believe it is 1963 -- they sound sirens over entire counties or, in some cases, over multiple whole counties! Given the significant anecdotal evidence that the sirens were (at least at first) largely ignored in Joplin, this has come a big issue: http://meteorologicalmusings.blogspot.com/2011/05/selective-siren-activation-part-3.html

I was in St. Louis Wednesday then sirens were activated over the entire county even though a only small part of the county was threatened each time. KMOV TV interviewed me and the emergency manager: [video]http://www.kmov.com/news/local/Could-a-mass-sounding-of-tornado-sirens-do-more-harm-than-good-122759099.html[/video]. The EM says, "you never know what path a tornado is going to take." Similar comments were made earlier this week by the EM of Johnson Co., Kansas.

Question to the several stormtrack members who are EM's: Is the concept of storm-based warnings still foreign to the EM community? If so, what do we do to change that?

In St louis co mo they take an interesting approach to sirens they sound them if an adjacent co has a warning or if stl co is warned. Problem w slow moving storms is the sirens go off for a long time and people ignore them. Too many false positives.

Also the system here is set up for outdoor notification only. They expect people to have a NOAA radio or be watching tv to get notification.

Where I live, just south of stl the terrain doesn't allow for cost effective sirens. So areas have reverse 911 but you have to sign up for it.

If there was more general public communication of the free options and the cell carriers allowed these alerts to be sent via txt for free there might be more adoption and better public awareness.

Apathy is a problem and always will be. We need to eliminate the false positives. Have sirens/alerts use polygons etc.

I just wish broadcasters would come to the point quicker when a tornado warning is issued. The warning should be done as follows I suggest:

Tornado at (give local landmarks) moving (give direction) at (give speed). Repeat this at least twice, THEN fill in with all the mundane details. Right now a tornado could move half a mile closer to you in the time it takes for the broadcast to get around to telling you where it really is and where it is going.

Question to the several stormtrack members who are EM's: Is the concept of storm-based warnings still foreign to the EM community? If so, what do we do to change that?

I've done my best to educate my local community and most that I know personally are onboard with polygon alerts. However many of their siren systems are not compatible with polygons, so while the message might go out in some form - the sirens don't follow.

Tornado at (give local landmarks) moving (give direction) at (give speed). Repeat this at least twice, THEN fill in with all the mundane details.

When you can see the tornado thanks to a chaser stream or webcam, then they do it. But 95% of the time the exact location is not known (let alone if a tornado exists.) What you are expecting is simply not possible.
Those of you who have read Warnings know that it makes the case that meteorologists can now, with high accuracy, specifically warn of the path of major tornadoes. Yet, it appears that many emergency managers still believe it is 1963 -- they sound sirens over entire counties or, in some cases, over multiple whole counties! Given the significant anecdotal evidence that the sirens were (at least at first) largely ignored in Joplin, this has come a big issue...

This is complicated issue involving many factors:

1) Are we giving people enough time to react?

2) Are we giving too much lead time -reducing the urgency of the warning?

3) Is it worth risking lives when we know storms can change direction?

4) Do warnings actually change the outcome on an individual level? In other words, does simply knowing about a tornado actually result in people taking extraordinary action to protect themselves?

Part of the St. Louis County siren policy --sounding 200+ sirens for tornado warnings issued for adjacent counties-- was a knee-jerk reaction to a surprise tornado that struck Florissant, MO several years ago. As long as you have politicians, not scientists, making warning policy there will always be the tendency to cover one's ass --or to put it in politically correct terms "err on the side of safety".

That said, there does remain uncertainty as to the absolute track a storm will take and given the potential for mass casualties in a large metro area the threshold for triggering local warning systems may need be lower than is meteorologically warranted. This is the "but, what if..." philosophy.

Clearly polygon (storm-based) warnings provide a much better fit than county-based warnings. While using software to allow triggering of all or just certain sirens based on known conditions is not technically difficult it is politically challenging. Who sets the threshold? How close is too close? These are difficult questions.

Now that said, I do have a problem with cities (and Oklahoma City is one of them) that activate their sirens simply out of panic or because neighboring communities are activating theirs. Last Tuesday we had a major tornado outbreak here. While the storms were still well west of the metro Oklahoma City was sounding the sirens --with clear skies. Now one might argue that this early activation saved lives by giving people 45 minutes to an hour "lead time" since the metro was eventually placed under a tornado warning. Others, however, would argue that despite the carnage going on out west the Oklahoma City metro are was in no imminent danger. Activating the sirens may have only confused residents who were expecting to see a storm in the next few minutes and may have reduced the effectiveness of the sirens when they were later sounded for warnings specifically affecting the metro.

In an ideal world sirens should only be sounded when there's actually a tornado (either visually or highly evident on radar). In reality though there is a lot of uncertainty. Only though sane policies can we make decisions which account for the uncertainty while taking into account the multitude of reasons people choose NOT to take shelter. After all, warnings don't save lives, only actions save lives.