Tornado Fatailities and the NWS Dual-Polarization Radar Upgrades


One of the fatalities occurred in this area near Jackson Gap. The NWS warnings for this storm were very clear, telling people to “seek shelter underground” and that a debris signature was appearing on radar.

Some people might ask is it worth it to upgrade the National Weather Service (NWS) radars to this “new” dual-pol technology.  While only 25% of the 160 radar sites around the country have been upgraded, the performance in the March 2, 2012 Tornado Outbreak is quite an impressive statement to the effectiveness of the technology.

During the March 2nd tornado outbreak, many of the tornadoes occurred in areas where the radars have already been upgraded.  When the debris was detected by the dual-pole technology, meteorologists could enhance their tornado warnings, confirming that a damaging tornado was indeed on the ground.  These signatures are essentially as good as visually confirmation of the tornadoes being on the ground.  The technology works because when the radar beams hit debris (leaves, shingles, branches, parts of houses, etc), there is a different signature from what is seen by the radar.  In the graphic above, you can see the blue area in a circle.  This area means that the radar is seeing a “different” signature from the surrounding areas.  When this is in the same location as strong rotation as seen by the doppler velocity products, it is essentially a confirmation of a tornado on the ground at the time of the radar sweep, or just before that time.

This will be significant with difficult-to-see tornadoes, especially ones that are either rain-wrapped or occurring in the overnight hours.  This is crucial because many people still try to look for the tornadoes before taking shelter.  The ability of the National Weather Service Forecast Offices (NWSFOs) to enhance their wording to essentially say “yes it’s confirmed… so get in your shelter immediately” is crucial to saving life from some of the deadliest weather events that we face.

This brings up a very interesting point looking at the tornado deaths in 2012 through this week’s outbreak.  Of the 45 deaths so far this year, only 2 have been within 60 miles of an upgraded radar site (where Tornado Debris Signatures can can be effectively identified).  Additionally, the fatalities from the Jefferson County, AL tornadoes on January 23rd, 2012 would have been in the coverage area, but the dual-pol upgrade was actually being performed at the time of that tornado and the technology was not yet available for use.

We could just be very unfortunate that the fatal tornadoes this year have primarily occurred in the areas without the improved coverage, not giving those areas the same benefit of this new technology.  However one thing is quite clear.  The National Weather Service is doing a much better job at their verbage and training on warnings based on the new dual-polarization products when they can be used.

Map of current Tornado Debris Signature coverage areas (60 miles from radar sites with Dual-Pol upgrade). Also shown are the counties that have experienced tornado fatailities through March 3, 2012. Only 2 of the 40+ fatalities have occurred within the 60 mile zone around the upgraded radar sites.

As more and more sites are upgraded throughout this year and going into 2013, we’ll start to see how much of an impact there really is.  However from what we have seen so far, it looks very promising that warnings will be better and lives will be saved as a result.

BULLETIN – EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
TORNADO WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE BIRMINGHAM AL
1011 PM CST FRI MAR 2 2012

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN BIRMINGHAM HAS ISSUED A

* TORNADO WARNING FOR…
SOUTHERN COOSA COUNTY IN EAST CENTRAL ALABAMA…

* UNTIL 1100 PM CST

* AT 1009 PM CST…NWS DOPPLER RADAR INDICATES A POSSIBLE TORNADO
WITH A DEBRIS SIGNATURE ASSOCIATED WITH THIS STORM.  IT IS 14 MILES
EAST OF CLANTON. DOPPLER RADAR SHOWED THIS TORNADO MOVING EAST AT 55
MPH.

* LOCATIONS IMPACTED INCLUDE…
ROCKFORD…EQUALITY…WELONA…SPEED…PENTONVILLE…COTTAGE
GROVE…NIXBURG…HIGHWAY 9 AND HIGHWAY 22…HISSOP AND RAY.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

TO REPEAT…A TORNADO IS ON THE GROUND. TAKE COVER NOW. FOR YOUR
PROTECTION MOVE TO AN INTERIOR ROOM ON THE LOWEST FLOOR OF A STURDY
BUILDING.

—-

SEVERE WEATHER STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE BIRMINGHAM AL
1022 PM CST FRI MAR 2 2012

ALC037-030500-
/O.CON.KBMX.TO.W.0028.000000T0000Z-120303T0500Z/
COOSA AL-
1022 PM CST FRI MAR 2 2012

…A TORNADO WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR SOUTHEASTERN COOSA COUNTY
UNTIL 1100 PM CST…

AT 1019 PM CST…EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT REPORTED EXTENSIVE DAMAGE FROM
A POSSIBLE TORNADO.  TAKE SHELTER NOW IF YOU ARE IN THIS WARNING.
THIS TORNADO WAS LOCATED NEAR PENTONVILLE…OR 7 MILES SOUTHWEST OF
ROCKFORD…MOVING EAST AT 55 MPH.

LOCATIONS IMPACTED INCLUDE…
ROCKFORD…COTTAGE GROVE…NIXBURG…HIGHWAY 9 AND HIGHWAY 22…
HISSOP…RAY AND FISHPOND.

SEVERE WEATHER STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE BIRMINGHAM AL
1031 PM CST FRI MAR 2 2012

ALC037-030500-
/O.CON.KBMX.TO.W.0028.000000T0000Z-120303T0500Z/
COOSA AL-
1031 PM CST FRI MAR 2 2012

…A TORNADO WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR EAST CENTRAL COOSA COUNTY
UNTIL 1100 PM CST…

AT 1029 PM CST…EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT REPORTED A POSSIBLE TORNADO
WITH EXTENSIVE DAMAGE ASSOCIATED WITH THIS STORM.  THIS TORNADO WAS
LOCATED NEAR COTTAGE GROVE…OR 6 MILES NORTH OF EQUALITY…MOVING
EAST AT 55 MPH.

LOCATIONS IMPACTED INCLUDE…
RAY AND FISHPOND.

BULLETIN – EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
TORNADO WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE BIRMINGHAM AL
1034 PM CST FRI MAR 2 2012

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN BIRMINGHAM HAS ISSUED A

* TORNADO WARNING FOR…
NORTHERN TALLAPOOSA COUNTY IN EAST CENTRAL ALABAMA…

* UNTIL 1115 PM CST

* AT 1029 PM CST…EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT REPORTED DAMAGE CAUSED BY A
POSSIBLE TORNADO NEAR COTTAGE GROVE…OR 6 MILES NORTH OF EQUALITY.
DOPPLER RADAR SHOWED   THIS TORNADO MOVING EAST AT 55 MPH.

* LOCATIONS IMPACTED INCLUDE…
ALEXANDER CITY…WIND CREEK STATE PARK…HILLABEE CREEK…JACKSONS’
GAP…JACKSONS GAP…NEW SITE…EAGLE CREEK…HORSESHOE BEND
NATIONAL MILITARY PARK…HORSESHOE BEND AND DAVISTON.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

TO REPEAT…A TORNADO IS ON THE GROUND. TAKE COVER NOW. FOR YOUR
PROTECTION MOVE TO AN INTERIOR ROOM ON THE LOWEST FLOOR OF A STURDY
BUILDING.

SEVERE WEATHER STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE BIRMINGHAM AL
1049 PM CST FRI MAR 2 2012

ALC123-030515-
/O.CON.KBMX.TO.W.0029.000000T0000Z-120303T0515Z/
TALLAPOOSA AL-
1049 PM CST FRI MAR 2 2012

…A TORNADO WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR NORTHERN TALLAPOOSA COUNTY
UNTIL 1115 PM CST…

AT 1044 PM CST…EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT REPORTED A TORNADO.  IF YOU
ARE IN THIS WARNING YOU NEED TO BE IN AN UNDERGROUND SHELTER.  THIS
TORNADO WAS LOCATED NEAR WIND CREEK STATE PARK…OR NEAR ALEXANDER
CITY…MOVING EAST AT 55 MPH.

LOCATIONS IMPACTED INCLUDE…
JACKSONS’ GAP…JACKSONS GAP…EAGLE CREEK…HORSESHOE BEND
NATIONAL MILITARY PARK…HORSESHOE BEND AND DAVISTON.


SEVERE WEATHER STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE BIRMINGHAM AL
1058 PM CST FRI MAR 2 2012

ALC123-030515-
/O.CON.KBMX.TO.W.0029.000000T0000Z-120303T0515Z/
TALLAPOOSA AL-
1058 PM CST FRI MAR 2 2012

…A TORNADO WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR EAST CENTRAL TALLAPOOSA
COUNTY UNTIL 1115 PM CST…

AT 1053 PM CST…EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT REPORTED A TORNADO.  RADAR IS
ALSO INDICATING THE POTENTIAL OF A DEBRIS SIGNATURE.  IF YOU ARE IN
THIS WARNING…YOU NEED TO BE IN AN UNDERGROUND SHELTER RIGHT NOW. 
THIS TORNADO WAS LOCATED NEAR JACKSONS GAP…OR 6 MILES NORTH OF
DADEVILLE…MOVING EAST AT 60 MPH.

LOCATIONS IMPACTED INCLUDE…
MAINLY RURAL AREAS OF EASTERN TALLAPOOSA COUNTY.

SEVERE WEATHER STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE BIRMINGHAM AL
1103 PM CST FRI MAR 2 2012

ALC123-030515-
/O.CON.KBMX.TO.W.0029.000000T0000Z-120303T0515Z/
TALLAPOOSA AL-
1103 PM CST FRI MAR 2 2012

…A TORNADO WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR EAST CENTRAL TALLAPOOSA
COUNTY UNTIL 1115 PM CST…

AT 1058 PM CST…EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT REPORTED A TORNADO.  NWS RADAR
ALSO INDICATED THE POTENTIAL OF DEBRIS WITH THIS STORM.  THIS
TORNADO WAS LOCATED 8 MILES NORTHWEST OF RIDGE GROVE…OR 9 MILES
NORTHEAST OF DADEVILLE…MOVING EAST AT 55 MPH.

LOCATIONS IMPACTED INCLUDE…
MAINLY RURAL AREAS OF EXTREME EASTERN TALLAPOOSA COUNTY.

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2 comments on “Tornado Fatailities and the NWS Dual-Polarization Radar Upgrades

  1. Thanks for one’s marvelous posting! I truly enjoyed reading it, you can be a great author. I will remember to bookmark your blog and may come back later on. I want to encourage you to continue your great writing, have a nice day!

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