Tornadoes: Scientists are working on a model to better predict twisters

(EndPlay Staff Reports) - Unlike NOAA's Atlantic hurricane forecast released each May, experts are not yet able to predict expected tornado activity.

For now, tornado watches typically give people only a few hours' notice that dangerous conditions are brewing. Only a few minutes warning is often available before a tornado actually strikes.

Tornadoes in 2011 killed more than 550 people – more than in the previous 10 years combined, according to a news release from Columbia University's Earth Institute.

On Tuesday, tornadoes struck the Dallas-Ft. Worth metro region.

Scientists are working on a model for better predicting of tornadoes.

Michael Tippett, a climate scientist at Columbia, is lead author of a recent study of short-term climate trends. The study, appearing in Geophysical Research Letters, spells out a new approach to forecasting tornado activity up to a month ahead.

He and his colleagues looked at average atmospheric conditions in tornado-prone regions across the United States for the past 30 years. One of their goals was to define a set of parameters that were inline with increased tornado activity, reported Earth Magazine .

Their model correlated well with the observed number of tornadoes during the spring and summer but was less successful for September and October. May is typically the busiest tornado month, followed by June, according to the study.

"This is an interesting approach," said Ashton Robinson Cook, a meteorologist at NOAA's Storm Prediction Center based in Norman, Okla., who was not involved in the new study. "As with most models, it's not perfect, but they've done a nice job of balancing the imperfections in the model and taking them into account."

Tippett said the next goals include improving the index's reliability in the fall and gaining a better understanding of why the forecasts work.

"Before you can use an index to diagnose future climate, you have to be confident that it explains the observed variability," he said in the release.

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