NIU Professor Develops Tool for Tornado Forecasting

A professor develops a forecasting model to predict tornadoes a few weeks away

One Northern Illinois University professor has developed a tool that could allow forecasters to do something they've never done before: forecast not just severe weather, but tornadoes, possibly weeks in advance.

Tornadoes are one of mother nature's most destructive forces, and are sometimes meteorologists' biggest nightmares to forecast.  That's because even the smallest variable, changing in the atmosphere, can be the difference between one tornado, or many of them

Victor Gensini, Assistant Professor of Meteorology at NIU said, "It really started after April of 2011, the big tornado season that we had across the United States.  We were really interested in the major factors on the large scale that were driving such an intense month of tornadic activity."

NIU Assistant Meteorology professor Victor Gensini is talking about the development of his tornado prediction model.  It's called E.R.T.A.F, the Extended Range Tornado Activity Forecast.  It's a way to predict tornado risks which may be weeks away.

Gensini said, "Basically, you look at temperature, high and low temperature, and precipitation forecast.  The idea is, can we push the envelop past the one week time frame?  Do we have any skill in forecasting these events at weeks two and three? That was our major driving research question.  And the answer is yes, we do have skill."

That skill comes from an equation first developed in the 1800's.  Gensini was able to take the equation and apply it to tornadoes, but it is not a simple equation.

Gensini explains, "It's a triple integral.  It's actually an integral of latitude, longitude, and then vertical height.  So we need the momentum of the wind, but we need it at every grid point across the globe in order to do this.  All latitudes, all longitudes, and the entire vertical column."

Luckily, you don't have to know that.  Gensini says all you need to know is that this formula could be the key to the next step in severe weather preparedness.

Gensini adds, "We're working with collaborators in NOAA and other governmental agencies that are interested in trying to forecast extreme events at sub-seasonal scales."

This week is Illinois Severe Weather Preparedness Week.  You can prepare yourself by going to the National Weather Service's website which shows what to do in many different situations regarding severe weather.

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