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Predicting tornadoes a month in advance

TUSCALOOSA, AL - MAY 01: Volunteers comb through the rubble of Alberta Elementary School on May 1, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Alabama, the hardest-hit of six states, is reported to have been battered with at least an EF-4 rated tornado
TUSCALOOSA, AL - MAY 01: Volunteers comb through the rubble of Alberta Elementary School on May 1, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Alabama, the hardest-hit of six states, is reported to have been battered with at least an EF-4 rated tornado
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

After the devastation caused by the April 2011 tornadoes outbreak that destroyed many homes and lives in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa people need a better warning system than the present tornado alert system that at best gives people a few hours to prepare for a disaster they cannot possibly cope with in so short a time.

Climate and weather experts at Columbia University embarked on a data mining project that covered the conditions and weather patterns that might be predictive of a tornado outbreak for the last 30 years.

The scientists have developed an index that predicts tornado activity based on each month's average wind and rain parameters from 1979 to 2010. "The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) system for making seasonal forecasts, known as the Climate Forecast System (CFS), was able to use the index to forecast monthly tornado activity with some success up to a month in advance."

The researchers are refining their system to better predict tornado activity in the fall months.

Michael Tippett, a climate scientist at Columbia University's International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), Adam Sobel, an atmospheric scientist with joint appointments at Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Suzana Camargo, a climate and weather researcher at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory reported this development in the journal Geophysical Research Letters on January 19, 2012. The research was reviewed at the Science Daily web site on the same day.

Michael K. Tippett, Adam H. Sobel, Suzana J. Camargo. Association of U.S. tornado occurrence with monthly environmental parameters. Geophysical Research Letters, 2012; 39 (2) DOI: 10.1029/2011GL050368

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