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Tornado Probability of Detection and Lead Time as a Function of Convective Mode and Environmental Parameters

Jerald A. BrotzgeCenter for Analysis and Prediction of Storms, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma

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Steven E. NelsonNOAA/National Weather Service, Peachtree City, Georgia

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Richard L. ThompsonNOAA/NWS/NCEP/SPC, Norman, Oklahoma

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Bryan T. SmithNOAA/NWS/NCEP/SPC, Norman, Oklahoma

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Abstract

The ability to provide advanced warning on tornadoes can be impacted by variations in storm mode. This research evaluates 2 yr of National Weather Service (NWS) tornado warnings, verification reports, and radar-derived convective modes to appraise the ability of the NWS to warn across a variety of convective modes and environmental conditions. Several specific hypotheses are considered: (i) supercell morphologies are the easiest convective modes to warn for tornadoes and yield the greatest lead times, while tornadoes from more linear, nonsupercell convective modes, such as quasi-linear convective systems, are more difficult to warn for; (ii) parameters such as tornado distance from radar, population density, and tornado intensity (F scale) introduce significant and complex variability into warning statistics as a function of storm mode; and (iii) tornadoes from stronger storms, as measured by their mesocyclone strength (when present), convective available potential energy (CAPE), vertical wind shear, and significant tornado parameter (STP) are easier to warn for than tornadoes from weaker systems. Results confirmed these hypotheses. Supercell morphologies caused 97% of tornado fatalities, 96% of injuries, and 92% of damage during the study period. Tornado warnings for supercells had a statistically higher probability of detection (POD) and lead time than tornado warnings for nonsupercells; among supercell storms, tornadoes from supercells in lines were slightly more difficult to warn for than tornadoes from discrete or clusters of supercells. F-scale intensity and distance from radar had some impact on POD, with less impact on lead times. Higher mesocyclone strength (when applicable), CAPE, wind shear, and STP values were associated with greater tornado POD and lead times.

Corresponding author address: Jerald Brotzge, Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms, 120 David L. Boren Blvd., Ste. 2500, Norman, OK 73072-7309. E-mail: jbrotzge@ou.edu

Abstract

The ability to provide advanced warning on tornadoes can be impacted by variations in storm mode. This research evaluates 2 yr of National Weather Service (NWS) tornado warnings, verification reports, and radar-derived convective modes to appraise the ability of the NWS to warn across a variety of convective modes and environmental conditions. Several specific hypotheses are considered: (i) supercell morphologies are the easiest convective modes to warn for tornadoes and yield the greatest lead times, while tornadoes from more linear, nonsupercell convective modes, such as quasi-linear convective systems, are more difficult to warn for; (ii) parameters such as tornado distance from radar, population density, and tornado intensity (F scale) introduce significant and complex variability into warning statistics as a function of storm mode; and (iii) tornadoes from stronger storms, as measured by their mesocyclone strength (when present), convective available potential energy (CAPE), vertical wind shear, and significant tornado parameter (STP) are easier to warn for than tornadoes from weaker systems. Results confirmed these hypotheses. Supercell morphologies caused 97% of tornado fatalities, 96% of injuries, and 92% of damage during the study period. Tornado warnings for supercells had a statistically higher probability of detection (POD) and lead time than tornado warnings for nonsupercells; among supercell storms, tornadoes from supercells in lines were slightly more difficult to warn for than tornadoes from discrete or clusters of supercells. F-scale intensity and distance from radar had some impact on POD, with less impact on lead times. Higher mesocyclone strength (when applicable), CAPE, wind shear, and STP values were associated with greater tornado POD and lead times.

Corresponding author address: Jerald Brotzge, Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms, 120 David L. Boren Blvd., Ste. 2500, Norman, OK 73072-7309. E-mail: jbrotzge@ou.edu
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