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The Proposed 1883 Holden Tornado Warning System

Its Genius and Its Applications Today

Timothy A. Coleman
and
Kevin J. Pence

In the four years before the U.S. Army Signal Corps weather program banned the use of the word “tornado” in its forecasts starting in 1886, Sgt. John P. Finley headed up a program to document and study local storms, including tornadoes. Upon examination of Finley's findings, astronomer Edward S. Holden proposed an automatic local tornado warning system, using telegraph wires, in 1883. He felt that a system that could provide the residents of a town even 5-min warning could save lives. The system he proposed was not only fascinating, but three different aspects of it are still, either directly or indirectly, in use today.

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Kevin R. Knupp
,
Todd A. Murphy
,
Timothy A. Coleman
,
Ryan A. Wade
,
Stephanie A. Mullins
,
Christopher J. Schultz
,
Elise V. Schultz
,
Lawrence Carey
,
Adam Sherrer
,
Eugene W. McCaul Jr.
,
Brian Carcione
,
Stephen Latimer
,
Andy Kula
,
Kevin Laws
,
Patrick T. Marsh
, and
Kim Klockow

By many metrics, the tornado outbreak on 27 April 2011 was the most significant tornado outbreak since 1950, exceeding the super outbreak of 3–4 April 1974. The number of tornadoes over a 24-h period (midnight to midnight) was 199; the tornado fatalities and injuries were 316 and more than 2,700, respectively; and the insurable loss exceeded $4 billion (U.S. dollars). In this paper, we provide a meteorological overview of this outbreak and illustrate that the event was composed of three mesoscale events: a large early morning quasi-linear convective system (QLCS), a midday QLCS, and numerous afternoon supercell storms. The main data sources include NWS and research radars, profilers, surface measurements, and photos and videos of the tornadoes. The primary motivation for this preliminary research is to document the diverse characteristics (e.g., tornado characteristics and mesoscale organization of deep convection) of this outbreak and summarize preliminary analyses that are worthy of additional research on this case.

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