TIPPECANOE CO., Ind. (WLFI) – Up to one in five tornadoes this time of year may touch down before a tornado warning is issued. That’s according to the National Weather Service, which was back in Tippecanoe County Tuesday, investigating if a third tornado touched down Friday near Klondike and Taft roads and U.S. 52.
If confirmed, it was minutes earlier and miles away from the two already confirmed — and well before the county’s sirens sounded.
Although Emergency Management Director Smokey Anderson said the warning went out the same minute the first confirmed tornado touched down, the NWS says no one is at fault.
The severe storm that produced two confirmed tornadoes came fast Friday afternoon.
Anderson says the severe thunderstorm warning came out at 4:29 p.m. The tornado warning came just four minutes later at 4:33, at the exact same time as an EF-1 tornado touched down near Newcastle Road.
“When you’re in a summertime situation and these storms pop out and run into each other and share boundaries, those are the challenges to get ahead of those intersection of those boundaries,” said NWS Meteorologist in Charge Dan McCarthy.
McCarthy says the ideal amount of warning varies. For a large tornado produced by a massive supercell, he hopes for at least 15 minutes.
But, “in situations like what we had on Friday, when you have a line of storms or a cluster of storms, a five minute warning, even a 10 minute warning is outstanding, a five minute warning is pretty good,” said McCarthy.
He doesn’t feel like someone made a mistake by not issuing a warning until one had already touched down.
“Oh no, no, not at all,” he said.
The warning was issued about five minutes before a tornado touched down in the Meadow Ridge subdivision. But it would have been well after the one currently being investigated at Klondike and Taft.
McCarthy says the NWS keeps statistics on how many tornadoes touch down before a warning is issued. He says this time of year, they may issue a warning too late for 10-20 percent of tornadoes.
“When you’re at that small of a scale, that’s going to happen,” said McCarthy. “So that’s why it’s also very important that you pay attention to those severe thunderstorm warnings. Because even in a severe thunderstorm, a quick tornado can occur.”
But Anderson says there was not adequate warning Friday.
“No, if it in fact the warning was issued after the tornado was hit or at the same time, then yeah, that is absolutely not enough warning,” Anderson said.
Anderson says unless his spotters see damage, he waits on the NWS to issue a tornado warning and then sound the sirens. Unlike some counties, in Tippecanoe, those sirens are exclusively for tornado warnings.
But he says he’s not upset that the NWS did not issue a warning sooner.
“Not at all,” he replied.
In large part, because of the fast-moving nature of Friday’s storms.
“This time of year, with all the moisture, a few minutes warning is sometimes all you get,” adds McCarthy.
But as is obvious Friday, that’s not always the case.
Anderson says if you hear a siren in Tippecanoe County, you should go inside a sturdy structure and seek more information to determine if you need to take further action.
McCarthy says the Indianapolis office got dual pol radar in 2013. That allows the NWS to get updated radar information every 3-4 minutes instead of every six minutes. But he says the more radar he could utilize, the more precise the NWS could be, because the closer the radar is to the storm, the better a meteorologist can track boundary lines. He says other technology that is available could also help including phased array or CASA radar.
He says the NWS looks at several criteria when issuing a warning: can the atmospheric environment support a storm, does radar indicate signatures of rotation, large hail with a diameter greater than one inch or winds that have a velocity of 58 mph or greater, have there been reports of damage.
Although the Indianapolis office works with the NWS Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma to issue watches, it’s up to each individual office ot issue all warnings including a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning.
In 2007, the NWS warning system changed. Instead of issuing them by county, the NWS issues them by polygon. McCarthy says that more warnings are issued now, but they can be more precise and targeted to the specific areas of a county which is at risk.