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Technology improves accuracy of weather warnings

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Technology has improved the accuracy of predicting severe weather. (WLS)

A powerful EF-3 tornado with 155-mph winds ripped through Naplate and Ottawa on Feb. 28, but it was not entirely unexpected thanks to improved technology.

At the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) in Norman, Okla., their convective outlooks called for the potential of severe weather days in advance.

And their warnings are getting better and more accurate.

Meteorologists at SPC issue severe thunderstorm watches and tornado watches for the entire country but they also issue severe weather outlooks up to eight days in advance.

Sunday marked the two-year anniversary of the tornado that hit Fairdale in DeKalb County, which killed two people and nearly destroyed the entire town.

On the ground in Fairdale, people credited early warnings with saving lives.

Recent advancements in computer modeling have greatly improved the accuracy of these forecasts.

"These new computer models are incredible in their ability to forecast the danger of individual storms and give us far greater lee time and insights into the potential severity of storms," said Russell Schneider, director of the SPC.

Ariel Cohen is not only a forecaster at the Storm Prediction Center, he is also one of the developers of a brand new model that is still in its experimental stage.

"The Statistical Severe Convective Risk Assessment Model, which is effectively using and understanding of the environment. In terms of how moisture and winds through the atmosphere; other ingredients for severe storms," Cohen said.

In essence, this model looks at what severe storms have done historically to predict what a storm might do in the next several hours.

While making these forecasts continue to advance, getting the information quickly to the public is also improving with social media playing a major role

"You'd go to the SPC web page and you had to hit F5, or refresh, over and over again to see the outlook and to know what is going on. But now, often times, I'm getting it from a tweet before the SPC web page is even updated, The communication aspect of our field is probably been the biggest change since I've been here," said Patrick Marsh, of SPC.

While advances in forecasting and communication have improved over the years, urban sprawl makes a tornado disaster much more likely.

"Some of the tornadoes that have been horrible disasters wouldn't have been nearly as bad, historically, because the population just wasn't there. Certainly the growth of the Chicago area makes the likelihood for a major tornado event, hitting multiple communities, all that much greater," Schneider said.
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