Q: How much advance warning time is there before a tornado hits?
A: New technology has improved advance-warning times dramatically, says Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University. “The National Weather Service says that in recent years, the amount of pre-warning time before a tornado hits has almost doubled,” McRoberts explains. “It is now as high as 11 to 15 minutes before it strikes. That’s up from only five to six minutes in the 1980s. Also, there is now something called the Emergency Alert System used by many radio and TV stations. This system automatically takes control of a broadcast and advises listeners and viewers of an approaching tornado. When an alert is sent, a warning is automatically scrawled across your TV screen with a break in programming.”
Q: Is that enough time?
A: Every advance minute could possibly save someone’s life, McRoberts adds. “Last year, the 122 National Weather Service offices issued more than 3,000 tornado warnings. There is no doubt that these warnings saved lives and gave people a chance to take cover and seek safety. Remember that in an average year, there are about 1,200 tornadoes in the United States and about 55 people are killed each year with almost $500 million worth of damage. So the more time people have when a tornado nears is time that can surely save some lives.”
Weather Whys is a service of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University.