Tornadoes...Be Prepared!

The Tornado Season
By WTOC Meteorologist, Patrick Prokop

When the seasons are in the midst of change as we exit winter and move into spring, the warming of the air, along with the fresh growth of the plants, trees and grass comes the threat of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. It is during this transition of the seasons when the threat of tornadoes is at it greatest.

Tornado Season
Tornadoes can occur on any day of the year at any time of the day but most often occur in the spring months during the mid afternoon to the early evening hours. In our region, the more organized type also seem to form just before daybreak. These can be more deadly as many are still asleep and are unaware of the impending danger.

On April 9, 1998, tornadoes struck areas around Ft. Stewart between 5:45 and 7:00 AM resulting in 6 deaths and numerous injuries. Hardest hit areas were in the Gumbranch and Rye Patch areas of Liberty and Long counties. Also, destruction occurred at Olive Branch on the Byan/Bulloch county line near I-16 as well as near Marlow in Effingham county on Sand Hill road. The worst tornado in Georgia history happened in Gainesville, striking on April 6, 1936 at 8:00 AM killing 203 persons.

Tornado ingredients
Tornadoes form from the clashing of several different air masses; cold dry air meeting warm moist air at the surface, warm dry air flowing into the system in the middle of the atmosphere from the southwest and a strong flowing jet stream above. All these conditions are present during the late winter and spring months in our region.

Tornado formation
The beginning stage of a tornado begins with the rising of the warm moist air. This rising is caused by several factors;
1) Cold dry air at the surface, being more dense will push under the warm air forcing it to rise.
2) Dry air in the middle of the atmosphere causing evaporation of the rising air, further destabilizing it causing the rising air to rise even faster.
3) A strong flowing current of air above 30,000 feet (jet stream) pulling air away (divergence) creating a vacuum making it easier for the rising air to continue to rise at higher altitudes.

This is one of the main elements that produces the continuous pull of the surface air up into the storm. As this air is pulled upward, it converts a broad slow rotation force into a very fast narrow area, similar to an ice skater when they go into a fast spin by pulling in their outstretched arms, converting broad slower rotation speed to narrow fast spin . This rotating incoming rising air (convergence) can achieve velocities of 60 to 350 mph!

Direction of travel
Since the air currents that are needed in the development of tornadoes flows from the southwest to the northeast, these type storms will travel also in that direction. Also, since the current is very strong, the speed of travel of the storm will be very fast, usually greater than 35 mph and sometimes more than 50 mph. This is why tornadoes are known to ""Hit hard and hit fast."" Storms traveling in this fashion can easily cross two or three counties in an hour's time. It is important to know that you might not have much warning time with storms traveling at such speeds.

Tornado Watch and Alerts
When conditions are ripe for tornado development, the National Weather Service will issue a ""Watch"" for a particular area in which tornadoes could form within the next 6 hours. This watch information will be broadcast on our channel along with a ""Tornado watch"" icon in the upper left corner of the TV screen (You will also be able to get this information from our web site of by going to the WEATHER category but the TV broadcast is still the fastest). This means to watch your environment and be prepared to act if a storm approaches. Remember, you might not get an ""Official"" warning from the government or local media due to rapidly developing and moving storms.

In the event of well defined storm systems, ""Weather Alerts"" will be issued on our TV station and web site. The TV alerts will be broadcast during natural breaks in our programing to update you of impending storms moving into the region. If your area is under a tornado watch and you see a line of thunderstorms on the radar and hear and see our alerts, then stay very alert and be ready to take protective actions if the storm advances toward you.

Tornado Warning
In the event a tornado forms or is indicated on radar that one is forming, an official warning will be issued by our local National Weather Service and broadcast on WTOC-TV (We don't issue warnings at WTOC, only relay those coming from the government. We do issue our own advisories indicating a warning is imminent, when necessary). This will involve cutting into the regularly scheduled broadcast program to bring you this vital information that could threaten your property and lives. Listen carefully and then take protective actions immediately if your county is affected by the warning.

Doppler Radar
One of the reasons that we are able to issue advisories of impending warnings is due to information that we are constantly receiving into the WTOC Weather Office, including the use of our live Doppler radar (SkyTraK). By constantly watching that radar, we can see exactly where the storm is located and see its possible path of motion. At the same time, your local National weather service is monitoring your government's Doppler radars looking at the same storms. Albeit, the government radars are much more sophisticated (and don't you expect our tax dollars to get the best equipment) than ours, but our's does show quite a bit of valuable information, showing it in real time; vital information that can save your live. It also keeps us in harmony with the National Weather Service and with storm motion and development. Getting the valuable information from the National Weather Service and then relaying it back to you showing you in real time with our live Doppler radar can give you that two to five minute jump on protecting your property and lives. When a storm is traveling at 50 mph, five minutes makes a world of difference in getting into a secure area. Remember, tornadoes ""Hit hard and hit fast.""

Getting the warning
It is important that you are aware of impending storms. One of the best ways of getting the information is by using a weather radio. These type radios listen silently to the National Weather Service. When a warning or advisory is issued, a special tone is sent that activates the radio sounding an alarm (on the newer models the sound is an option that can be turned on or off along with a visual display to indicate the type of warning). Upon hearing the warning, tune your TV to WTOC to see live radar reports and additional information about the warning(s). Also, you can monitor our live Doppler radar on our web site of along with maps of government radars and satellite images showing areas that are under watches and warnings.

Safety is first
Our objective at WTOC is to keep you informed of impending dangerous weather. For well defined storm systems, we can give you several days notice of possible threats moving into the region. During the day of the storm, more detailed information is possible and once the storms develop and enter the region, can show you their location, severity and motion, giving you guidance as to how to protect you and yours from these destructive storms.

Be Prepared
For more information and FAQs on what to do in the event of a tornado, please go to this link from NOAA: