Radar system allows better view, forecast of tornadoes

A record-breaking number of more than 600 tornadoes tore across the country the past month, including about 20 killer tornadoes, categorized E5 or E4 by the National Weather Service.

While they caused vast destruction across the South, these types of tornadoes are rare. Most twisters are small but even these can produce winds of 100 miles per hour.

The National Weather Service now monitors data from five Doppler radars, including local airport dopplers, allowing the scientists to see more storms in higher resolution.

“This is kind of another jump forward in technology, allowing us to see things we weren't able to see before,” said Chris Strong, a warning coordination meteorologist at the Washington area weather service office.

The radar technology allows meteorologists to examine how these whirlwinds form. Just as the sound changes if a car horn is moving toward or way from you, the frequency of a radar signal will change when precipitation is moving away or toward the radar. The spin of a tornado can really be seen by doppler.

In some ways, it’s like wearing a sharper set of glasses: you can see much more clearly in the atmosphere what's going on with these storms. Seeing more clearly also means tornado warnings could be issued sooner, and it can lead to better forecasting the path of even small twisters.