I’m a tornado snob.
As some of you already know, I spent most of my life in Oklahoma. And if there’s anything we know about in Oklahoma, it’s tornadoes. They are a fact of life there; they happen frequently every year. Residents there learn quickly to recognize threatening weather, know when to take precautions, where to go, and what to do.
Meteorologists in Oklahoma know tornadoes better than anyone in the world. They pioneer and develop all the new tornado tracking and forecasting technology. They tell the National Weather Service how it’s done.
In Oklahoma, you don’t get some remote National Weather Service warning scrolling across your TV screen telling you there’s a warning for your county, and maybe for your town. Neither is particularly precise (my county is 70 miles wide and totals 1,200 square miles). In Oklahoma, you get the the most knowledgeable meteorologists in the country on camera with their live radar showing you exactly where the storm is, which way it’s moving, and exactly which streets and intersections are or will be affected. They point out the tornado’s distinguishing “hook echo” on the radar. Chances are they were tracking the storm for an hour or two as it developed.
Here in Denver, we get an NWS (Kansas City) warning interrupting our programming and ticking slowly across the screen telling us a warning has been issued for counties X, Y, and Z. Said warning was issued because “the public” has reported a funnel cloud. I have zero confidence in the public’s ability to accurately identify a funnel cloud. We’re at elevation here, and close to the mountains. Clouds can and do form and move quickly, and they roil and tumble in truly amazing ways. They constantly spawn low-hanging threads, virga, rain shafts, and shifting winds.
Nor does the public distinguish between “funnels” in the air and true tornadoes on the ground. And the public doesn’t generally report cloud rotation or true wall clouds.
Eventually, when the weather here is unsettled, the local TV stations get going with their regional radar and red blotches showing where the storms are and which way they’re moving. They tell people where and how to take cover. And then they fill air time with phone calls and photos from the public.
I remain unimpressed. In Oklahoma, the TV stations have their own storm chasers on the ground and their own choppers and photographers in the air chasing the storms and sending back live feeds. It gets a bit crazy sometimes, with a sort of cowboy mentality sometimes taking over when they get out there and “up close and personal” with the storms. But you know they know exactly where the storm is, how big it is, and what it’s doing.
All in all, if there are tornadoes in the area, I want the good ol’ boys from Oklahoma calling the shots for me, not these Colorado wannabes. Okies know tornadoes.
The first two photos above were taken by the public today in the Denver area. The bottom photo is the F5 tornado that hit south Oklahoma City on May 3, 1999