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Archive for Saturday, April 16, 2005

Technology touted for tornado prediction

April 16, 2005

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— New technology set to debut later this month will enable weather forecasters to predict a tornado's path, officials of the private WeatherData Inc. forecasting service said.

"It's the next generation of precision," said Mike Smith, the company's founder and chief executive. He said the projections are so precise, "We can get it down to individual farmsteads."

The program, being featured Friday at a storm symposium in Wichita, will make its national debut next week at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas.

But it has already proven itself, Smith said, by predicting the path of a tornado that touched down Sunday in Russell County, in central Kansas. There were no injuries from that twister, which touched down in a rural area.

The program is triggered when radar indicates a "hook echo" on a strong thunderstorm.

"The hook usually precedes the tornado," Smith said. "Sometimes you get hooks that never produce tornadoes, but there's a pretty high probability that you have a tornado if you have the rear-flank downdraft right behind the hook."

The technology is used on Storm Hawks, hand-held devices that display weather information from the user's position. Trained spotters, storm chasers and weather researchers can then send that information -- including photographs -- to WeatherData.

The company then adds the information to warnings issued by the National Weather Service and relays it to customers.

The weather service's new "polygon" system of projecting a storm's path by latitude and longitude made its debut earlier this spring. WeatherData's new technology works in conjunction with that system.

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