Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

July 31, 2013

Where was the tornado warning?

NWS explains reasons for not issuing caution before twister hit Peru

by Carson Gerber Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — PERU — It’s been three weeks since an EF-1 tornado blasted through Peru, leaving widespread damage in its wake, including flipped cars, crumbled houses, uprooted trees and downed power lines.

The city continues to clean up from the destruction, and residents are still asking: Why didn’t the National Weather Service issue a tornado warning?

Michael Lewis, warning coordination meteorologist with the northern Indiana office of the NWS, which determined a tornado had touched down in Peru, said the reason is twofold.

First, he said, weather radars didn’t clearly indicate there was tornado activity in the area. Second, there were no reliable reports of a tornado from trained spotters on the ground.

Lewis said the tornado was part of a line of severe thunderstorms that moved east and southeast from northern Indiana into northwest Ohio. This line of severe thunderstorms continued east into Pennsylvania before weakening on the East Coast.

He said the string of storms had the potential to create a tornado, but where and when it might form was nearly impossible to predict.

“In the grand scheme of things, you’re looking for a needle in a haystack,” Lewis said.

He said meteorologists decipher massive amounts of atmospheric data during severe storms, making it difficult to pinpoint where tornados might pop up.

Lewis said even after the tornado hit, it took meteorologists 12 hours to actually locate the tornado on radar images.

“We’re looking at a lot of info, and we try to get the best forecast out of that info that we can,” he said.

Lewis noted the NWS did issue a severe thunderstorm warning, which he said indicates destructive weather may occur.

“I’ll admit, there was no tornado warning, but people need to understand that there was a severe thunderstorm warning issued, which means there was the potential for life-threatening conditions,” he said. “You don’t have to have a tornado to get tornado-like damage. High winds can be just as bad.”

Miami County EMA director Kris Marks said there’s many nuanced factors that play into issuing a storm or tornado warning. He said he believes the NWS did its best to inform residents of severe weather before the storm.

“It’s just one of those things,” he said. “That tornado dropped right out of the sky. It is what it is. Nature can show you just how small you are sometimes.”

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, or at carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com.