Our opinions will differ from the size and severity of an event. Some may call a supercell with a brief rope tornado as being an epic chase, while others will be disappointed knowing the potential that was there. It is what you make it out to be. Personally as long as I am out there experiencing Mother Nature I will always have peace of mind. Case and point... May 19th, 2010. Adam, Ben and I chased SW OK this day. I actually made the forecast to chase around the Anadarko/Chickasha area and (maybe stubbornly) stuck with that target. For the longest time we watched 2 supercells with overshooting tops and SN tornado reports popping up 50 miles to our north. I just felt things would start popping to the south and they did. However the only storm of the day NOT to produce a tornado is one we actually ended up on. After the chase and seeing 1,000 videos of the tornadoes up north, Adam and Ben were feeling pretty low. I wasn't feel good, but I certainly wasn't in the depths of depression or regret. I got to see a rotating supercell, a couple wall clouds, experience hail, and was treated to an impressive lightning display. Sure it wasn't a tornado, but it doesn't always have to be. To some, a chase is a massive fail if they don't get the 2 mile wide wedge. To others, the chase is a success if storms forms. It all depends what YOU are going for personally.
This brings me to my main point.... How does one determine the type of tornado they are actually seeing? Everyone knows when you are on a chase and in the vicinity of a supercell that emotions and adrenaline are running at all time highs. When that tornado drops and sustains itself it seems like nowadays everything is reported as large and extremely dangerous. I take issue with this because it is misleading and causes more issues than the chaser can imagine. Let me put on the NWS/EM cap on for a second....
DRAMATIZATION: There is a moderate risk for my area, conditions look good for tornadoes (some strong), and I take a look at all my resources I have available for that day. I coordinate with different offices, check into the ham net, and take a look at Spotter Network to see where people are setting up. I may even call some local chasers I know will be in my area. Time progresses and storms start to develop and take supercellular characteristics. Suddenly wall cloud reports start flooding in as the storm looms 50 miles away from the office (which is located on the outskirts of a pretty big population center.) Things start to get hectic. Time to start preparing for the incoming storm. Time to send out the fire/police spotters, activating nets, and evacuating outdoor events. A couple of funnel cloud reports start coming in as the storm is now 35 miles away and moving in this direction. It will be here in an hour, time to ponder issuing a tornado warning for our area. Suddenly reports start flooding in.... "tornado in progress" "Multiple vortex tornado" "LARGE tornado" By now the storm is 20 miles away and closing in fast, if I am a forecaster for the NWS I am monitoring every available source from spotter network to direct contact with ham nets. Spotter Network reports are claiming a large tornado is in progress while ham reports are seeing a large lowering with intermittent spin ups. Finally as the storm closes to within 10 miles, both sources are adamant in reporting a large tornado moving toward the town. Time to pull the trigger and use very suggestive text (I.E tornado emergency.) The storm passes over with some gusty winds and hail but no tornado. Is this a warning success or failure? If I was the NWS I would think I did my job because I took what I was seeing on radar, coupled it with what I saw on Spotter Network, and what I heard from my spotters out there. Each source was reliable and I did what I thought was the right measures of safety to take. The NWS can't possibly be blamed for this can they? I am going to say NO. The responsibility lies with the chaser/spotter. In this case, the large tornado is pictured below (remember this is just a hypothetical dramatization of an event that CAN happen)
Someone reported this tornado above as a large and extremely dangerous tornado. Is it large? Maybe to someone who has never seen a tornado before. All tornadoes can be extremely dangerous so I have never quite understood the notion to add that into a warning text. The same with the word destructive. A lot of times though when those words are uttered it causes the NWS to issue strongly worded warnings/statements which contributes to the some of the criticism received about the use of tornado emergency.
This is not a finger pointing or "greater than thou" blog post where I am condemning the NWS/EMs or other chasers and spotters. I have been in the chaser position before and also have had many discussions about this with different NWS personnel (maybe some can chime in?) While I have never inaccurately reported what I saw, I have been wrong on chases before with what I am seeing. The key is if you don't know then don't report it. Pertaining to the discussion my advice is to simply report a tornado. Report where you are, where you see the tornado, and where is it going.
Sticking with the topic of tornado types I want to post some images below and interject my opinion on what type of tornado it is and how it should be reported. REMEMBER THIS IS ONLY MY OPINION, TAKE IT FOR WHAT IT IS WORTH!
Tornado #1 -
It lies all within the eye of the beholder. Technically all tornadoes are large to the human eye because compared to you and me, a tornado is quite large. However, how do we draw the line between small tornado/large tornado/wedge tornado. The easy one is the wedge tornado which I will hint on below, but where do you draw the line between what's a small tornado (#1 and the picture above that) to a medium sized tornado (#2) to a large tornado pictured below.
A wedge tornado is simply described as a tornado that is wider than it is tall. Can you say any of the tornadoes I have provided are wider than they are tall? If you say yes I would strongly disagree with you.