We’re Not in Kansas…

28 04 2011

In my daily activity, I have to keep in mind two things – I study meteorology, and I can get all the sleep I want when I die. Yesterday was an interesting day, for reasons most folks have probably heard already. Apart from Mother Nature deciding that the Deep South had to be devastated, there was a tornado watch extended into upstate New York. A watch means that the possibility is there for a tornadic cell to develop. Well, when things finally began to be a little more settled last night,
I was working in my office, and my officemate turns to me and says,

“B—, Ithaca was just placed under a tornado warning. You might want to check it out.”

So I did. And over Schuyler County, here’s a cell with a plausible tornado signature (a hook) on radar. The cell was tracking northeast and Ithaca was directly in the warning path.

At that moment, I decided to  make a few phone calls. It ended up being a long night (as previously stated, I’ll get all the sleep I want someday), as three cells bore down on the area, one of which is showing in its prelim reports that a tornado likely touched down in Danby. From NWS BGM (Binghamton):


So, an unusual and rather scary night for the folks back in Tompkins County. Digging into some data, I decided to check the last time a tornado was confirmed within the county.

From the Tornado Project:

AUG 25, 1961    005   1800     0      0    F0    109
JUN 15, 1964    001   1530     0      0    F1    109
JUN 20, 1969    004   0745     0      0    F1    109
JUN 18, 1977    002   1500     0      0    F1    109
AUG 28, 1988    005   1342     0      0    F1    109
AUG 21, 1994    008   0715     0      0    F0    109

Although the project suggests otherwise, conflicting reports suggest a fatality with the August 28, 1988 tornado. That tornado, an F-1 (today we use EF-1, as the Fujita scale as been refined to become the “Enhanced Fujita” scale), may have killed one person. Further analysis suggests this tornado tracked from Schuyler County into Tompkins County, and the fatality was in Schuyler, which might explain the disparity.  I don’t know the ratio of warnings to confirmed touchdowns, but Brotzge et al. (2009) suggest only 1 in 4 warnings result in confirmed tornadoes. EDIT: Actually, that link won’t work for most people unless you have American Meteorological Society connections.

So, events like this are rare indeed. My only regret is that I should’ve saved the radar imau ge from last night. Actually, I have two regrets. My second is that I have a friend who photographed the King Ferry tornado a few years ago from Space Science, and he sent me a copy of the photo back in 2007, which I lost at some point. If I feel really proactive I might email him to ask for another copy.



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