NOAA's Profiler Network Supports NWS in Recent Tornado Outbreaks

The NOAA Profiler Network (NPN) provided important data to the National Weather Service (NWS) during numerous tornado outbreaks occurring over the time period of early March through mid-May 2004. Typically, May always seems to be the worst month for large numbers of tornado outbreaks with a majority occurring in what is known as "Tornado Alley" - generally an area running southwest to northeast encompassing the Great Plains and areas of Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois.

During the design of the NPN, much discussion was generated as to where the 32 profiler sites should be located. Because the NPN started as a "Demonstration Network" to demonstrate its usefulness for daily NWS operations, placing the NPN systems within "Tornado Alley" would allow an assessment based on the profiler's performance in supporting critical NWS operations during severe weather. Because of tornadic situations, high winds, hail, lightning, and other adverse environment conditions, this area would also test the robustness of the system's design and physical equipment for operations in less than ideal conditions.

NWS Storm Prediction Center (SPC), Mesoscale Discussion 691; May 13, 2004
Data from the Profiler located near Winnfield, LA were used by the SPC in their discussion of Tornado Watch 202. "...RESULTANT STORMS WILL HAVE INTENSE UPDRAFTS. WINNFIELD, LA PROFILER DATA SUGGESTS DEEP UNIDIRECTIONAL SLY FLOW AHEAD OF THE ONGOING CONVECTION WITH STRONGEST SHEAR IN THE LOWEST LEVELS. AN ISOLATED TORNADO OR A FEW STRONG WIND GUSTS WILL BE POSSIBLE AS THE STORMS MOVE EAST..."

Harper County, KS; May 12, 2004
As noted in the Wichita Eagle, May 13, 2004, "At least six tornadoes touched down in central and southern Kansas, including one that just missed the town of Attica in Harper County. No fatalities or injuries are reported. Matt Brannon, owner of the Harper Motel, warned guests to go to the shelter before the storm hit." People had a chance to seek shelter because the tornado warning was issued a record-breaking 26 minutes in advance of touchdown. Certainly the advanced warning resulted in a saving of lives. The forecast staff at NWS Wichita, KS used various observational data sets. In an accounting of the event, a forecaster stated "Real-time observational datasets were critical to correctly anticipating this newsworthy event and providing long lead-time warnings. First and foremost was the NOAA Profiler at Lamont, Oklahoma, near Ponca City".

Northern Illinois and Indiana Tornado Outbreak; April 20, 2004
During the tornado outbreak in northern Illinois and Indiana on April 20, 2004 the NOAA Profiler Network (NPN) provided valuable data to the NWS forecasters in the tornado area and to the NWS Storm Prediction Center (SPC) located in Norman, OK. Data from the Winchester, IL Profiler, located about 65 miles northward of St. Louis were particularly useful. By looking at the Winchester profiler data display, the forecasters could see a Short Wave Trigger for tornadoes. A graphic of the data and other related storm information are available as a News Item on the Profiler Web site. Utica, IL, a small town struck by one tornado, suffered at least 8 deaths attributed to the tornado. Using the profiler's data, the forecasters detected changes in the atmospheric winds that changed their assessment of the environment. According to Pete Wolf, Science and Operations Officer, Weather Forecast Office, Wichita, KS , "The environment went from one unsupportive of severe storms to one favoring large tornadoes in 2 hours. It can happen that fast!!!" During this outbreak there were 51 tornado reports, 10 wind reports, and 39 hail reports according to the SPC.

North Texas Severe Thunderstorm Outbreak; March 4, 2004
The severe weather outbreak resulted in 25 tornadoes, 172 wind damage events, and 37 large hail events. As quoted from a NWS forecaster " ...BEFORE outbreak started. Observed wind fields from NPN helped our forecasters become fully aware of severe weather potential....Once we noticed that convection had developed and was moving east, our briefings to Emergency Managers reflected proper threat level..." In a Hodograph Wind Shear Plot (surface to 6 km) the Palestine Profiler showed winds strengthening and changing direction with height more than forecasted. This demonstrated a greater tornado potential than had been thought.

Contact information
Name: Margot H. Ackley
Tel: 303-497-6791
margot.h.ackley@noaa.gov