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21 October 2011

Damaging thunderstorms hard to predict?

Image: Tornado in the Zastron area (24 October 2010) -   Angele vd Wiel 

Since the inception of the SAWDIS several severe storms struck many areas in South Africa and caused death and devastation. The question has been asked whether it is possible to predict severe killer storms and tornadoes before they struck. This is a very difficult question to answer. We must remember that mother nature is not something you can look at and predict what will happen weatherwise in the next 12 hours. We all know that tornadoes ravaged Ficksburg and Duduza recently and that these type of storms are becoming more common and increasingly difficult to predict. Although some storms are predictable, freak storms are very difficult to predict. The SAWDIS were successful in the past when free radar images were availble to the public to track several of these storms and informing the public via the internet to take the necessary precautions against the approaching storm. One such storm was the a storm that struck Alicedale in the Eastern Cape where extensive damage was caused by a severe storm. Although residents were warned via the Internet it is clear that nobody knew about the impending severe storm. The Alicedale storm was clearly visible on the East London radar and from the image it was clear that the intensity of the storm was higher that the average thunderstorm. It was also clear that this storm was moving fast. Clearly and indication of heavy winds driving this storm. Other storms however might seem small and average in size on the radar image and no warning is issued. However within a few minutes before the storm matures, it just turns into a severe killer storm which lasted for only a few minutes. This type of storm is very difficult to predict and dangerous.

Another important factor is observations by the public. Real time observations can be life savers.  Improved and timeous warnings of tornadoes can only be made if real-time observations and quality of radar data are available. This is where the SA Weather and Disaster Information Service (SAWDIS) can play a very important roll in providing real-time observations to the general public. With an observer in the area of the storm valuable information can be gathered from real time observations to analyze the intensity and damage the storm caused.

Tornadoes teach us humility. For all of the SA Weather Service scientific technology, they cannot issue accurate tornado warnings. Without the help of the general public as severe weather observers there really isn't a thing they can do to warn those who are caught in a tornadoes path. The SAWDIS have over 150 real time observers out in the field that can send their observations to the SA Weather and Disaster Information Service when severe weather or tornadoes occur providing that there is a weather observer in the area where the event occur. Tornadoes are conscienceless killers, coldly democratic in where and how they strike. The age of real time media has added a new and even more terrifying aspect: You can see the disaster forming then watch as it destroys.

The SAWDIS once again appeal to the public, radio amateurs and weather observers to forward any reports or confirmation of severe weather conditions in their respected location and areas to the SAWDIS.