Dr. Russell Schneider: ‘Tracking the country’s severe weather 24/7’

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Tracking the country’s severe weather 24/7: It’s Job #1 at the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center

Dr. Russell Schneider, Director, Storm Prediction Center, Norman, Oklahoma

A war zone would have looked no more devastated. A huge swath of Washington, Illinois had,  in less than a minute’s time, been reduced to piles of debris before midday on Sunday, November 17, by one of 71 tornadoes which touched down over a span of less than 11 hours across 7 states from Missouri to Ohio. . The abnormally powerful late season tornado which leveled block after block of homes in Washington–was among the only EF4 intensity twisters ever to touch down in Illinois in the month of November and was part of the most sweeping November tornado outbreak ever recorded in the state. It remained on the ground 46.2 miles.

The twister was so powerful and with a circulation so long-lasting that documents ripped from homes and businesses in Washington and surrounding communities were found 100 miles to the northeast all across the Chicago area.  That single tornado obliterated 633 homes, 7 business and apartment buildings in Washington, IL alone while tossing 2,500 vehicles around like toys. Another 200 homes and 2 businesses were seriously damaged.

WGN-TV reporter Sean Lewis, among the first on the scene from Chicago, reported it was nothing short of miraculous, given the severity of the damage, that there hadn’t been more deaths–a sentiment which was to be often repeated in the days which followed as the search for victims proceeded.

The country’s elite severe storm-forecasting unit within the National Weather Service–the Norman, Oklahoma-based Storm Prediction Center (SPC), had been tracking the November 17 severe weather threat for days, steadily increasing the predicted level of risk as November 17 approached. A large swath of Illinois and Indiana had been placed within the region the Storm Prediction Center had designated as being at “high risk” the morning of the November 17 disaster.

It’s at trend which is being repeated with regularity in the 21st century world of weather forecasting. Advance warning of the general area at risk for a devastating severe weather outbreak has become the norm rather than the exception as highly accomplished  meteorologists harness the power of stunning improvements in both the physics and resolution of numerical models of the atmosphere. That was the case in the catastrophic Tuscaloosa, Alabama tornado and the Joplin, Missouri twister which followed.  been repeated over and over.

We are honored to again welcome to our 34th annual Fermilab/WGN Tornado/Severe Storms seminars Chicago-native Dr. Russell Schneider, Director of the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center.  Charged with the responsibility of monitoring the vast U.S. airspace for severe weather development 24/7, the Storm Prediction Center is on the frontline of the National Weather Service’s life-saving Weather Ready Nation program. Russ is here to describe the remarkable work of the Storm Prediction Center and to recap the 2013 season–with it’s abnormally quiet open and middle turning violent in it final days.


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