DENVER (CBS4) – Changing technology is helping to give more warning before tornadoes strike and it’s saving lives

The idea is to reduce the loss of life when tornadoes happen. This year there have already been more than 120 tornadoes — twice as many as usual for now. But new technology may be able to give citizens just enough warning to maximize their chances of survival.

It was 1 a.m. when Mother Nature unleashed her fury on Branson, Mo. Colorado State University assistant professor Russ Schumacher says the challenge with middle-of-the night tornadoes is warning people.

“People may be asleep; they may not be paying attention to the weather, but in this case, the (National Weather Service) actually did a really excellent job issuing these warnings,” Schumacher said.

It was a 35-minute warning — double the national average, when every second counts. Forecasters were helped by new technology that helps identify tornadoes before they touch down.

“We knew we needed to do a better job,” Dr. Jack Hays said.

Hays is the director of the National Weather Service. He says dual-polarization radar, or Dual-Pol, is the most significant upgrade to tornado tracking in 20 years.

“With dual-polarization, we are going to know that’s a tornado. We are going to get a two-dimensional view that will help us detect the difference between heavy rainfall that occurs in storms all the time and debris that will kick up,” Hays said.

The Dual-Pol replaces the older, one-dimensional radar. It can cut through darkness and rain to pinpoint tornado winds. Forty-four of the new radars are in place around the country, with more than 100 more set to be installed in 2012.

There’s another technological upgrade that will also likely save lives. All of the country’s major cellphone carriers have agreed to send text message alerts to the phones of everyone within a storm zone.


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