Tornadoes in the UK: Met Office now able to predict weather phenomenon

When one thinks of tornadoes, one looks to central USA, specifically the Great Plains where destructive whirlwinds often occur. However, up to 30 tornadoes strike the UK each year, but scientists have had no way of forecasting them until now.

Researchers at the University of Leeds and the Met Office have developed a tool which allows forecasters to predict when a tornado might hit.

Most tornadoes in the UK are often quick hitting, forming rapidly before disappearing.

However, they can bring with them wind speeds of up to 112 miles per hour, which can cause destruction and danger to life.

For this reason, the experts from Leeds and the Met Office have grouped together to create a system which can predict where a tornado might hit.

The team analysed tornado reports from the Tornado and Storm Research Organisation (TORRO), radar imagery and surface analysis charts from 114 weather events over a 35 year period.

They identified weather patterns which proceed a tornado, including strong winds coming from a cold front.

This leads to a bulge in the front which makes it sharper, increasing the contrast in the wind speeds and the direction of the wind. Where the contrast increases, winds are more likely to “spin up”, allowing a tornado to form.

The tool has already been tested in the UK on February 29 this year, and it successfully predicted the risk of tornadoes in southeast England, with a tornado occurring in Kent as the cold front swept through during the morning.

Matthew Clark, a Met Office scientist who is currently studying for a PhD at Leeds’s School of Earth and Environment, said: “Tornadoes are a relatively common weather hazard on UK cold fronts, but the Met Office have never before had any way of predicting which cold fronts are likely to produce tornadoes, nor did we understand why tornadoes occurred in some fronts but not others.

“These findings should help to improve the UK forecasts of localised, intense wind damage associated with these kinds of weather system.

“This should enable organisations and people to take precautions and minimise damage and risk.”

Met Office Chief Meteorologist Paul Davies added: “By explaining, for the first time, ‘how’ and ‘why’ tornadoes form in a given weather system, meteorologists are much better prepared to anticipate events in advance, to interpret and challenge the results of numerical weather prediction models, and to communicate their confidence in a given forecast.”

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