Tennessee saw a 36% increase in tornadoes last decade, but that’s not the whole story


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A new study that uses federal weather data shows that tornado activity in Tennessee increased by 36 percent over the last decade. But it’s important to note that new technology has made identifying weak tornadoes easier in recent years.

Krissy Hurley, a Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the National Weather Service Office in Nashville, says that much of the increase in confirmed tornadoes can be attributed to dual-pol radar, which came online at the beginning of the decade.

“With dual-pol technology with our radar, we’re able to pinpoint exactly where tornadoes touched down as far as debris signatures,” said Hurley.

Before dual-pol radar, debris signatures were typically only seen with large and violent tornadoes.

Cellphone technology and social media have also made it easier to get reports of possible tornado touchdowns. In the past, finding potential tornado reports was a much slower process, according to Hurley.

“When I first started the National Weather Service, the way we got information with our tornado touchdown in a community, we would get newspaper clippings sent to the office every month. And a forecaster would go through all of the newspaper clippings, anything that said anything about weather damage, possible tornado winds, we would get those newspaper clippings. And that is how we figured out whether there was a tornado that occurred.”

Now, forecasters know about potential tornadoes in real-time, “It’s all over social media. If there’s damage, it’s almost instant how we get weather information. And so, we have definitely seen an increase in the way we get, you know, damage reports, especially through #tspotter program that we use through Twitter.”

While there has been a noticeable uptick in tornadoes that produce light to moderate damage, the amount of significant violent tornadoes has not changed significantly.

“No matter how you slice and dice that, we may be getting more tornadoes, and frequency, you know, increase; however, you know, we’re still looking at the same number of significant and violent tornadoes across the area. So, you know, where our uptick has definitely been seen have been those EF-0 and EF-1 tornadoes,” said Hurley.

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