Researchers try to explain Tennessee Valley tornado behavior

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – It doesn’t take a lot to be reminded of just how violent tornadoes have been in the Tennessee Valley in recent years. Whether you are driving around and cross multiple tornado paths where the scars are still visible, or you hear someone mention “April 27th” or “March 2nd” immediately the flashbacks begin.

The tornadoes of April 27, 2011 devastated dozens of communities in our state and the death toll statewide is more than 250. More recently, residents of Madison and Limestone Counties may remember a long-track tornado that was on the ground more than 30 miles on March 2, 2012.

The amount and destruction of Tennessee Valley tornadoes in the last five years have both been record-breaking. With such a large number of tornado events to come through, researchers are now hoping to find answers.

Tony Lyza, a researcher and graduate student with the University of Alabama in Huntsville, is studying tornado behaviors, patterns, and trends in the Tennessee Valley. “If we had to pick areas it would be Sand and Lookout Mountains and the Wills Valley in between. [We are also studying] the ridge line along the east side of Huntsville: Monte Sano, Huntsville Mountain, and Green Mountain. [Also,] Lawrence County where you have that sharp ridge line south of Moulton and Mt. Hope,” said Lyza.

Despite being in the very early stages, Lyza has already identified four distinct behaviors tornadoes seem to follow.

Perhaps, the strangest thing Lyza has seen so far in his studies is when storms go through quick periods of strengthening. One instance happened on April 27, 2011, in Jackson County when a tornado more than doubled in strength as it climbed up Sand Mountain heading into Pisgah.

A similar case happened on April 24, 2010 near Fort Payne. Lyza has studied a storm that produced EF-2 intensity damage in Collinsville but then Lyza notes, “As soon as it got up the slope of Lookout Mountain, it was a half-mile wide and producing EF-4 damage.”

Lyza says that results from his work are years away from being achieved, but what he has already found can be used the next time tornadoes threaten the Tennessee Valley. Lyza said, “The whole goal in the end is to give a forecaster understanding that ‘a storm looks like this right now, but it might look like this when it gets in the valley or on the plateau.’”

Pattern recognition of how storms behave in these areas allows us to give you better warnings while we are on television during severe weather.

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