tornado advisory terms (UNCLASSIFIED)

Mullins, Bill AMRDEC Bill.Mullins at US.ARMY.MIL
Thu May 5 19:00:26 UTC 2011

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
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My home (Madison County, AL) took a beating last week.  Huntsville has a
history of deadly tornados (4/3/1974, 11/15/1989, 5/18/1995), and the
local meteorologists are attuned to the slightest possibility of
breaking into regular broadcasts and showing how brave they are by
standing outside.

One thing that has made "Tornado Warning" less specific than it used to
be is Doppler radar.  Used to be, a tornado actually had to be seen and
reported before we entered "Tornado Warning" status -- up till that, it
was always Tornado Watch.  Now, Doppler radar can detect rotational
vortices associated with funnel clouds, and the local news will report
these as "Tornado Warning" -- even if no funnel cloud is ever seen, and
no rotational winds ever approach ground level.

> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On
Behalf Of
> Jonathan Lighter
> Sent: Thursday, April 28, 2011 9:55 AM
> Subject: Re: tornado advisory terms
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: tornado advisory terms
> -
> Yeah, but get this. Every fifteen minutes last night we were
> getting "Tornado Warnings" from the National Weather Service in
> TN.  To my surprise, each one of these warnings (and they were indeed
> "Tornado Warnings" both on screen and in the voiceover) was a warning
> "severe thunderstorms that could produce tornadoes."  More startling,
> voiceover went on to say "This tornado will be at X at such-and-such a
> at Y, etc., etc.," The word "tornado" was explicitly used even when
> was no tornado. And, fortunately, there mostly wasn't.
> To use "tornado" to mean "violent thunderstorm" can only lead to
> and possibly worse. In fact, in my day (i.e., before this year) a
> Warning" was indeed issued only when a funnel cloud (aloft or on the
> had actually been sighted. Anything short of that was a "Tornado
> which would be issued if tornado-spawning thunderstorms were possible.
> (Actual advancing thunderstorms came under the heading of "Severe
> Thunderstorm Warning.")
> I don't understand (and therefore fear) the change in terminology.
> JL
> On Thu, Apr 28, 2011 at 10:33 AM, Charles C Doyle <cdoyle at>
> > ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> > -----------------------
> > Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> > Poster:       Charles C Doyle <cdoyle at UGA.EDU>
> > Subject:      tornado advisory terms
> >
> >
> ---
> >
> > Having spent a harrowing night among tornadoes, I notice this
morning that
> > standard dictionaries (including the OED) fail to record the quite
> > use of two complementary weather terms:  "tornado (or storm) watch"
> > "tornado (or storm) warning."
> >
> > A "watch" is announced when conditions are specifically propitious
for the
> > meteorological event.  A "warning" is issued, more urgently, when
the event
> > is actually occurring in the vicinity--as when a tornado has been
seen at
> > ground level.  The terms and the distinction may be somewhat
technical, but
> > they are commonly employed by government agencies and the media, and
> > are expected to be understood by the public--whose lives may depend
on the
> > understanding!
> >
> > --Charlie
> >
> > ------------------------------------------------------------
> > The American Dialect Society -
> >
> --
> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -
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