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No Tornado Warning Raises Questions for National Weather Service - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

No Tornado Warning Raises Questions for National Weather Service

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The National Weather Service says the tornado that damaged a house near Mahnomen,  Minnesota early Monday morning was an EF-2 with top wind speeds of about 115 miles per hour.

The tornado carved a path of damage intermittently for 18 miles and at most was 150 yards wide.

With this new information many questions are circulating about why there was not even a severe thunderstorm watch issued for this storm. We spoke with the National Weather Service to find out.

Jim Kaiser, a National Weather Service meteorologist, had been keeping an eye on storms in the Devils Lake basin Sunday night. "We had one report of a wall cloud and a funnel cloud with those storms," he says.

Those became tornado warned. The one near Mahnomen did not. Why is that?

First of all, Kaiser says there are a number of factors that go into issuing tornado warnings: if weather conditions are ripe for tornadoes, if the radar can pick it up and if there is visual confirmation.

The first problem, Kaiser says, was it was night. He says, "You don't like to tell people to go out in the dark, and try to see if there's a tornado."

Second, he says the radar site detecting the storm is more than 60 miles away, explaining, "The tornado and how small scale it was, and you try to figure that we're looking at 7,000 feet above that circulation. You're never gonna see it on radar."

But not even a severe thunderstorm watch was issued. There was simply a special weather statement saying there is the potential for gusty winds, small hail and heavy rain.

Kaiser says, "If we issue a warning on every weak couplet we have, we're gonna be crying wolf way too frequently."

But we ask, "Wouldn't you say though, especially at night when people are asleep, that it's better to be safe than sorry when issuing warnings?"

"I understand where maybe a watch issuance makes sense, but at the same time our environmental parameters aren't saying there's gonna be enough of a threat for a watch," responds Kaiser.

He says the hard part about issuing warnings is knowing when the right time to issue them is, especially at night. "You lose any sort of trust that you've developed with your population base," adds Kaiser.

He says meteorology is a young science that still needs development in technology and information. He also says having more radar sites could have picked up the storm a lot better.

If you witness damage from a storm at any point of the day or night it is important to call the National Weather Service right away, especially in rural areas, so they can warn people in the path of storms.

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