UMass Researchers Work On Tornado Radar, Warning Systems with Univ. of Oklahoma

Monday’s deadly tornado outside Oklahoma City leaves questions of how people can prepare for such a sudden, destructive weather event.  Researchers at UMass Amherst and the University of Oklahoma have worked together for several years to develop more accurate tracking and warning systems for tornadoes. But those systems can only do so much.

The two universities have developed a mobile radar system that will be tested later this year in Texas. And Stephen Frasier, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UMass Amherst, says his department has also been involved in developing more advanced tornado warning systems. But Frasier says while new technology can help citizens and meteorologists prepare, it can’t prevent damage in a major storm.

“It’s going to come, and it’s going to do damage, and there’s really not much you can do about it. The best you can do is issue warnings that people will listen to and respond to.”

Frasier says it’s important not to over-warn during strong storms, so that people are responsive when a real tornado hits. He says affected communities in Oklahoma may reconsider how and where they build homes and buildings.

“One of the outcomes from these damage surveys will always be recommendations for improved structures and building codes to help reduce the loss of life in the future.”

Frazier says tornadoes are less of a concern in the Northeast, with just one or two hitting Massachusetts each year. He says tornadoes like the one that struck western Massachusetts nearly two years ago are still very rare.