Radar-Based, Storm-Scale Circulation and Tornado-Probability Tendencies Preceding Tornadogenesis in Kansas and Nebraska


  • Bryan M.  Baerg NOAA, National Weather Service
  • William P. Gargan NOAA, National Weather Service
  • Ariel E. Cohen NOAA, National Weather Service
  • Richard L. Thompson NOAA / NWS / NCEP / Storm Prediction Center
  • Bryan T. Smith NOAA / NWS / NCEP / Storm Prediction Center
  • Alan E. Gerard NOAA / OAR / National Severe Storms Laboratory
  • Chauncy J. Schultz NOAA, National Weather Service
  • Lawrence A. Kelly NOAA, National Weather Service
  • Heather V. Nepaul NOAA, National Weather Service




This study analyzes the behavior of storm-scale circulations preceding initial tornadogenesis in 179 Kansas and Nebraska storms. Manually determined assessments of radar data for storm-scale circulations preceding the tornadoes are performed as far back in time prior to the tornado as a circulation is apparent, with average rotational velocity (Vrot), circulation diameter, and circulation clarity documented for the 0.5° elevation scan. These data are simultaneously combined with an indication of environmental conditions (as represented by the significant tornado parameter) to determine the tornado probability at each of these times based on a recently developed probabilistic model. By aggregating these parameters in time-range bins, subsequent statistical analyses portray the bulk variability of circulation characteristics and tornado probabilities preceding tornadogenesis. The blended approach for assessing tornado potential yields a stronger relative increase in tornado probabilities leading up to tornadogenesis than the sub-component of average Vrot; this is especially true within 15 min before tornadogenesis. Additionally, significant tornadoes are associated with more substantial increase in tornado probabilities preceding tornadogenesis compared to weak tornadoes, and smaller lead time to tornadogenesis for weak tornadoes. Also, a cycling pattern may appear in velocities prior to significant tornadoes, along with a relative decrease in pretornadic circulation diameter, especially for significant tornadoes. These findings are intended to highlight some of the behaviors of storm-scale circulations and their corresponding environments, which can be used to reinforce meteorologists’ tornado threat assessment. Extending this work to encompass more convective-mode variability, null cases, and geographic expanse will be necessary for more overarching applicability.