Physical Understanding Necessary for Improving Tornado Forecasts and Warnings

November 2013 (VOL. 31, NO. 3)

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The forecasting and warning of tornadoes requires the understanding of physical processes occurring on many different spatial and temporal scales, from the high and low pressure systems on the scale of 1000s of kilometers, to finer scale features that initiate storms, to details occurring within a particular storm. It is this wide range of relevant physical scales, in part, that makes the forecasting and nowcasting of tornadoes and tornadic storms so difficult. The forecasting and warning process itself is detailed in the next article, so this one focuses on the background scientific understanding necessary for those efforts to be successful, and points out the areas in which improvement in our scientific understanding is needed. We discuss our understanding of the processes involved in forming storms (referred to as convection initiation hereafter), the large-scale atmospheric conditions (referred to as environments hereafter) supportive of tornadic storms, and our limited knowledge of the controls on tornado strength and longevity. In the final section, outstanding scientific problems are highlighted.