It Happened Again! Strong Tornado on the Ground With No Tornado Warning

This level of non-performance by the National Weather Service in obvious tornado situations is unacceptable and occurs far too often. 

As Tennessee digs itself out from the rubble caused by yesterday's tornado outbreak that killed six, we -- unfortunately -- need to discuss the National Weather Service's (NWS) unacceptably poor performance pertaining to the first major tornado of the day.

A tornado watch had been issued for the area at 11:35am. 

A supercell thunderstorm with considerable rotation developed in western Tennessee about 75 miles north of Memphis. As it moved northeast, and the rotation increased, I tweeted this at 11:40am. 
In the maze of lines above, what do you do not see is a red polygon indicative of a tornado warning. Other meteorologists were becoming alarmed and I salute Dr. Craig Ceecee and meteorologist Jeff Piotrowski for also attempting to give the residents of the area around Sharon some warning. 

From the Paducah radar, the tornado's signature was even more obvious -- complete with a "tornado debris signature" (TDS). Here is the image from 11:41. 
The TDS (lower right panel) became even more obvious on the next frame (included in the supplemental radar information, below). 

While I prefer to reserve "take cover" and similar language to the NWS, the situation had become too dire to wait. 
Above is the 10:44am tweet (using the Memphis radar), saying take cover now!  to the people around Sharon and toward Dresden. 

Moments later, the National Weather Service issued its first tornado warning.

Four minutes later, the NWS had to upgrade the tornado warning to an enhanced "particularly dangerous situation" tornado warning, likely due to the ominous TDS. 
The tornado had been on the ground, doing damage, before even the first NWS tornado warning was issued. The tornado touched down at 11:32, which means the NWS's tornado warning had a lead-time of negative 12 minutes!

I'm not the only person who noticed the late warning. 

Here is a photo of the fire station destroyed by the tornado.
The tornado was on the ground for 25 miles and lasted 31 minutes. Preliminary rating was EF-1 intensity.

The poor tornado warning performance by the National Weather Service is nothing new. Below, from the Department of Commerce's (NWS's parent agency) tornado warning statistics web site is a summary of the problem. Measured against the NWS's own performance targets, here is their performance from Fiscal 2012 to 2022 (ending September 30, 2022).. 
It would be appropriate if the Director of the NWS would take this life-threatening problem of poor tornado warning performance -- in obvious situations like these -- seriously rather than accusing those making him aware of the problem of "Monday morning quarterbacking." It is hardly Monday morning quarterbacking if you, and others, issued cautionary tornado messages in real time while the NWS did not. The NWS Director is in denial. 

The only way this and other issues pertaining to United States' extreme weather forecasting and disaster response get repaired is for Congress to create a Natural Disaster Review Board. Otherwise, these will only continue and put more lives in peril. 

©  2023 Mike Smith Enterprises, LLC

For Meteorologists and Others Interested in the Radar Pertaining to This Tornado
The rotation in this storm (right) is very prominent as depicted by the Memphis WSR-88D.  The images begin at 11:38 and end at 11:51 am. 

And, from the Paducah radar, here is the 11:43pm image which shows the more prominent TDS in the lower right panel. The location of the various tornado signatures are circled. 

Here is 11:35am the tornado watch that included the area around Sharon and Dresden. 

Because of the importance of this post, it will be the top story on the blog through Monday. 


  1. In the collection of radar images, the velocity radar is obvious, but even the reflectivity radar looks like a hurricane icon. Reminds me of playing Utopia on Intellivision, lol.

  2. Providing this category of information is what you are great at…thanks

  3. This is unfortunately nothing new for NWS Memphis in particular. I have had family living in Paris, TN since 2018 and there have been four separate occasions where a tornado that was on the ground in that area was not warned until it was far too late. In that northwest corner of Tennessee, the radar quality from Paducah is much better than the quality from Memphis, and I believe that for some reason Memphis refuses to use Paducah's radar to track storms in the area, and whoever their warning coordinator is is just bad at their job.

    But the NWS as a whole has been doing a pretty terrible job with warnings recently, as you pointed out, and it seems that no matter how much public outcry there has been, they're not doing anything to correct the problems. Although the storm was warned by the time it reached Clarksville, I can't help but wonder if there would have been less than 6 dead if the first tornado in the Sharon/Dresden area had been warned.

    1. This is Mike Smith: Thank you for your comment. Actually, the storm touched down in Clarksville at the Sabre Army Airfield. Giving the NWS the benefit of the doubt, the lead time was -2 minutes (it was probably -4 minutes).

      May I recommend contacting your congressional delegation?

  4. I am glad to see that I am not the only one who has noticed this as I have seen the same thing happen several times since over the past few years. NWS must have a bunch of sleepers at the helm nowadays, it's the taxpayers' money going to these slackers.


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