Could A 30 Minute Tornado Warning System Really Be In The Works?

An undergraduate college student may have found a way to warn people up to 30 minutes in advance that a tornado is on the way.
Karin Heineman, ISTV Executive Producer

(Inside Science TV) -- The national weather service estimates the average warning time before a tornado hits is anywhere from five to thirteen minutes -- but this undergraduate college student may have found a way to warn people up to 30 minutes in advance that a tornado is on the way!  

Angela Lamb, an undergraduate student at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas is no stranger to tornadoes, “I grew up in Arkansas so tornadoes, they are close to home…literally.”

“The spring semester of my freshman year, a tornado hit 10 miles away from my college and it completely destroyed two entire towns,” said Lamb.

That devastation got Angela thinking about what she could do to help better protect people in towns threatened by deadly tornadoes. So she hit the books.

“I spent the last two summers really just like going back anytime we found a tornado, or anything like that, I would just go back through our data, just looking at anything that we can find, any kind of like patterns that we found within our data,” said Lamb.

Angela looked at data from an instrument called a ring laser.

Lamb described the instrument “a ring laser detects any kind of disruption within Earth’s normal frequencies.”

She also said, “the ring laser is able to detect infrasound, which is just any kind of wave that is below 20 hertz which is below anything that we can hear. But can be caused by tornadoes coming through, that’s actually what we’ve been finding.”

The hours she spent combing through data paid off because the ring laser data revealed something new.

“Something that we found last summer, is that we were getting these frequency peaks not only while a tornado was on the ground, but 30 minutes before,” replied Lamb.

It’s a simple tool, that in the future, could save lives.

Lamb replied, “this could actually be a 30-minute warning. Which is incredible because right now we have only five to ten minutes to seek shelter.”

Although the tool isn’t in place right now, in the future a 30 minute tornado warning would give people more time to seek shelter and save lives. The technology is something Angela hopes will some day be put to good use.

“I find it so amazing and cool because it is such an inexpensive way to detect these things,” concluded Lamb. 

Author Bio & Story Archive

Karin Heineman is the executive producer of Inside Science TV.