Deadly Alabama tornado a reminder of severe weather potential, issues with forecasting tornadoes

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A deadly tornado ripped through the northern Birmingham, Alabama suburbs of Fultondale and Center Point Monday night.

Winter tornadoes are not new in the Deep South, but severe weather was not expected in Alabama until Monday morning.

The tornado is a reminder that severe weather can strike any time of year.

To alert people of the danger storms can pose on a particular day, the Storm Prediction Center is charged with issuing thunderstorm outlooks, on a 1 to 5 scale, of how likely severe weather is that day.

On a typical day, the chance of severe weather is zero. When the scale reaches a five, or high risk, it means there is a 60 percent chance of severe weather.

Thunderstorm outlooks are not a perfect science.

The Alabama tornado on Monday occurred in an area that did not have a risk of severe weather from the Storm Prediction Center until 8 .a.m.

The highest risk was to the northwest of where the tornado struck.

Monday’s tornado was a glaring reminder that Storm Prediction Center forecasts for tornadoes are the worst forecast they produce, compared to their forecasts for wind and hail.

A study from 2018 that verified 8 years of Storm Prediction Center forecasts found that not only are tornadoes their worst forecasted event, they also struggle in forecasting severe weather in places like Texas and the Atlantic Southeast, which includes North Carolina.

The forecasts issued on the day severe weather is expected performed far better than those issued two or three days out. The study notes the thunderstorm outlooks should be used, but mainly on the day of possible severe weather.

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