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STUDY: Shifting landscapes trigger tornado touchdowns

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Posted: Apr 17, 2014 9:54 AM by Meteorologist Josh Eachus
Updated: Apr 21, 2014 12:47 PM
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Topics: tornado, severe, weather, research

Researchers from Purdue University say it is time to examine land areas that transition from rough to smooth, wet to dry and sloped to flat. They believe regions of changing landscape could be the focal point for tornado touchdowns.

After examining National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center tornado data from around the state of Indiana, researchers discovered that the majority of tornadoes touched down near areas where dramatically different landscapes meet. For example, where a city meets a suburb or where forest meets open land.

Doctoral students working on the project believe forecasters should pay close attention to these "landscape transitions zones" to key in on a relationship between tornado touchdowns and the earth's surface.

More than 60 years of data showed that over 60% of tornado touchdowns occurred within one mile of urban areas while over 40% happened within one mile of forest.

Overall, tornado reports have escalated through the years, as the population has grown. More observers simply increase the likelihood of a tornado being seen and tallied. Researchers from this project do not believe that fact is impacting their reports from urban locations because a significant chunk of reports also exists in low population areas with major changes in surface features.

One researcher noted that an abrupt shift in land surface can squash or stretch a column of air increasing its ability to rotate.

According to an article published on joplinstockyards.com, Indiana's state climatologist and co-author of the study, Dev Niyogi, believes that how land effects tornado development is an area deserving of further research. Niyogi added that better understanding these land-atmosphere interactions could lead to city designs that reduce the risk for hazards such as tornadoes.

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