Tornado Warning Grid System
by Meteorologist Robert Staskowski

Here is the most basic idea of the type of warning grid system I am talking about. Maybe this has been thought of already and maybe it hasn’t but to me it is a no-brainer! Either way this is how I see it working.


 Zone 1
 Zone 2
 Zone 3

In this example, each Zone is 2-3 miles from N to S and 10 miles wide from E to W. Assume that this grid is aligned with the average tornado direction in that region. Here is the scenario.

1. A tornado watch box has been issued at 1pm for all colored grids Red, Orange and Yellow. This in itself should set certain rules into motion and have people at the ready.
2. At 3pm an F5 tornado has been confirmed by spotters near the beginning of Zone 1 and is immediately broadcast across all major stations.
3. At the same time the NWS has issued a Tornado Emergency for Zones 1, 2 and 3 as well as the adjacent zones in orange should this tornado veer away from its projected course.
4. The NWS has confirmed the F5 tornado to be moving in the general direction of Zones 2 and 3. (As seen by the El Reno tornado there are rare cases where the tornado can shift or change directions dramatically and that will always be factored in to the grid system no matter how rare the case may be)
5. In current situations all areas in Red and Orange are told to seek shelter immediately and this is where I would like to improve on what is already in place.

If it is confirmed that the tornado is moving 30 miles per hour it will reach Zone 2 in 20 minutes or less. To me the people in Zones 1 and 2 have no choice but to seek shelter immediately. No one should ever be told to get in their cars and drive anywhere. However the people in Zone 3 have 20-30 minutes lead time in order to do better than seeking shelter in a house or building that cannot withstand the forces of an F5 tornado. This is the point at which improvements in the current system need to be made.

The following evacuation processes and mandatory rules should take place if they don’t already take place.

1. All traffic flow into the Orange and Red Zones from Yellow zones should be cut off or diverted.

2. All non-emergency vehicles in Red and Orange Zones should get off the roadways and seek shelter. (Some spotters and chasers who have credentials should be allowed into Orange and Red Zones so they can continue to provide media with up to the minute strength, movement and location of the tornado)

3. Vehicles in yellow Zones should be on high alert and advised to stay off the roads.

4. Now that the roads are in the process of being cleared people in Zone 3 who do not have a storm shelter have 20-30 minutes to get in their cars and drive to safer zones in orange and yellow where they should seek shelter in designated shelter locations such as schools, hospitals, large buildings, etc. (It should be against the law for any local business to turn away people seeking shelter in a tornado emergency.)

5. There should be designated Tornado Evacuation routes similar to Hurricane Evacuation routes.

6. I do not think Meteorologists should ever say point blank “Get in your cars and head in any direction”, nor should it ever be mandatory to do so. Meteorologists should simply notify the public what routes have been cleared and/or what routes are being cleared as well as to advise people what to do and not to do under certain circumstances. No two circumstances will ever be the same. In a situation like the one that occurred in El Reno, advising people to get in their cars and drive South during rush hour was not the right thing to do. We can do better!

To summarize, my goal is not to change the current systems we have in place but to improve on them and I think a Tornado Grid type system in addition to a series of safety/evacuation processes will provide more safety to anyone that needs to survive a tornado heading at them but has ample lead time to get to safety.

I would also like to say this idea will be debated at great lengths and I encourage that. If someone has a thought or great idea as to why they think this can't work or perhaps something to improve on the idea please share it. The more attention that can be drawn to this the better the chance for improvement and the better the chance to save lives!

Robert Staskowski
Meteorologist, New York