August 23, 2014

Medina
Intermittent clouds
66°F

Tornado sneaked up on meteorologists

The back view of homes on Acorn Circle damaged by a tornado on Monday night. Most of the debris in the backyard came from a home on Royal Oak Drive that lost its roof and a second-floor wall when an EF1 tornado touched down on the street.  LOREN GENSON / GAZETTE

The back view of homes on Acorn Circle damaged by a tornado on Monday night. Most of the debris in the backyard came from a home on Royal Oak Drive that lost its roof and a second-floor wall when an EF1 tornado touched down on the street. LOREN GENSON / GAZETTE

There was no warning before a tornado tore through a Brunswick neighborhood earlier this week, weather experts said, because some freak twisters are impossible to predict.

“It just developed instantaneously,” said Gary Garnet, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Cleveland. “It’s very difficult to put out a warning for something like this.”

Garnet said the tornado that formed with a severe storm on Monday was not part of a super-cell system — the system meteorologists usually monitor for tornadoes. Garnet said it’s more unusual for tornadoes to develop outside of super-cell systems.

“We occasionally get them here in this area and Brunswick was a good example,” Garnet said.

In a way, the tornado that developed over Brunswick was the result of a few unique weather events colliding over the city. There were thunderstorms moving east and north. There also was a breeze blowing south off Lake Erie.

“It was sort of the perfect storm,” Garnet said. “The lake boundary and the cold air boundary coming out of the thunderstorms collided over Brunswick.”

The collision of air moving in three directions began to rotate, and pulled upward, creating the tornado that first touched down near Marie Drive, south of state Route 303 in Brunswick.

Garnet said the storm pulled the warm air upward, moving the rotating system into a funnel very quickly. He likened the movement to the way a figure skater rotates in a spin while crouched down, and when they straighten up, they begin to rotate much, much faster.

Garnet said that by the time the rotation showed up on radar, the tornado already was on the ground, meaning advance warning was impossible. The weather service did issue a severe thunderstorm warning at 6:53 p.m. for the Brunswick area, noting the storm was capable of producing strong winds and hail. The agency estimated the tornado touched down about 6:55 p.m. and lasted approximately 5 minutes.

He said even with the conditions of two thunderstorm boundaries present, there was no way to predict a tornado would develop. Garnet said the Brunswick tornado is a good example of why people should take severe thunderstorm warnings seriously.

“Anytime there’s a severe thunderstorm warning, tornadoes can, and do, sometimes occur,” he said.

But he said when his office issued the warning, the primary concern was hail and winds of up to 60 mph.

The freak tornado that hit Brunswick on Monday packed winds of up to 110 mph and was rated an EF0 and EF1 on the Fujita scale — the two lowest ratings assigned to tornadoes.

Unlike a super-cell tornado that develops top to bottom, the tornado that struck Brunswick formed differently.

Garnet said a super-cell tornado generally develops slowly, with rotation of storm clouds high up in the air before a funnel begins to form and then slowly reach toward the ground.

“It usually shows up on radar clearly and works its way down,” he said. “We can usually warn about 10 or 15 minutes before the tornado hits.”

But the tornado that hit Brunswick formed in a matter of seconds.

“It formed right there on the ground where the boundaries collide,” he said.

In a report of the Brunswick tornado published by the National Weather Service, meteorologists said the probability of detecting a nonsuper-cell tornado is 46 percent. The probability was based on a two-year study of tornado warnings completed in 2013 and means less than half of nonsuper-cell tornadoes studied by the National Weather Service were covered by a warning when they occurred.

The weather service also reported that a collision of thunderstorm boundary lines is what may have spawned a deadly tornado that struck Moore, Okla., in 2013, killing 24 people.

In that instance, the tornado was part of a super-cell system, but the system collided with another line of thunderstorms spawning the strong and deadly tornado that reached speeds of more than 200 mph across more than 17 miles.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com. Follow her on Twitter @lorengenson.