Special Comment: NWS shines in tornado outbreak

NWS survey teams were in the field Friday to assess the number and severity of tornadoes from Thursday’s tornado outbreak. But the work they did before and during Thursday’s outbreak likely saved many lives.

I do not hesitate to point out when I think NWS can do better. Issuing tornado warnings early this week for small “rotating” thundershowers that produced no severe weather was a bit aggressive I thought. But in the events leading up to and during Thursday, regional NWS forecast offices shined.

It started with a good lead time for the possibility of severe weather for Thursday. Both SPC and local NWS offices gave the public plenty of advance notice that severe weather was likely Thursday with outlooks and graphics. Even though from a synoptic meteorological perspective this was a pretty clear cut severe weather situation, NWS did an excellent job of previewing the event to the public.

As events unfolded Thursday SPC and local NWS offices were on the money with timely tornado watches and warnings. At one point yesterday, I counted at least 12 tornado warnings in effect at the same time for Minnesota, with a total of at least 20 of Minnesota’s 87 counties under tornado warnings at the same time. I can’t recall an event even approaching that intensity and coverage, and that doesn’t even take into account severe thunderstorm warnings that were in effect at the same time.

I was too busy to count the actual number of Minnesota counties under severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings at the peak of Thursday’s event, but I think an educated guess would have put that number at around 40 of Minnesota’s 87 counties. Incredible.

MPR’s All Things Considered host Tom Crann and I were talking about how we’ve never seen the MPR weather alert service that keeps track of severe weather so choked with warnings Thursday. It was hard to even get through the tornado warnings in one broadcast, let alone the severe thunderstorm warnings.

The bottom line is, regional NWS offices deserve our thanks for the excellent work they did Thursday. Grand Forks (GFK) Twin Cities (MPX) Duluth (DLH) La Crosse (ARX) Sioux Falls (FSD) and even Des Moines (DSM) all dispatched warnings and other critical weather information at lightning speed for parts of the huge MPR regional listening area.

Trained and dedicated volunteer SKYWARN severe weather spotters also provided critical “ground truth” as events unfolded.

As a broadcast meteorologist, it is good to know that we are supported by such a dedicated team of weather professionals in the Upper Midwest.


  • Bill Cassidy

    Thank you, Paul for giving credit where credit is vastly due. Yet another example of how “government can’t do anything right.” Except when it does.

  • How does MPX differ from the NOAA (at least I think it’s NOAA) office in Chanhassen? What’s the difference between what each of them does?

  • Craig

    MPX is the three letter ID for the Chanhassen National Weather Service Office. MSP is the three letter ID for the International Airport. These IDs are used to register the source of weather data for record publication. Also at the Chanhassen NOAA campus are two other facilities; the North Central River Forecast Center (NCRFC) and the Office of hydrology remote sensing center (NOHRSC)

  • Tyler

    I’ll add my kudos – I don’t know if NWS got lucky with forecast models or what, but I don’t remember EVER seeing tornado and severe weather notifications so far ahead of the actual event. Great work.

  • Tim

    The National Weather Service did a terrific job of predicting this tornado outbreak and providing advance notice when the storms began to emerge. Everyone likes to pick on the “weatherman” when forecasts go wrong (which is really not all that often) but few praise them when forecasts are accurate. Thanks Paul for giving the NWS credit. Now please talk to your newsroom. All weekend long, the hourly newscasts on MPR referred to this tornado outbreak as “record setting” with 35 or 39 tornadoes. I cringed every time I heard this knowing that there were NWS assessment teams on the ground investigating these storms and that this number was likely to be significantly reduced. Cathy Wurzer is discussing this on the air as I type, setting the record straight. MPR has a terrific news room with the best reporters in the state, but like all of us, there is room for improvement. Overall, however, MPR has done an excellent job reporting on this weather event.