‘We look at everything’: NWS meteorologist explains how tornadoes are officially confirmed


HORRY COUNTY, SC (WBTW) – Meteorologists from the National Weather Service office in Wilmington, North Carolina, have been surveying reported tornado damage all over the Carolinas since Hurricane Dorian left.

Once the storm leaves and cleanup begins, NWS looks at videos like this one from North Myrtle Beach and visits damaged neighborhoods like The Retreat to see if what actually happened was a tornado.

“We look at everything,” said Mike Kochasic, who’s a meteorologist for NWS in Wilmington. “We look at the damage to houses. The trees, especially, are helpful because they tend to be the most consistent way to show the different rotations of the damage.”

After Dorian, Kochasic visited reported tornado damage in Horry, Brunswick and New Hanover counties in South Carolina, and showed us his process.

He takes pictures, puts qualitative findings into an app on his iPad, and interviews residents. With this information, he can help ultimately confirm if what caused the damage was technically a tornado.

Kochasic says meteorologists look for damage from circular winds, instead of straight winds, on things like trees and signs.

“For tornadoes, (trees and signs) face a certain path,” he said. “They face towards where the path of the tornado was. On one side, it might be leaning to the left, one side might be leaning to the right.”

Kochasic says these storm reports give more research to forecasters, which is especially needed when NWS issues very precise tornado warnings, sometimes right down to the street.

“We don’t necessarily see tornadoes on radar,” he said. “We just see circulation centers. Sometimes that correlates to a tornado, a lot of times it does not. It’s very important to get ground truth, reports from people actually in the neighborhoods that have damage.”

NWS meteorologists from Wilmington are still studying damage reports in North Carolina. The office says, however, that it doesn’t expect to confirm any more tornadoes in Horry County, S.C., unless it receives a new report to investigate.

If you’d like to report possible tornado damage in North Carolina,email Steven Pfaff, the warning coordinator for NWS in Wilmington, at steven.pfaff@noaa.gov.

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