PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — With the 50th anniversary of a deadly tornado in Vancouver, KOIN 6 News looked into how tornado technology has evolved in the last half century.
The Vancouver tornado of 1972 killed six people and injured hundreds. In the 1970s, people had access to second-generation radar technology, according to KOIN 6 News meteorologist Joseph Dames.
This meant that meteorologists could only read what was happening horizontally.
However, a shift to third generation radar technology in the 1990s allowed for dual polarization, which gauges horizontal and vertical transmissions. Dames explained that this allows people to get a better idea of precipitation in case of a severe weather storm.
Confused about radar?
“It is essentially emitting microwave radiation that can bounce off precipitation,” said Dames. “This is measuring the intensity and position of rain and snow.”
He added that modern radars can tell the speed of the precipitation toward and away from the radar, also known as velocity. That also gives us an idea of the air motion because it’s moving the droplets.
“Over the last 50 years, our technology has increased significantly,” said Dames. “We could literally tap into radar on our phone, which is impressive.”
This doesn’t mean technology doesn’t have limitations.
Oregon’s typography of mountains and hills interferes with the radar technology, said Dames. It’s also difficult to predict tornadoes in the Northwest because they are so short lived.
Tornadoes, he said, are sometimes not even noticed on the radar scan because it’s only on the ground for maybe 30 seconds.
In the Midwest and the Great Plains, meteorologists can track a system and follow it on the radar, but meteorologists in the Pacific Northwest have to pay attention to what’s happening over the ocean.
“We don’t even have a (radar) along the Oregon coast,” said Dames. “Sometimes it just kind of arrives abruptly.”
In a perfect world, Dames said there would be a radar along the Oregon coast along with more research and have an increase in high resolution weather models to be able to give people more warning.
Should you be worried about a tornado in the Pacific Northwest?
“I think it should be on everyone’s radar,” said Dames, with no pun intended. “You should be ready for severe weather, and you should be ready for a tornado.”
However, he added, “I don’t think people should be afraid of tornadoes here because technology has increased, (and) we have a better understanding than we did 50 years ago.”
For those trying to find ways to be prepared in case of a tornado, KOIN 6 News spoke with the Red Cross on what you can do ahead of time.