Infrasound – acoustic waves with such a low frequency that is so low that human ears cannot hear them. But new research suggests that it may help meteorologists help predict tornadoes.
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Predicting where tornadoes will appear and how tornadoes will move is quite important. At least in the areas where tornadoes appear regularly and people live. So far meteorologists had to rely on Doppler radars and contextual clues combined with eye witness news. And while these technologies have prolonged tornado warning times significantly they are still far from perfect.
At least half of the alerts sent out by the National Weather Service (NWS) end up being false. But now, scientists are thinking about using infrasound as a tool to advance current methods of detecting tornadoes. Brian Elbing, Christopher Petrin, and Matthey Van Den Broeke presented the results of their study recently. Among other information, they are saying that they managed to detect a tornado using infrasound 8 minutes before it started. Using traditional methods they could only detect it 4 minutes before it started.
The scientists say their method has a few other benefits other than being faster. For example, the Doppler radar doesn't work when there is an obstacle – typically a mountain – between the radar and the source. But obstacles do not affect the infrasound detector. So far, the scientists are unsure what makes the warning noise. And the team is still working on how to separate the signal from all the potential noise.
The system does have a few disadvantages compared to more traditional tools though. For example, sound travels much slower than radar information. For example, it takes about a minute for the sound to reach you from a tornado just twelve and a half miles away (twenty kilometers).
In the ideal situation, we would combine all of our tools to detect tornadoes and hopefully save many people's lives.
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