Alarming deterioration of US National Weather Service tornado warnings

by Mike Smith

In spite of better meteorological technology than ever and more raw scientific knowledge about storms, we are seeing a serious regression in a vital government program: the National Weather Service’s tornado warning program.

Tornadoes have been a bane of living in the United States since pre-Colonial times. In the late 19th Century, the Army Signal Corps attempted to create a tornado forecasting service. In spite of some signs of progress, it was shut down because tornado forecasts would, allegedly, “cause panic.” It was said that more people would die from panic induced by the forecasts than would be killed by the tornadoes.

In the 1950’s, the Weather Bureau – forerunner of today’s National Weather Service – was dragged, largely by outside events, into the tornado forecast and warning business. The Bureau achieved significant success in forecasting but, largely because of lack of adequate tools, was less successful with tornado warnings (the short term “take cover now!” messages).

That changed with better-trained storm chasers and spotters, combined with the National Weather Service’s NEXRAD – a national network of Doppler radars installed in the 1990’s. Those radars and the intense, month-long classroom training required of every meteorologist for their operation, led to unprecedented tornado warning success.

Research by Dr. Kevin Simmons demonstrates that 13 to 15 minutes of “lead time” (the interval of time from when a tornado warning is issued to when the tornado arrives) is ideal. From 2005 to 2011, National Weather Service tornado warnings averaged 13.3 minutes and tornadoes were detected in advance 73.3% of the time. At that same time, the radars were being “dual-polarized” to allow detection of tornado’s lofted debris for better tracking. Plus, the new generation of GOES weather satellites, the first that could sense lightning rates (which are sometimes very useful in determining in advance which thunderstorms will go severe or tornadic) was in operation. All of this should have resulted in new levels of tornado warning accuracy.

They did not. The quality of tornado warnings is deteriorating at an alarming rate!

I have been tracking this for the last dozen years. I wrote a piece for The Washington Post in May, 2021, which documented this trend.

By then, the tornado warning deterioration was well underway.

Screen Shot 2023-07-11 at 4.07.15 PM

How have things changed since 2020?  We don’t know. The NWS’s tornado warning accuracy statistics used to be out in the open. Now, they are behind a login and password.

Before going further, allow me to stipulate: some tornadoes are not “warnable.” This can be because they are brief, because of problems with technology, or because of our incomplete knowledge of tornado science. These are not the focus of my concern.

The tragic fact is the Weather Service is missing strong tornadoes that are obvious on radar and, in a few cases, even after they are reported by trusted ground spotters and chasers.

The National Weather Service and local emergency management botched the warning of the May 22, 2011, Joplin Tornado which killed 161 people – by far the worst death toll in the tornado warning era. I researched and wrote a book about it: [link]

At first, it seemed Joplin was an isolated event. Now, the tornado warning misses are coming at an accelerated rate. And, the NWS is missing tornadoes across the nation, from New Jersey to Colorado and from Texas to Florida. Here are just some of the poorly-warned tornadoes:



  • Iowa: [link]
  • Michigan (fatal): [link]
  • Kansas City (MO and KS): [link]


  • Florida [link]
  • Virginia [link]
  • Texas (Dallas): [link]
  • Texas (fatal, Laguna Heights) [link]
  • Texas (fatal, Perryton) [link]
  • Texas (fatal, Matador) [link]
  • Colorado [link]

Remember: this list represents only some of the obvious tornado misses in the past ten years. I can provide more to anyone who wants to see them.

I readily admit I don’t know all of the reasons for alarming downward tornado warning quality trend — which is spreading like a cancer across the National Weather Service.

My educated suppositions:

  • The retirement of meteorologists born in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s who not only were trained in using NEXRAD but learned to issue tornado warnings from early radar indicators such as hook echoes and right-moving thunderstorms. That experience cannot be replaced.
  • The four-week in-class radar and storm warning training for National Weather Service meteorologists has been discontinued. Two retired NWS meteorologists, both requesting confidentiality, recently told me that radar training is woefully insufficient in some cases.
  • Also playing a role is a misguided attempt to cut false alarms without the science needed to do so. NWS tornado false alarms have indeed been cut by 2%. But that is at the expense of issuing quality warnings when a tornado actually exists. The “probability of detection” (a warning out before a tornado touches down) has dropped by a whopping 19 percent!

In the past, the National Weather Service used to do “service assessments” to supposedly assess the quality of the service it provided during particular disasters. These were staffed by NWS, NOAA and related agency personnel. As you would suspect, they rarely found significant fault. Federal agencies investigating themselves is far less than ideal. Tornado-related service assessments have been fewer in recent years as any type of in-depth assessment would force the NWS to acknowledge these issues.

In my opinion, the only way to fix the tornado warning program and related issues is to create an independent National Disaster Review Board (NDRB) modeled after the hugely successful National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The meteorology part of the NDRB mission would be:

  • Investigate major weather forecast and warning failures. In addition to tornadoes, it would for example include events such as the Tennessee flash flood of August 23, 2021.
  •  The Board would recommend improvements.
  • The NDRB would also take over daily validation of the National Weather Service’s storm warnings and storm forecasts.

The National Disaster Review Board would study disaster response not just from the NWS but would also study FEMA, the Red Cross, local and state emergency management and other entities involved in a particular disaster.

To continue the status quo is to guarantee more lives are unnecessarily lost and that more mega-disasters like Joplin will occur.

Screen Shot 2023-07-11 at 4.10.16 PM

65 responses to “Alarming deterioration of US National Weather Service tornado warnings

  1. I live in Kansas and the U.S. Weather Service Warnings are more or less useless. The warnings typically show up about 10 or so minutes after the tornado has passed. Sirens tied to US Weather Service warnings are also less-than-helpful.

    I always rely on live Doppler radar information from local TV stations – when they say take shelter, do it and do not wait for the sirens.

    The local stations pride themselves on having the best equipment (and can afford it) while they directly care about their neighbors. The bureaucratic Feds, not so much.

  2. I live just northwest of Austin, Texas, and when a line of thunderstorms goes through, the local TV stations go to continuous coverage.
    The weather reporters seem competent, but they look to be in their fifties. And they do seem experienced in reading Doppler radar, and discounting false alarms.

  3. I dont think you remotely understand how complex the mesoscale meteorology behind the Joplin twister was. Additionally, storm survey crews have improved significantly in recent years, improving the surveys of land spout tornadoes specifically, which are almost impossible to detect on radar.

    • Hi Daniel, I did a full in-person and data investigation of the Joplin Tornado. It was a very straightforward tornado from a warning standpoint.

      WeatherData Services, Inc. issued a tornado warning for our clients in Joplin at 5:16pm and correctly stated the tornado would move to the east. The NWS’s warnings incorrectly stated the tornado was moving northeast, which would have completely missed Joplin.

      I don’t understand your point about landspouts. It is a greatly overused term in meteorology these days. Last week’s tornadoes in the Denver area were incorrectly identified as landspouts and — dangerously — no warnings were issued.

  4. In my experience this is not an isolated case. I have noticed that corporations have also gotten more sloppy and less focused on technical excellence and customer support. And of course the US military is losing combat readiness because of recruiting problems. Who wants to serve in a woke military? Not many it appears. Likewise the public health agencies have been shown to be very dishonest and politically driven.

    I’m returning as a consultant for my former employer. It took them literally 3 months to set up my computer account and give me access to my old files. One problem is that computing has been outsourced to incompetent organizations.

    But the pandemic and the response to it was a breaking point of sorts where there was a step change for the worse. Working from home gutted productivity. Many older workers discovered that they liked staying home and retired, with a high loss of technical skills. Worse, the company suffered a huge loss of credibility among its employees by knuckling under to the vaccine mandate for example and thousands simply quit.

    And the adoption of woke ideology was another hit to competence. The company now keeps detailed statistics on every employees “status” regarding race, ethnicity, sexual preference, etc. This system is itself racist and scientifically meaningless as race was never a real scientific category. They claim these statistics are not used in hiring but there is subtle pressure on managers who don’t have “good” statistics to improve.

    In short, Western competence has gone down in alarming ways in the last 5 years because of what I blogged about a couple of months ago here. And worst of all our elite institutions are fatally corrupted by their fear of populism both in the US and Europe. This cannot end well for those institutions. Just as an entrenched and corrupt elite in the Gilded Age were eventually severely reigned in with strong reforms, we are in the midst of the end game of our new Gilded Age with its corrupt media, its very strong income inequality, its monopolistic corporate sector, and a government in the pockets of corrupt interest.

  5. Curious George

    There is a price to pay for enforcing diversity.
    I would love to have another explanation.


      George, it is my experience the NWS workforce is extremely dedicated.

      As I explain in the essay, I believe that they want to do the right thing but are not being properly trained and, thus, cannot make optimal decisions.

  6. Clyde Spencer

    “Before going further, allow me to stipulate: some tornadoes are not ‘warnable.’”
    Might a contributing factor be a shift in the character of tornadoes, such that there is a larger percentage that are “not warnable?” Things such as the events being more transient, shorter tracks, or touching down less might be a problem.

  7. Oh well, at least Pielke won’t be able to point to a decrease in tornado-related deaths, thus undermining the reality of climate change.

    • You are a cynic Jaime, but your sentence is a fairly accurate summation of the behaviour of the alarmists. Not letting a crisis go to waste is the motto.

    • Or, one could consult NOAA for statistics on tornado deaths and learn that such events began declining about 1925. Yes, it is a bad year, but still below many years between 1875 and 1923. Could this be because Mike Smith is correct?

    • Rob Starkey

      The reality is the climate has always changed and always will. Some places will get better weather some places will get more adverse weather. CO2 alarmist currently try to claim all adverse weather is due to the increase in CO2 caused by humans the claim is patently ridiculous

    • Pielke can point to steadily declining number of tornadoes and fewer deaths despite recent woes. This doesn’t undermine the “reality of climate change”. Rather it undermines the catastrophic claims about climate change.

  8. Ireneusz Palmowski

    The circulation in the eastern Pacific runs along the cold California Current. This allows the influx of moist air from over the Gulf of Mexico, which collides with cold fronts from the north. Convection in the US will remain strong.

  9. Ireneusz Palmowski

    Tropical storm in the eastern Pacific turns into a hurricane.

  10. If it weren’t for the occasional direcho or bombogenesis I would be in a state of deep dunkelflaute…

  11. Ireneusz Palmowski

    The stratospheric polar vortex in the south is not as stable as it seems. Ozone blockages also occur there.,-65.49,281
    The blockage begins in the upper stratosphere in the Southwest Atlantic geomagnetic anomaly area.
    Solar wind despite high sunspot number remains weak.

  12. This whole subject seems counterintuitive.

    What is the hidden degradation demon in the closet here?

    What’s missing in the analysis, Mike?

    • Ossqss, I agree that a person would never expect a science to regress like this. As to the analysis, please click on the “link” with each named event. You will find a complete analysis.

      • Apologies for lack of clarity in my initial question.

        I was referring to the analysis on root cause of our warning system performance deteriorating so much.

        We know it’s not the tools used.

      • Ossqss, I explain my hypothesis in the essay.

        But, we need a National Disaster Review Board to get to the bottom of this.

      • That is why I asked what is missing, Mike.

        Where are the impact metrics on politics, lack of meritocracy in management and admissions/hiring processes?

        Training, retirement, and apprehension are not a legitimate reason or excuse for such in today’s world.

        This is life safety level stuff and should be intolerable to everyone regardless of agenda.

        If your retirement account manager performed this way, would you find a new one or just continue go with the negative flows?

        We deserve and should demand better of these agencies. JMHO

      • Ossqss, I do not know what is missing other than what I wrote in the piece.That is why we need a National Disaster Review Board as the NWS is in denial there is a problem.

        And, yes, it is intolerable!

  13. Chicago here. Today we had a serious tornado warning in the city after a confirmed touchdown in the western exurbs. Rare event, as tornadoes rarely threaten the city itself. In my forty years here only a series of microbursts has hit us–damaging enough, as trees fell everywhere and car and property damage was widespread. And of course waterspouts occur on Lake Michigan from time to time. But I must say the civil defense warnings were sounded regularly at least fifteen minutes before this line of storms hit the city limits today, and coverage by local tv stations was stellar. As commenter above noted, local meteorologists live here, so do their families, and they know the area well. So much so that they were able to say if you live on Milwaukee Ave. north of Fullerton, get in the basement. Evanston you are out of danger now. Storm lines are passing I90 now, so Irving Park and West Lakeview you are next. That sort of thing. I am a skeptic about weather panics, and but I followed this local coverage and was impressed.

  14. Ireneusz Palmowski

    It is necessary to follow the storm fronts during the night hours. Cold front also develop at night and can be just as threatening. Convection can even increase as the temperature in the atmosphere drops.

  15. While wind turbines are supposed to last 20 to 30 years—far less than traditional generating technologies fueled by coal, natural gas or nuclear power—the life of some are far less. The 5 turbines that are noted above were mostly located in recently built wind farms in rural areas. However, as the density of wind turbines is also far less than traditional generating technologies, more and more land in more densely populated areas will be needed to meet Biden’s climate goal of 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035. While the wind industry touts how safe and environmentally friendly its turbines are, turbines can catch fire, crash, or leak oil.

    Other Wind Turbine Crashes …

    • Is there a Moors Law for solar panels? When I bought my solar system back in 2011 it took 28 240w (14% efficient) panels for a nameplate power rating of 6.7Kw. Today I could buy 14 panels for LESS MONEY that would produce the same amount of power because the efficiency has almost doubled in the last ten years. If the trend continues we should hit 47% in about ten years.

      The only thing holding back solar is cheap storage.

      • You forgot to mention the capacity factor part of the equation.

      • Just go to PVWatts and plug in your data and it will calculate the expected net energy production for your systems location. I did my own calculations projecting a .05%/year degradation loss and a 20 year lifespan*. I oversized the system by 4 panels to account for any future demand and pay off the system earlier with net metering.
        * Solar panels don’t stop working at 20 years so I’m not sure when I will replace them, maybe when they drop below 70%.

        My ground mounted system has produced 109MWh so far and is ranked in the top 5% of all systems listed at

      • So, what is your capacity factor for your installation? (not the efficiency factor)

        My neighbor is at 7% CF of nameplate value (10kw) in Florida due to trees and being installed on the North side of his house.

        That is pitiful for a 20k investment.

      • I think my capacity factor is around 32% in N. Texas. My ground mount system is 90% shade free and tilted to 34% degrees.
        Your neighbor’s system sounds like it was designed by one of those solar lease companies who make $$ by over-sizing systems
        My system cost me $24k back in 2011 but it paid back all of it by 2018 and I haven’t had an electric bill since 2012 when I signed up for net metering. I’m not saving the planet, I’m saving money.

      • Update: The $24,000 was before the 30% tax credit so my net cost was $16,800.

      • Curious George

        Jack – what is the expected life time of your panels? Are they as good today as they were in 2011? Did you have to replace any of the 28 panels?

      • Curious George – They were warrantied to produce for 20 years with a .05% degradation per year, or about 80% of original output (not nameplate). All the panels are still working but I had 3 microinverters fail in the first five years and Enphase replaced them under their 20 year warranty. Only other expense has been washing them off as needed and paying for some tree trimming this year. Ground mount systems are very easy to maintain. As I mentioned above I’m tempted to just keep them until the whole array drops to 70% and just add a few newer panels in the future when the system can’t cover my demand. The Dept. of Energy’s NREL (National Renewable Energy Labs) published a study last year where they revised their projections for panels like mine out to 25 years and the current panels should last up to 30 years due to improvements in the technology.

      • Curious George

        Thank you.

  16. Siemens Energy

    shares plunged over 37% on Friday after the company scrapped its profit forecast and warned that costly problems at its wind turbine unit could last for years.

    The company, born from the spinoff of the former gas and power division of German conglomerate Siemens

    , announced late Thursday that a review of issues at subsidiary Siemens Gamesa had found a “substantial increase in failure rates of wind turbine components.”

    The Siemens Gamesa board has initiated an “extended technical review” aimed at improving product quality that the parent company said will incur “significantly higher costs” than previously assumed, now estimated to be in excess of 1 billion euros ($1.09 billion).

    • It was a smart move for Siemens to spin this off. I’m seeing other companies selling or looking for capital partners for their unreliable “green” energy products.

  17. Pingback: Alarming Deterioration of US National Weather Service Tornado Warnings • Watts Up With That?

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  20. Ireneusz Palmowski

    Hurricane Calvin in the eastern Pacific is heading west.

  21. David Appell

    “Alarming deterioration of US National Weather Service tornado warnings”

    As usual, blame Republicans.

    “The Commerce Department, which includes the National Weather Service, predicted its ability to issue “accurate weather forecasts” might be hindered with a smaller budget.”

    from “Biden administration warns of ‘damaging’ effects from GOP budget plans; Republicans seek to cut federal spending by $130 billion, but agencies say that could delay Social Security, snarl travel, furlough FBI agents and disrupt public housing,” WaPo,
    Updated March 29, 2023.

    If not for this, then for all their other anti-science, anti-climate, anti-budget positions, anti-tax positions.

    • David, there have been no cuts to the NWS budget. Regardless, how do you account for the steady downward trend that begin in 2012?

    • David Appell

      Mike Smith wrote:
      how do you account for the steady downward trend that begin in 2012?

      Trend of what?

      • David, did you read the piece?

      • David Appell

        Mike Smith wrote:
        David, did you read the piece?

        Don’t expect me to try to read your mind, just because you can’t be clear in your writing.

      • I don’t know what is unclear about this: “The quality of tornado warnings is deteriorating at an alarming rate!”

        Tornado warning quality peaked in 2011. Since, PoD and lead-time have steadily deteriorated.

      • David Appell

        Mike Smith wrote:
        Tornado warning quality peaked in 2011. Since, PoD and lead-time have steadily deteriorated.

        You picked unequal time bins.
        You only have two of them.
        Your “lead time” doesn’t account for any other variables.

        This is very shoddy analysis, Mike.

      • David,

        Speaking of professionalism, it would be far more so to ask questions rather than make accusations.

        The reason there is no later data is because the NWS put them behind a login and password. That data used to be in the open. While I cannot prove it, a reasonable guess would be they are not proud of the more recent numbers.

        If one is concerned about tornado warning safety, there are no other pertinent variables except accuracy (PoD) and lead time.

  22. joe - the non climate scientiest

    David Appell | July 14, 2023 at 11:11 pm | Reply
    “Alarming deterioration of US National Weather Service tornado warnings”
    As usual, blame Republicans
    from “Biden administration warns of ‘damaging’ effects from GOP budget plans; Republicans seek to cut federal spending by $130 billion,

    Appell – Seriously – if you cant tell the difference between an actual cut vs a proposed future cut in spending, how can you have the capacity to understand science

  23. Ireneusz Palmowski

    The negative surface anomalies of the eastern Pacific accurately show the current Pacific atmospheric circulation, which is more in line with La Niña than El Niño.
    The Pacific hurricane, in line with this circulation, is moving westward.
    The SOI has stabilized at 2. Is it a neutral SOI?

  24. Ireneusz Palmowski

    Cold fronts from the north reach the southern US.

  25. Ireneusz Palmowski

    A powerful typhoon is approaching Hong Kong.

  26. Goldilocks should have featured EVs. Won’t work when it’s too cold, won’t work when it’s too hot, the weather has to be just right.

    Electric vehicles meant to help curb climate change are also some of the most susceptible to the very problem they seek to treat: extreme heat.

    As the planet experiences its hottest days on record and heat waves blanket tens of millions of Americans, EV owners are advised to take steps to avoid long-term damage to the batteries powering their cars.

    The warnings augment the unique challenges already facing EVs compared to traditional gas-guzzlers, including the lack of public charging stations, reliance on China for critical minerals used in batteries, electric grid reliability and high sticker prices.

    • George J Kamburoff

      Don’t get your technical information from Reverend Moon’s newspaper. It is purely political.

      “When the blue flame fires up on a gas stove, there’s more than heat coming off the burner. Researchers at Stanford University found that among the pollutants emitted from stoves is benzene, which is linked to cancer.

      Levels of benzene can reach higher than those found in secondhand tobacco smoke and the benzene pollution can spread throughout a home, according to the research.

      The findings add to a growing body of scientific evidence showing that emissions within the home are more harmful than gas stove owners have been led to believe. And it comes as stoves have been dragged into the country’s ongoing culture wars. “

  27. Ireneusz Palmowski

    The typhoon hit will be in Macao. A clear eye can be seen, indicating the great strength of the wind.

  28. Ireneusz Palmowski

    An anomaly over the southern polar circle in the distribution of ozone in the upper stratosphere. The anomaly begins in the region of the Atlantic geomagnetic anomaly. It can be seen that there is more ozone where the magnetic field is weaker. This is because ozone is diamagnetic, that is, it is repelled by a strong magnetic field.

  29. Ireneusz Palmowski

    The northern polar field appears to have reversed polarity in late February 2023. Solar max normally occurs within 0.5-2 years after the first polar field reversal. We can expect solar max for cycle 25 sometime between August 2023 and February 2025.

  30. We got a tornado warning here in New England yesterday. It was a summer storm with thunderstorms. I’ve lived here 73 years now, maybe 53 years cognizant of such things, and post-storm today I see no basis for that warning. But what do I know? I’m just a retired geologist.

  31. Even after rupturing its manufacturing sector with scarce and/or expensive electricity, Germany still isn’t on track to meet it’s unreliable energy goals.

    About 1,565 MW added in H1, 3,200 MW eyed in full year
    Installed capacity status was 59,343 MW at end-June
    Industry lobbies say pace too slow to reach 115,000 MW in 2030
    Turbine makers bemoan lack of cooperation, bureaucracy

    FRANKFURT, July 18 (Reuters) – Germany added 60% more onshore wind capacity in the first half of 2023 than a year earlier at a total of 1,565 megawatts (MW), but needs far more to reach its 2030 target, wind industry lobbies said on Tuesday.
    The roll-out has become more pressing with the drop of Russian fossil fuel exports to Germany last year, demonstrating the risks of reliance on imports and the need for local energy.

    However, even the significantly increased permit numbers are not enough to achieve growth rates of 10,000 MW per year from 2025, which would be necessary to achieve the government’s green energy targets for 115,000 MW of onshore wind in 2030, she said.

  32. Have you considered that, as a department in the Federal government, people are also not being hired because they are good, but because they are black/brown, female, lesbian etc? There is price for anti-merit equity initiatives, and this is one of them. Incompetence in all levels of society subjected to such initiatives.