I'm Dave Thurlow for the Mount Washington Observatory and this is The Weather Notebook. "The National Severe Storms Forecast Center has issued a tornado watch for the following counties, good for tonight and early tomorrow morning."
These words have been uttered hundreds of times on radio and TV stations every spring and summer as tornado season unfolds. This year though, there's a change in the works. The government office that issues weather watches has been renamed the Storm Prediction Center, and it's been moved from Kansas City, Missouri, to Norman, Oklahoma. The move to the Sooner State is actually a homecoming, because that's where tornado watches got their start.
On March 25, 1948, two meteorologists at Tinker Air Force Base issued the very first tornado outlook. This paved the way for the U.S. Weather Bureau to set up a storm forecast center in Washington, DC, soon moving to Kansas City, where it stayed until last fall. Each year, the center issues several hundred watch "boxes" they're called, typically measuring 100 by 200 miles. Every watch box covers an area where tornadoes or severe storms could develop.
As storms are sighted, the watch is upgraded to a warning for a specific town or county. In the next few years, the traditional watch boxes will be packed away in the meteorological closet. Instead, watches will be issued on a county-by-county basis, which should provide more precision and better accuracy. After all, it's hard to any part of the atmosphere into a square box.
Funding for The Weather Notebook is provided by The National Science Foundation. Our show is underwritten by Subaru, maker of the all Weather Legacy. Subaru -- the beauty of All-Wheel Drive.