What is a 'Tornado Emergency'?

Tornado Emergencies are rare and only issued when ‘severe threat to human life and catastrophic damage are imminent or ongoing’ for a confirmed tornado.

The National Weather Service rarely issues a Tornado Emergency but when they do, take heed. It is only issued for an area with a confirmed tornado where there is a "severe threat to human life, and catastrophic damage are imminent or ongoing," stated the NWS.

"The way we need to think of it is an enhanced tornado warning, the National Weather Service calling extra special attention to this cell, and its potentially dangerous tornado on the ground, said Brigit Mahoney on FOX Weather. 


History of the Tornado Emergency

The NWS issued the very first Tornado Emergency in Norman, Oklahoma, on May 3, 1999. A large, confirmed tornado was heading for Oklahoma City, and meteorologists felt that a Tornado Warning was not strong enough to describe the potential damage and loss of life. 

NWS surveys eventually rated the twister an F-5. It traveled over 38 miles in an hour and a half.

Tornado Emergencies remained unofficial until after a deadly EF-3 tornado in Arkansas killed 13 people, according to the NWS Little Rock office. They issued a Tornado Warning but not a Tornado Emergency.

The official statement, following an assessment, reads, "Little Rock personnel felt that the Tornado Emergency was to be reserved for tornadoes impinging on densely populated areas. This is the general perception of all WFOs (Weather Forecast Offices). During this event, there was no national guidance on when to use Tornado Emergency wording."

Per the NWS, Tornado Emergencies are specifically only used in the following situations:

  • Severe threat to human life is imminent or ongoing.
  • Catastrophic damage is imminent or ongoing.
  • Reliable sources confirm tornado (either 1 or 2):VisualRadar imagery strongly suggests the existence of a damaging tornado (a debris ball signature, for example)
  • Visual
  • Radar imagery strongly suggests the existence of a damaging tornado (a debris ball signature, for example)

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