Jones County assesses Doppler problems

By By Brian Livingston / special to The Star
March 17, 2002
LAUREL A spokesman for the National Weather Service in Jackson said his office "dropped the ball" when it failed to predict what may become known as the Lebanon Phantom Tornado.
The twister struck northwest Jones County Friday night about 7 p.m., causing major damage to homes and the West Jones High School complex.
Jim Stefkovich, meteorologist in charge, said the tornado may have been hiding in a storm cell as it moved into western Jones County.
Stefkovich met Saturday with Don McKinnon, director of the Jones County Emergency Management Agency, members of the Jones County Board of Supervisors and Jones County School Superintendent Thomas Prine.
After the meeting, McKinnon said staff meteorologists monitoring the storm apparently had no reason to suspect a twister was lurking in the small storm cell. From all indications, the weak wind rotation was nowhere near what it should have been to spawn such an event.
Stefkovich said the storm developed quickly seemingly out of nowhere.
F1 tornado verified
The National Weather Service has classified the tornado and its strength as an F1, the weakest on the Fujida scale used to rate twisters. An F1 tornado has sustained wind speeds of 80-90 mph.
Recalling Friday evening, McKinnon said nothing led him to believe a tornado was possible. No severe weather was being tracked by the National Weather Service in Jackson. There were no weather alerts or warnings.
No warning at all.
At 7:05 p.m., reports started flooding in that a tornado had hit in the Lebanon community of Jones County.
Doppler problems
McKinnon said the Doppler radar is, in effect, blinded by a geographical anomaly that exists between Jackson and Laurel. He said the radar has a hard time picking up severe weather systems below 10,000 feet.
The tornado was on the ground for three-quarters of a mile, from Lebanon Road on the west side of Highway 28 North, northeast to West Jones High School.
In its wake, the ends of homes were blown out and many other sustained serious roof damage. As yet, there is no accurate count of how many homes were damaged.
McKinnon said federal funds have been allocated to the National Weather Service in Jackson to move the Doppler radar to a different place and hopefully eliminate blind spots.
Brian Livingston is a staff writer for The Laurel Leader-Call in Jones County.

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