There's a reason you may be hearing more tornado warnings these days, and it isn't just more storms.
Recent improvements in weather radars make it easier for forecasters to spot and send warnings for the small, "squall-line tornadoes" most common in Kentucky, says Joe Sullivan, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Louisville.
Even a few years ago such small, but still dangerous, storms could have been missed, Sullivan said Wednesday. Detecting those storms may trigger more warnings, but it also gives people more time to take cover.
"In many cases during the storms last week we were able to give people 25- and 30-minute warnings that these squall-line tornadoes were coming," he said. "If you're living in a mobile home park that's critical."
Sullivan says weather officials have not changed the criteria they use in deciding when to hit the tornado warning button. Traditionally, decisions were based on actual funnel-cloud sightings and radar pictures. That's still the case, Sullivan said.
"The number of storms isn't going up and up," Sullivan said. "But back in the 50s and 60s, the radar technology we had could only pick up the really big super-cell tornadoes. The smaller ones were basically invisible to us."
He said recent hardware and software enhancements to the radar "give us finer detail on these small-scale circulations that can lead to weak tornadoes along squall lines. And that's the majority of the tornadoes that we get in Kentucky."
Even so, weather forecasters sometimes draw criticism no matter what they do. For example, some viewers weren't happy when WLEX-TV broke into The Voice to report storm warnings Tuesday night.
"That is management policy," said WLEX chief meteorologist Bill Meck. "When one of our counties is under a tornado warning, we are in wall-to-wall coverage. It's a life-threatening situation."
However, Meck said he and his managers do worry about a "crying wolf" syndrome, where, in situations like this week, people may hear so many warnings that they start to ignore them. Nevertheless, warnings must be taken seriously, he said.
"Whenever there's a chance for significant weather, we tell people to stay weather aware. A tornado by itself has a life span of less than 10 minutes, but if it's coming toward you, that can change your life."