METEOROLOGIST JEFF HABY
There are several factors that can limit the visibility of a tornado. When a tornado is just developing it may not be seen since there are
limited particulates in the circulation. Very quickly though and circulation becomes visible. This writing focuses on several obstructions
that can limit the view of a tornado.
NIGHT: This almost goes without saying. A lack of sunlight is a major factor in tornado visibility. At night, lightning can sometimes be used
to see the tornado circulation at that moment the lightning lights up the sky.
JUNGLE: A dense canopy of trees will severely limit the view of a tornado. Many storm chasers do not chase in this terrain due
to the poor visibility.
RAIN WRAPPED: This occurs when precipitation wraps around the tornadic circulation and hides it. This is an extremely dangerous situation
since the tornado may not be seen coming through the rain.
These first three obstructions (night, jungle, rain wrapped) are the main reason that tornadoes in portions of the S.E. U.S. are extra
dangerous. Often two or all three of these obstructions are occurring at once which makes radar velocity data all the more critical for
tornado warnings in these areas.
POOR AIR QUALITY/POOR VISIBILITY: This can occur from haze, blowing dust, fog, or particulates which can make the tornado all the more
difficult to see, especially in the distance.
BUILDINGS: Urban areas of buildings, home, etc. can obstruct the visibility of a tornado.