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Cell phones, social media help NWS track tornadoes

Cell phones, social media help NWS track tornadoes

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - With the prominence of cell phone cameras, your pictures and videos help the National Weather Service better track tornadoes.

Traditionally, the NWS relied on radar and weather spotters in the area.  But radar doesn't depict when a tornado has developed.  That's why the NWS relies on the public.

"Cell phones and social media has definitely made a difference in how we track severe storms and tornadoes," said Pam Evenson, meteorologist with the NWS in Pueblo.  "Almost everybody these days has cameras on their cell phones. They can quickly relay reports and pictures to Twitter and Facebook and we get this information a lot quicker than we used to."

The real-time information also helps the NWS know when to issue warnings.

Over the weekend two tornadoes touched down in Park County, one in Lake George and the other in Fairplay.  

Funnel clouds and tornadoes are rare in those high elevation areas and though social media helps to document them, Evenson said she doesn't feel that the NWS has necessarily missed any in the past.

"I don't think that the fact that we're hearing a lot more reports of tornadoes is any indication that we've seen an increase in tornadoes," Evenson said.  "Just the fact that we have so many people who are able to document this stuff quickly and we hear about it more quickly, that's why it might seem like there's an increase."

Evenson said that even though the pictures and videos are helpful, safety comes first.  If you're in a car, pull over and find a safe spot before taking pictures or video of a tornado.  If it's close enough to you and you are under a tornado warning, take cover.

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