How Can You See A Tornado On A Radar?

How Can You See A Tornado On A Radar?

Weather forecasters use radar technology in the detection of thunderstorm features that increase the likelihood of tornados. The radar technology is combined with computer programs, known as an algorithm in data analysis. Such a combination can mean tornados can be detected even before these are visible on the ground. 

So how can you see a tornado on a radar? You should look for specific patterns (hooks) and visual cues (colors) that indicate favorable conditions for tornado formation. You will need training in reading the radar, so to speak, before you can make forecasts. 

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Read on for more information on the patterns and cues that signify possible tornados. Just remember that you shouldn’t be chasing after tornados if you value your life! 

Look For Certain Patterns

The distinguishing pattern of tornados is the hook echo, a hook-like pattern extending from the radar reflectivity image. The hook echo is typically found on the thunderstorm’s right rear portion, relative to its motion.

It’s also often indicative of a mesocyclone’s presence that, in turn, increases the likelihood of tornado formation.

The hook echo is the result of a rear flank downdraft. It is caused by precipitation wrapping around the updraft’s backside. It is also characterized by intense winds surrounding the tornado and eventually wrapping around it. 

Look For Visual Clues

Forecasters also consider the colors on a radar image to determine the favorable conditions for a tornado or its presence. Keep in mind that base velocity refers to the winds either moving away or toward the radar site. A specific color designates each direction.

Red colors indicate winds moving away while green colors indicate winds moving toward the radar site. The darker the shade, the slower the wind speed while the brighter the shade, the faster the wind speed.

The base velocity product can be expressed in either knots or miles per hour, depending on the software used. 

Now, if you want to spot a tornado using radar images, you should look for couplets. These are red and green colors displayed side-by-side within a mesocyclone.

You can determine whether a thunderstorm has favorable conditions for a tornado or has produced one already through couplets.

If these are large with weak colors, it’s an indication of broad rotation that may or may not produce a tornado. Forecasters will watch it closely, but it doesn’t mean that there’s a tornado on the ground.

If these are small and with bright colors, it’s indicative of strong rotation within the mesocyclone. The conditions are ripe for a tornado, and it may already be producing a tornado on the ground. 


Keep in mind that looking at radar images to determine the presence of tornados should be done for safety reasons. You can use the Storm Tracker Weather Radar, a free app, to check your location vis-à-vis tornados. You shouldn’t use it to track down tornados, much less chase after them.

There’s a good reason why meteorologists issue tornado warnings. If your location is under a tornado warning, you’re in grave danger! You have to find safe and secure shelter immediately.