No warning for St. James parish as tornado fell under the radar

ST. JAMES PARISH, LA (WVUE) - Many residents in St. James Parish are still making repairs after a tornado brought damaging 90-mph winds Saturday. Neighbors we spoke to say the storm came on so quickly, they didn't have time to prepare. There was no tornado warning. This, despite residents in neighboring parishes, like St. Charles, getting warnings for severe weather.

"It just happened so fast. All we can do is count our blessings," said St. James resident Ray Kliebert.

Kliebert was awake at 5 a.m. making coffee when he says he heard a horrific sound of howling winds.

"My wife came out of the bed and was gasping like, 'What do we do, what do we do?' Instinctively, she went to the daughter's room and I was getting ready to go to the son's room. He's 14 months old. Before we could do any of that, it had passed. It had gone," Kliebert recalled.

Kliebert knew there was a threat of severe storms, but not a tornado.

"A lot of these storms, such as this one, are very shallow in nature. They're very short-lived, and they tend to be very weak," said National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist Frank Revitte.

Revitte says radar indicated the primary threat would be winds. He says it didn't pick up the tornado.

"They have what we call storm scale rotation. The thunderstorm itself is taking on rotation, and that's what the radar really picks up," said Revitte.

So, why didn't it? For that, FOX 8 Meteorologist Nicondra Norwood says you have to understand how radar works.

"It sends out beams from a central location and they bounce back. As those beams go out in time and distance, they also arc. So, the farther away from the radar you are, the higher you're looking into the atmosphere," Norwood explained.

The radars that cover St. James are in Slidell and Lake Charles, both a good way away from the tornado.

"They're below the beams, so your beams are up here. The rotation would be below that, so that's one of the reasons it wasn't picked up on radar," Norwood said.

"You would have to have a lot of radars everywhere even to detect them, all of them. Even if you saw them, they may be so short-lived, by the time you got an effective warning, they may not still be on the ground," explained Revitte.

Even so, FOX 8 asked Revitte whether more radars would allow for better detection of storms like the EF-1 tornado that hit St. James.

"There's been a lot of discussion on this, but I don't know how to approach putting radars everywhere and how effective that would be, even for smaller storms like this," Revitte said.

It's why Norwood says it's important that people take precautions - even when there's just a thunderstorm watch.

"When we say there's a severe weather threat, you need to be aware you may not get that warning. Don't wait for the warning," she said.

Revitte says the National Weather Service issued a warning for St. Charles Parish because the radar was able to pick up a little bit of rotation. He says there was light wind damage in that region.