Severe Weather Alerts

University of Oklahoma Using Technology to Track Tornado Debris

OKLAHOMA  --  Storms have made it a brutal spring in a wide swath of the country's midsection.

Heavy rains have meant flooding, and in some cases, tornadoes have brought widespread damage.

The University of Oklahoma is using advanced radar simulation technology to learn more about tracking debris in tornadoes. NBC's Lacey Lett learned more about the innovative study that could save lives.

"It's the best indicator of where the damage is occurring is wherever you see a particular signature in the radar echo," said Robert Palmer, executive director of the University of Oklahoma's Advanced Radar Research Center.

The program shows the different types of debris inside a tornado, and researchers are able to simulate a tornado with debris that has been collected from an actual twister.

"In this simulation environment, we have total control, so we can eliminate the debris signature," said Palmer. "We can eliminate the precipitation and only look at one or the other. In real data you can't do that."

Researchers hope it will help educate forecasters and meteorologists on how to better identify debris on radar.

"We never really know if a tornado's on the ground. That's why we have storm trackers out there, but now if we can see the debris on radar, that's going to let us know there's actually a tornado on the ground," said meteorologist Jon Slater.

"That can be valuable information to our media partners, emergency managers, forecasters to relay the information, that yes, this tornado is doing a lot of damage," said University of Oklahoma research scientist David Boone.

The University of Oklahoma research lab has applied for another grant with the National Science Foundation to further its efforts.