Review: Tornado season looms, but forecasting a challenge

Tornado season is starting, but don't ask meteorologists how bad it will be this spring and summer. They don't know. They're having a hard enough time getting a fix on the likely path of storms expected in the next 48 hours, from the Ohio Valley to the Southeast coast.

On Wednesday night, one hit Rome, Ga., the National Weather Service said, with winds of 95 mph, leaving a 3-mile swath of destruction. It's not the first one of the year. In January two people were killed by separate twisters in Alabama. Preliminary reports showed 95 tornadoes struck last month, compared with 16 in January 2011, a particularly stormy year.

If a forecast for a hurricane or blizzard is off by a mile, it's still bad weather. But a mile difference means no damage in a tornado, Brooks said: "It's so much finer in time and space on the tornado, it does make it a harder problem."

The percolating Ohio Valley/Southeastern storm is proof of how hard meteorologists have it. On Tuesday evening, Carbin said, "We're kind of expecting it to be a fairly significant event" and the storm center's website had a small red swath for potential severe storms with tornadoes.

All this comes on the heels of one of the worst tornado years in U.S. history. Tornadoes in 2011 started the earliest ever killing 550 people, injuring 5,400 and causing $10 billion in damage over the year, the most in U.S. history. The 2011 season had the most tornadoes in a single day and a single month on record.