If it’s a tornado or severe thunderstorm – NEVER is too soon!  It seems very early for twisters, but on the last day of February, into the morning hours of March 1st, at least 18 tornadoes left their aftermaths in the states of Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, and Indiana.  These terrible tornadoes were spawned by a powerful storm system that blew in from the Rockies on Tuesday.  The latest death count was 12 persons, with more expected, as several severe injuries were reported; rescue efforts are being made throughout the hardest hit places, whether small towns or cities.  Branson, Missouri, was ravaged, as hotels and theaters were hit just days before their tourist season starts.  According to news sources, Branson would be host to around 60,000 visitors on any given day during their busy season. Harrisburg, Illinois, experienced an EF4 tornado, the second-highest rating given to twisters based on damage.  Scientists say it was 200 yards wide with winds up to 170 mph.  According to the National Weather Service, more tornado watches are in effect today for Kentucky and Tennessee.  Last year, tornadoes killed 550 people in the United States, and caused $28.7 billion in damages.  Mississippi and Alabama were hit especially hard. 

In an article written last April by Bryan Walsh, about “The Hows and Whys of A Possibly Record-Breaking Tornado Month”, the focus was on April, 2011, going down as a record-breaking month for tornadoes, even worse than April, 1954, when an estimated 407 tornadoes struck. April 27, 2011, saw 139 separate tornadoes being reported on that one day, ripping through Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia, killing at least 200 people.  April 3, 1974,  a tornado that killed 315 people was reported.  Walsh continues: “Those statistics don’t convey the sheer terror and destruction brought on by these storms.”

Everyone wants to know: What Is Causing It? 

Andrew Freedman of the Washington Post’s great Capital Weather blog, explains the conditions behind monster tornadoes.  “In order for tornadoes to form, several factors have to combine in just the right way:

  • warm and humid atmosphere;
  • strong jet stream winds;
  • atmospheric wind shear;
  • a mechanism to ignite this violatile mixture of ingredients –a cold front.

 Many folks want to know is if climate change plays a role in those tornadoes, and if the world continues warming, will we see more destructive cyclones like these?  As Bryan Walsh states, even scientists don’t know.  Many of the tornadoes would have been missed by meteorologists in earlier days before Doppler radar and the Weather Channel.  Now, experts could almost never overlook an actual tornado touchdown, no matter how weak or brief.  Warmer temperatures and more moisture will give storm systems  much more energy to play with, like adding nitroglycerin to the atmosphere.  Waters of the Gulf of Mexico are warm, and feed moisture northward to storm systems as they move across the country, and when that moisture meets cold, dry air from the Plains, can result in some powerful weather conditions.

We have previously talked about being prepared by having a home safety kit ready.  Last year, I subscribed to a weather alert system from a Dallas TV Station, and it works great.  This system provides us with a timely alert by email, landline, and cell phone.  When both phones start ringing at the same time, we know a familiar meteorologist is giving us warning to seek shelter with information as to a severe thunderstorm watch or warning, or tornado watch or warning.  We must be as prepared as possible, although there may not be time to take anything out of your home but yourself and your pets.  Please do not get in a car to try to outrun a tornado.  Find a safe spot in your home, away from windows, either in a hallway or bathroom.  For any emergency, it’s a good idea to have medications and nonperishable food, along with three days supply of water, ready in a container if you must leave your home.  Keep first aid kits, in your home and car.  If you are outdoors, experts advise you to seek shelter, (storm cellar or basement.)  If that isn’t possible, get in a ditch, or the lowest place you can find, and not under an underpass. 

We must remember that tornadoes and other stormy seasons have always been with us.  We can keep people from being killed by those storms through better forecasting, better building and better emergency preparation.  We have actually improved over the years through National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration statistics showing that the number of Americans killed by tornadoes  per capita has steadily declined since the 1920’s.  A warmer world may cause us to experience more severe weather, and a more populated world will mean more people at risk from those events.  Therefore, we need to encourage lawmakers to support vital agencies like the NOAA and National Weather Service in disaster preparation and response, rather than impose budget cuts.  For people in the south and Midwest, these entities’ remaining strong is of the utmost importance.  The entire country needs to know they can count on these important warning services. 

Source: Bryan Walsh,  ABC News, Ft Worth Star-Telegram