Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why so much devastation?

As of this writing, 190 tornadoes have been reported since April 27th through the 28th. Most of the activity was focused across the Nation's mid-section and the Deep South. Sadly, almost 300 people were killed by these terrible twisters, most of them in Alabama.

So what happened?
Despite watches posted hours in advance and warnings up almost 30 minutes before the tornadoes ripped through neighborhoods, many people were caught unprepared, not because of anything they did wrong, but from the voracity and destructive power of the twisters.

An expert from the National Weather Service's severe weather lab out of Norman Oklahoma, Greg Carbin , said "These were the most intense super-cell thunderstorms that I think anybody who was out there forecasting has ever seen," He added, "If you experienced a direct hit from one of these, you'd have to be in a reinforced room, storm shelter or underground" to survive."

There is still much to learn
The huge thunderstorms that caused these tornadoes were just too wide, too powerful and too locked onto populated areas to avoid a horrifying body count.

As meteorologists, our knowledge of what makes tornadoes tick is still lacking. We have huge gaps in our understanding of their formation, development, and structure. For example we know that these monsters are born from super-cell thunderstorms , yet, not all super-cell storms cause tornadoes.

Historical Data
Once it's all said and done, this 2 day event may top the worst outbreak on record. Between April 3rd and 4th 1974, one hundred forty eight twisters were reported, once NWS reviews all the reports to make sure none are duplicates, we may end up with the worst month ever. We stand at 190.

So far this month over 450 reports of tornadoes have been received by the weather service. The most ever is May 2003 with 543.

But why?
Is Mother Nature telling us anything? I wish I could say there is some devious underlying plan, but there is none. This is a seasonal cycle that unfortunately had plenty of fuel to grow into the killer it became.

Most of the severe weather on earth is caused by a clash between hot and cold air.
If you take a look at a map of the USA, you will notice 2 North-South mountain chains, the Appalachians and the Rockies. These act as a roadway funneling cold air south. Once that cold air runs into warm moist air from the Gulf, they crash into each other spawning strong storms. This usually happens during Spring between Texas and Illinois. This is known as tornado alley. (( Interesting note: If we had a mountain chain running West to East from Washington State to New York, our tornado chances would be almost zero as all the cold air would be blocked from entering the country.))

Bottom line
This "hot vs cold" scenario developed with the addition of two very volatile ingredients.
1)Very strong jet stream in the upper levels of the atmosphere. This helped add even more instability and energy for super-cell storms to sprout.
2)High pressure parked over us injected even more heat and humidity into the Nation's mid section. This acted like jet-fuel instead of regular unleaded gasoline.

The result of this clash has been horrific and it helps to reinforce the notion of how violent Mother Earth can be. Sometimes it doesn't matter how many warnings are posted, or how prepared a community may be... sometimes you just can't stop this kind of disaster from happening.

As we are about to go into hurricane season, I sincerely hope you stay tuned for the latest advisories , and be as prepared as you can possibly be. DON'T TAKE MOTHER NATURE LIGHTLY.

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