I have always had a compelling fascination with tornadoes. I think it’s the shear enormity and destructive energy they have which makes them so engrossing.
This excellent Channel 4 extreme weather series called “The World’s Weirdest Weather”, is informatively presented by Alex Beresford. I particularly enjoyed this episode “Super Tornado”, as it adhered to my avid interest of these powerful and destructive storms.
On the 20th May, Oklahoma was tragically hit by a terrifying tornado which swept through neighbourhoods, killing more than 20 people, injuring hundreds more and destroying homes. It was a very moving and humbling documentary and it showed that in the incomprehensible destruction, communities are working together through the devastation and are slowly starting to rebuild their lives.
The word “Tornado” comes from the Spanish word “tronada”, which means “thunderstorm”. They are usually the result of a very large thunderstorm called a supercell. Warm and cold air collide until eventually the warm air twists and forms a funnel shaped cloud. They are also referred to as “twisters” and “cyclones” and they turn black after engulfing and being surrounded by debris and dust. The majority of tornadoes have wind speeds which are less than 110 miles per hour, are usually 250 feet in width and travel a few miles before they disperse. In extreme cases, some tornadoes can reach wind speeds in excess of 300 miles per hour, are more than two miles in width and can travel for dozens of miles before dissipating. Occasionally multiple tornadoes form and travel together in swarms.
Tornadoes have been observed on every continent except Antarctica. The majority occur in spring and early summer in the Tornado Alley region of the United States. Tornado Alley encompasses Nebraska, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas.
With the help of a Pulse-Doppler radar and with the efforts of storm chasers, tornadoes can be detected before or as they occur. The Pulse-Doppler radar recognises patterns in velocity and reflectivity data to determine the strength of the tornado.
There are several scales for rating the strength and damage caused. The Fujita scale (F), the updated Enhanced Fujita scale (EF) and the TORRO scale (T). An F0 or EF0 tornado is the weakest. It can damage trees but not substantial structures. An F5 or EF5 tornado is the strongest and can tear buildings from their foundations. Similarly, T0 for extremely weak tornadoes rising to T11 for the most powerful and dangerous.
Storm chasing is the pursuit of any severe weather condition. It can be fuelled by curiosity, adventure, scientific exploration or for news coverage. A storm chaser’s biggest objective is to witness a tornado with the view to photographing the storm. They also enjoy the challenge of correctly forecasting and intercepting storms. Many chasers who are storm spotters will report their observations of dangerous weather to the authorities.
This episode has given an amazing and informative insight into the destructive and devastating world of tornadoes. Even though sometimes fascinating and appealing, they most definitely have an intimidating dark side.
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