I was looking at some data regarding historic tornado activity east of the Mississippi. This years severe weather has been active in Texas , Oklahoma and Kansas . I made this simplified graphic to show the locations of the most extreme (F3, F4,F5 ) tornados in ”Dixie Alley ” for the last 50 years .
Sources: National Weather service , TornadoHistoryProject.com
On April 28th I intercepted , one of the tornadoes ( F-3, 145 mph. winds) that struck near Athens , Alabama around 5 pm.
This video clip is looking west at the mesocylone from Rt. 72 (Wheeler reservoir) towards Athens (click image)
This is a video clip of the damage immediately after it passed . Note , this was the lesser damaged area. There were fatalities (click image)
(Posted by Annette Windsor )
The tornadic storm that ran a 17 mile course across Montgomery Co. on June 13th was intercepted by Tom Windsor, a local Damascus resident and storm chaser. Earlier the fire department reported seeing the tornado in Norbeck, as it crossed Georgia Ave. and Norbeck Rd.
In his words and pictures :
“I intercepted the base of the mesocyclone around 4pm. at a golf course on New Hampshire Ave. and Ednor Rd., southeast of the reported tornado site. I drove east on Ednor around 4:10 p.m. and experienced almost horizontal southerly winds. Then shortly after, the winds shifted rapidly in from the northwest showing strong wind circulation. I later reported it to the National Weather service in Sterling, VA”.
( From an article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram) by G.Thomas Windsor
I stared at pictures of a storm chase vehicle twisted by the El Reno, Okla., tornado that took the lives of Tim Samaras, his son Paul Samaras and Carl Young.
Though I didn’t know them, it struck a nerve. “If it could happen to one of the best of them, then …,” is a thought we who chase are surely pondering.
There will be debates, calls for the regulation of chasing and rethinking of the practice itself.
The challenge is the very wide spectrum of people who are chasing. Most are making an important contribution and aren’t reckless thrill-seekers. Tim Samaras and the others with him dedicated their lives pursuing answers, and they played a valuable role in gathering data to warn the public.
There’s now the familiar “why did it happen?” questions being asked.
Tim’s lifelong quest was to “better understand some of the final mechanisms for tornado genesis.” It’s the “how does it all come together?” question.
There’s also the “how does it all come together?” question involving such tragic fatalities.
• There can be rush-hour and chaser traffic jams (I’ve been in those): too many chasers in a small area with fleeing public.
• Though law enforcement officers work hard saving people’s lives, it’s been reported that one officer was blocking a possible exit road when disaster struck.
• Like an expanding storm, there is also an appetite for ever more dynamic footage. The chaser and the media are subtly taking greater risks and have grown accustomed to the new norm, of the incredibly dangerous.
A severe weather event is chaotic, unpredictable by nature. It is a coming together of many different things in the atmosphere. The tornado at El Reno took a sharp left turn; statistically, many don’t. It just so happened to rapidly grow into the widest tornado ever recorded.
2011 The “Why” Behind the Deadliest Year for Tornadoes since 1925 (rethinking the degree to which weather has been “tamed” )
The tornadoes of 2011 raised the toll of people who have died in U.S. tornadoes to 552. It goes down as the highest recorded death toll in a single year in over 75 years. This compares to 564 U.S. tornado related deaths in the last ten years combined !
The severe weather events of 2011 will be remembered along with the fatalities of 1953 (519) and is just behind 1925 (794).
It begs the question “How can it be?” with all the incredible advances in forecasting and warning systems, that there was such a high number of fatalities? The overall yearly statistics show a wonderful downward trend of fatalities, due to better forecasting and public awareness.
Yet, there were 552 deaths and thousands of lives shattered and scattered like the debris field of an F5 tornado.
Here are some reasons to consider for this and other major weather disasters.
1- Stating the obvious, a severe weather event is random, chaotic (non linear) by its nature. It will always have some degree of unpredictability. The major fatality weather event is a statistically “just so happen” occurrence. To have those “just so happen” days just so happen 2 or 3 times in one season as opposed to perhaps a few every decade is rare. Though it could be argued the overall large scale persistent, weather pattern of that season would raise that probability.
2-Though we can’t attribute Climate Change to specific events, there is increasing data that shows that it is a factor that increases the likelihood of such extreme severe weather events in the overall long term trend. The extreme event becomes statistically less ” extreme”.
3- There are also “perfect storms” of circumstances and human reaction/miscalculation, and disaster response system weaknesses. It’s not just about the track and intensity of these “perfect” (F4, F5) storms themselves.
There is a dynamic of how these large-scale dramas are played out, be it in Joplin or Tuscaloosa or any other major city. It involves the many thousands of people making split second decisions. It’s how people process the warnings ; the woman at the Walmart, the trucker on I-35, the poor soul watching T.V. warnings at their mobile home in its direct path. Frantic phone calls are made as the forecast media pleads and as citizens scramble to take shelter. The chasers on the other hand converge on the storm as anxious fearful people looking for which escape road to take and spread out in a diffluent pattern.
The NWS included four “social scientists” on the assessment team to study what happened for the shortcomings this year (Historic Tornadoes of 2011). The social scientists looked at people’s understanding and reactions, which seemed to be a major factor, and how the event was outworked with media, emergency managers, and the public.
Imagine if one could quantify and colorize all the “data” of people’s understanding and actions/reactions, and the mass movements in the fog of confusion in these type of weather emergencies. It would probably take on a “form” if it were possible to see it on a screen. I think the human responses/actions in those situations would have the appearances of some chaotic storm, like the kind produced by the atmosphere itself.
The science of weather forecasting ,of those who have labored for years has made great strides. I am not trying to rain on that parade of success here, but I think we have to rethink what it means to really tame the weather beast. This especially in light of the social science of how people respond.
The year 2011′s tornado fatalities is a reminder that we are not quite out of the bear’s cage yet.
Hopefully, the foreseeable/predictable patterns of the ultimately unpredictable, are getting better understood and the deadly affects can be mitigated.
Author (stormchaser) Tom Windsor’s article on Storm Chasing, Chaos and Climate was published in EarthZine online magazine this year.
In it he relates his own journey of exploring (chasing) the science behind climate change. “This is an essay on his time as an up-close observer of extreme weather systems, and his recent conversion from climate change agnostic”. ( EarthZine is an online source for news, articles, information and educational materials about Earth Science )
Today there is an exponential growth of global “social” weather communities.
When I first started storm intercepting 15 years ago, my connections where national. Now I might run into a few guys from Germany or from Europe on storm vacation tours (like last year). I periodically communicate with a meteorologist in India who has done work on early typhoon warning systems. I might chat with a chaser in Australia and ” shoot the breeze” on a social weather forum.
Does the very act of storm chasing affect potential storms in the future? According to Chaos Theory the answer is yes. Imagine someone this month (January) down in the Australian outback speeding down a dirt road, moving towards a nice storm off in the distance. In the rear of their van a micro low pressure system is formed in the drag, as the dust swirls into a vortex and vanishes in the mirror. As this parcel of air dissipates and slowly makes its way around the globe ( let’s say 7 times by late spring ) it interacts with the much larger atmosphere. As air masses collide in the great plains this spring, the results will be somewhat different if this chase event had that not happened. (These are the kind of important thoughts one sometimes wonders during the looong wait till spring convection. According to some books I’ve been reading this scenario could hold true.