Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Twisters in Transition

Back to nature posts...sorry Renae and your welcome to Dorothy and Allanna. Its funny that certain blog topics are the most popular and most dreaded depending on who you talk to.

Tornadoes are among nature's most unpredictable events: once a twister drops from a supercell cloud and starts raising a ruckus, it's difficult to anticipate the exact path it will follow. For many decades, these frightening storms have at least followed certain patterns; they are usually confined to a sector of the nation's midsection dubbed Tornado Alley, which runs from Oklahoma through Kansas and Missouri and east to Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky. There was also an apparent Tornado season; midwesterners scouted the skies for twisters from spring into the first few weeks of summer.

Of course, as the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency reminds us on its website: Violent or killer tornadoes do happen outside Tornado Alley every year and tornados can happen any time of year Until recently, these warnings seemed pro forma, an acknowledgement that Uncle Sam can't predict the weather, but consider the events of March 14, 2008 in Downtown Atlanta. While 18000 fans filled the Georgia Dome for the Southeastern Conference basketball tourney and 16000 NBA fans jammed Philips Arena for a game between the hometown Hawks and the LA Clippers, a twister cut a 6 mile path of ruin through the cities heart. Wind gusted up to 130 mph, crushing homes, ripping facades off buildings, downing trees, and shattering glass. Authorities in both buildings chose not to alert fans of the severe weather outside, even as tiles fell from the ceilings and catwalks swayed in the Georgia Dome.

When the Weather Channel's version of March Madness ended, some 27 people had been injured in the first tornado to ever strike in the downtown of Georgia's capital city and the damage came in at 250 million. Thevnext day smaller twisters claimed two lives in areas of rural Georgia.

Tornadoes are also jumping the tracks of their predictable seasons these days. Over four days from Jan 7 - 11, 2008, in the depths of winter (never regarded as a twister breeding season), a barage of 72 seperate tornados roared through areas around Mississippi Valley, rangin from SW Missouri and NW Arkansas to Alabama and Mississippi; four people were killed. Less than a month later, on Feb 5-6, a staggering 82 confirmed tornadoes touched down in Tennessee, Arkansas, and the Southern Ohio Valley, killing 58 people in four states. It was the deadliest tornado assault in the US since 1985.

What's going on? Meteorologists fear that climate change driven by global warming is brewing up a new generation of tornadoes that will strike more frequently and with greater severity and over a broader swath of the country than before. Their advice: prepare today, for Tornado Alley is now Tornado Superhighway, and twisters are now storms for all seasons.

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