Time for a Little Tornado Tech

by Mark Goldwich

Image courtesy of dreamatico.com
You can’t watch the news without noticing its tornado season again. Just recently a sizeable tornado hit Illinois, and if you watch the national weather like I tend to, more wicked weather is always on the horizon.  There’s something special about tornadoes. Their size, their appearance, the ferocity, the sound, and the unmistakable path of destruction left in their wake.

Personally, I’ve never experienced a tornado up close and personal, but I’ve seen their aftermath many times. Just seeing the twisted metal hanging from trees, stripped of leaves, and oddities like a 2x4 impaled through a brick wall so cleanly you’d think it was built that way.  It’s images like these that let you almost imagine the sheer power of the event itself. Maybe that’s what is so captivating about tornadoes, the destructive power.

So I thought I’d share a some other facts concerning tornadoes. Did you know a tornado can reach wind speeds of over 300 miles per hour – much stronger than the most powerful hurricanes.  EF5s, the storms that produce these incredible winds,  can even be over a mile wide.  Ir a twister this size were to hit Jacksonville, Florida, it would consume all of downtown in one gulp. And while we usually hear about tornadoes hitting largely unpopulated areas, skipping along for short periods of time before dissipating, that’s not always the case. In one storm, a single tornado hit parts of Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, killing 695 people.   That was in 1925, and while there wasn’t much in the way of early tornado detection, or strict building codes, the population was also a lot less dense then it is today. It makes me wonder how that same tornado would compare today. Hopefully, there would be a lot fewer fatalities.

courtesy of noaa.gov
Even with Doppler radar and eyes in the sly, the average amount of warning time before a twister hits is only 13 minutes.  Add to that the fact that Tornado Alley comprises an area of 500,000 square miles with a population density of 17 million and you can understand how many people tornadoes can affect.  ". Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana make up Tornado Alley We usually see at least 500 tornadoes occur in this area every year, which is why it is how it got its name since 30% of the tornadoes in the US occur here. And the most likely time of year to have tornadoes form is from March through May, and usually in late afternoon or early to mid-evening hours.  Sad to say that tornados aren’t relegated only to the mid-west. They can occur in any state in the Union. 

In a quote from Yahoo Finance:
According to the Storm Prediction Center, seven of the 10 costliest tornadoes since 1950 have occurred in Tornado Alley. Topping the list is the deadly Joplin, Missouri, tornado of 2011, an EF5 tornado which caused an estimated $2.8 billion in damages to the town. The Insurance Information Institute reports the average insured loss per year was $7.78 billion between 1993 and 2012 for severe thunderstorm events, including tornadoes.The costliest of those years? An estimated $27 billion in insurance claims in 2011 from severe thunderstorms.
We also know tornados don’t just appear out of the blue.  They form within large thunderstorm clouds, where updrafts are particularly strong. Did you know the average thunderstorm releases around 10,000,000 kilowatt-hours of energy -- the equivalent of a 20-kiloton nuclear bomb?  [source: Britannica]  That’s also the reason many survivors of a twister report they sound like an approaching freight train.  There’s a tremendous amount of power inside a tornado.  And not even just typical thunderstorms, but supercell thunderstorms are needed for tornado formation. Even then, there’s only about a 50% chance an actual tornado will form.

Once formed, a tornado will move with its “parent-cloud”, sometimes hopping, sometimes changing
Before and after image from livescience.com
directions, sometimes dissipating and reforming again. Scientists still debate the precise reasons tornadoes dissipate without notice, just as they sometimes seem to form without warning, but most agree it has to do with the “parent-cloud”, or rotating mesocyclone, that brings with it disruptive airflow, moisture, and balance of hot and cold air.

 Is there really a “calm before the storm”? The answer is yes and no. That is to say, sometimes there is a period of dead calm just before a twister hits, and sometimes there is not. Every storm is different. Some survivors also report a strange greenish tinge to the clouds preceding a tornado.  The thing that most often separates tornado survivors from victims is preparedness or lack thereof.

Tornadoes strike with little warning. So being prepared is half the battle. So, have a plan – know your plan – and practice your plan. Especially when you have only minutes to act, it’s critical to know exactly what to do, with whom, where and when.  Your plan should be in writing (otherwise, it is just an “idea”). Everyone in your family/household/office should be familiar with the plan. Review, update, and practice the plan each and every year.  

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And don’t forget to include Gold Star on the “recovery” phase of your plan, so when the dust settles, you can give us a call and we’ll take care of the rest!'

Mark Goldwich is president of Gold Star Adjusters, a group of public insurance adjusters dedicated to helping citizens get the maximum settlement for any insurance claim.

1 comment:

  1. I thought we had it bad in Florida due to hurricanes. But even the a Cat 5 hurricane can't generate 300 mph winds. That's a whole new level of destructive power.