Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tornado Alley

Mom Knew Best

Looking grim in Oklahoma. Big, big tornado smashes lots of homes, stores, schools.

This must be a slow news day, for SKY has had wall to wall coverage on all day. Not much else must be happening. Actually, the next day SKY have transported a crew to ?? and are reporting live and long from the scene.

About 25 people have been killed.

Meanwhile “in 2010 there were 358 murders involving rifles. Murders involving the use of handguns in the US that same year totalled 6,009, with another 1,939 murders with the firearm type unreported.” - Wikipedia

“Guns and cars have long been among the leading causes of non-medical deaths in the U.S. By 2015, firearm fatalities will probably exceed traffic fatalities for the first time, based on data compiled by Bloomberg.”

When I checked Fox News this morning they had moved on to other stories. One wonders what prompts SKY and the BBC to devote so much time to what we used to refer to as an Act of God.

Perhaps it's the absence of any real, dramatic weather events in the UK. Perhaps the SKY presenters felt they needed a holiday and even Oklahoma would do?

What can not be doubted is that tornadoes are a part of life on the Great Plains. Remember your Wizard of Oz? People who live on the Plains are used to tornado warnings and how to take shelter. Tornadoes are generally accepted as a hazard – but not a very large one. Storm warnings have greatly improved since the 1950's.

My mother was inordinately afraid of tornadoes. She was born in Massachusetts, an almost tornado -free zone and lived most of her adult life in Chicago. Not many tornadoes there either. Actually, the earliest recorded tornado in the U.S. was in 1671 in Massachusetts. Out on the Great Plains at that time there must have been many tornadoes that the Native Americans didn't chronicle. My Mother was just not cut out for Tornado Alley living.

Long before the early warning sirens went off she would study the sky for any sign of a funnel cloud – actually just the glimpse a thunder head would send her into a panic. She would stand at the door and scream at us kids to get inside and down in the basement. Meanwhile out in the street Reece and Albert would still be playing - as their Mother was, seemingly, oblivious to the imminent danger. Or, did they know something we didn't? I think it might have been the latter. The chances of a tornado killing you or destroying your house is about as great as Elvis being discovered working in a small cafĂ© in Rickmansworth.

Tornadoes are dangerous weather events, but they are quite easy to spot! And, they move relatively slowly. Also, they move in a fairly predictable direction – mostly south-east to north west. With just a little bit of warning, it's relatively easy to avoid being killed by a tornado. You may have seen many of the folks in Moore, OK emerging from their storm cellar of shelter. (Again, remember your Wizard of Oz, poor old Dorothy and Toto were unable to get into the shelter with Auntie Em and the rest of the cast because they couldn't hear her banging on the door!)

Few folks who live in Tornado Alley have no shelter. Years ago, when hundreds were killed this was not always the case. Certainly Reece and Albert didn't have one – perhaps that's what their Mom knew – no use calling them in, they may as well take their chances outside. The majority of deaths caused by tornadoes happen when people are hit by flying debris. (Even a small stone or twig travelling at 200 m.p.h. can cause a lot of damage to the human body!) Therefore we were taught that if you are caught out in the open find a ditch or a small depression and lie flat. Unless the tornado grabs you, ala Dorothy, you have a good chance of surviving.

All the years I lived in Independence, Missouri I only ever saw three tornadoes. Two were in the air and did not reach the ground. No danger there. Only one was on the ground, but it was two or three miles distant and moving away.

I did see what an F5 tornado can do. My Dad and I were delivering milk in Ruskin Heights a few days after one of the worst tornadoes ever.

44 deaths - Tornado began near Williamsburg, and moved NE through several counties. Major damage occurred in rural areas near Ottawa and Spring Hill, where homes were completely levelled and several fatalities occurred. The tornado continued into the southern suburbs of Kansas City, tearing through Martin City, Raytown, Hickman Mills, and Ruskin Heights. Entire blocks of homes were completely levelled, many of which were cleanly swept away. Many businesses including a grocery store, a shopping center, and restaurants were completely destroyed. Vehicles were thrown through the air and destroyed, and Ruskin Heights High School was badly damaged. A cancelled check from Hickman Mills was found 165 miles away in Ottumwa, Iowa.[1]

I love the bit about the check. It's another Wizard of Oz moment. Remember when the cow is seen swirling around in the tornado? The thing is tornadoes do do crazy things like that!

This excellent web page give a blow by blow account of the Ruskin Heights tornado.

The Ruskin Heights tornado was on the ground for a while. Travelling south on Noland Road past US 50 Hi-way towards Lee's Summit you can still see the scar on the land where the twister tore up the trees and bushes. I expect it's still visible after more than 50 years.

You might think that living in Tornado Alley might make people take sensible precautions.

Not necessarily so.

Lots of otherwise sensible folks put storm-cellar provision on the same level as whale manure. It's low, really low when compared to the dollars required to provide shelters. Most people keep the money and take their chances with the twisters.

Money talks. Bulls**t walks.

The loss of life is regrettable, as is the loss of any human life. How much the folks of Moore contributed to their own demise, I shall leave to my favourite web site - to work out.

What is sure – people will continue to live in Tornado Alley. Tornadoes will continueto be spawned from Super Cell storms and they will continue to kill people.

The English fascination with this meteorological phenomenon continues to baffle.

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