A number of severe thunderstorms have swept through the SE US recently. Some storms generated tornadoes that were truly devastating. The news channels have many photos of the ground destruction. We can see the path of the storms in satellite images. Here is a link to one of those images.
A comparison of 250-meter resolution image from a NASA MODIS instrument at 0.65 µm and 0.87 µm visible channel images centered on Tuscaloosa, Alabama on 28 April 2011 showed signatures of a few of the larger and longer tornado damage paths from the historic tornado outbreak (SPC storm reports) that occurred on 27 April 2011. The yellow arrows point to some of the paths.
Here is a link to an animation between the two channels
Courtesy CIMSS UW-Madison
As of Aug 20, Minnesota has had 123 tornadoes. Texas is number two with only 87. Minnesota has never been number one in tornadoes before.
Courtesy 3aodiaThe largest study ever of tornadoes is now underway in the central plains of the United States. Named Vortex2, the study will involve over 100 storm chasers from several countries and a fleet of movable weather equipment, including mobile weather stations, radar, and balloon launch platforms. Forty well-equipped vehicles will be crisscrossing the back roads of the Midwest throughout Tornado Alley, the area stretching between West Texas and southwestern Minnesota. Their mission is to closely track developing storms and find and gather information about tornadoes, one of Nature’s most destructive weather forces. (Last week’s devastating tornado in Yazoo City, Mississippi tore a path 1.75 mile wide and stayed on the ground for nearly 150 miles).
This is actually phase two of the study. Phase one began in the spring of 2009 which, unfortunately for the researchers, was an historically low period for tornadoes. There was one bright spot last year in Wyoming, where the storm chasers were well prepared and made what was probably the most thorough study of a tornado in history.
The original Vortex project took place in 1994-95 with a follow-up four years later called Vortex-99. But Roger Wakimoto, director of the Earth Observing Laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said those studies raised more questioned than they answered.
"We are still struggling to find out what actually triggers tornado generation," he said. "It's very difficult to get detailed data. These things are very transient."
Maybe this year things will be different, and questions about the how, why, when, and where of tornadoes will get answered. One interesting hypothesis the Vortex2 team hopes to settle is the one that claims tornadoes may actually start on the ground and reach up to the clouds, countering the popular notion that twisters descend from the sky. Support for this theory includes eyewitness reports of ground damage occurring prior to a funnel cloud’s arrival, and the fact that similar but less destructive phenomenon like dust devils and waterspout do just that, start on the ground and rise up into the sky.
Of course, there are plenty of other questions about the nature of tornadoes to answer, and the storm chasers hope to do so. But I have a feeling - with the Vortex2 team - the fun is all in the chase anyway.
Vortex story at Forbes.com
More about Vortex2 on the Weather Channel website
Videos about Vortex2 at Worldnews.com (The tornado in a soap bubble video is great!)
Brief overview of tornadoes by George Pararas-Carayannis
In another reminder that "Tornado Season" has begun, a twister ripped through a small town in Arkansas last night, killing 3 people and injuring 2 dozen. Damage was also reported in several nearby communities, and more than 10,000 people were without power due to high winds. Like the storm chasers mentioned in Thor's post yesterday, I find tornados and severe weather fascinating, probably because it can be so dangerous and destructive. I think it's great that research has helped us to learn more about how these storms work, so we can better predict them and hopefully prevent deaths and injuries. Source: Reuters
They promise us that spring is coming, and storm season won't be far behind. Here's some wild storm chaser video of tornadoes and slow-motion lightning strikes. Enjoy!
Tornadoes are uncommon in Oklahoma in February. Since 1950 they have had 44 tornadoes in February, most recently back in the year 2000.
Our Buzz blog here at the Science Museum of Minnesota has a category for "natural disasters". The links below are to photos I selected from a Telegraph News article titled "Pictures of the year: natural disasters".
Chaiten volcano in Chile, on May 31
Sichuan Province, China earthquake, May 17
Flood breaks a dam in Nepal, September 7
Flood waters in east Nepal, on August 24
Huge tornado funnel cloud in Orchard, Iowa, on June 10
Tornado debris in Prattville, Alabama on February 17
Brush fire in Los Angeles, October 13
Flood drowned horses in Mexico City on August 26
If we haven't had enough bad news already for 2008, here's word that we're well on pace to break the U.S. record for tornadoes in a year. Not surprisingly, tornado death rates could set a new record this year as well. Do these record number of tornadoes have anything to do with all the hot air that's swirling around these days on the political TV commercials?
Researchers around the country are testing a new radar system that should track storms more accurately, and give earlier warning of deadly tornadoes.
Storms dumped as much as 10 inches of rain on already-soggy central Indiana on Saturday, threatening dams, inundating highways and sending the Coast Guard to rescue residents from swamped homes. (The INDY channel)
A powerful line of storms in Wisconsin dropped baseball-size hail on central and southeastern parts of the state, blowing roofs off homes and knocking down trees and power lines. CNN
The storm leveled eight barns at a turkey farm near Menahga, MN. killing thousands of turkeys. No human deaths have been reported.