TORNADO MYTHS TORNADO REALITY

TORNADO MYTHS & TORNADO REALITY

Here is some “TORNADO MYTHS & TORNADO REALITY”.

1. When traveling by car seek shelter under an overpass. (FALSE: The number one priority in tornado safety right now is to discourage people from seeking shelter under overpasses. Wind currents are concentrated as they are squeezed under the overpasses and are increased in speed. This increased speed with flying debris INCREASES the risk of injury or death. Check out this report in USA TODAY, “Overpasses are Deadly”).

2. Mobile homes attract tornadoes. (FALSE: Mobile homes are not more likely to be hit, they are just more vulnerable to wind damage).

3. Cities/hills/rivers deflect or inhibit tornadoes. Page42 (FALSE: Tornadoes have been observed crossing the Appalachian Mts., 30 significant tornadoes have crossed the Mississippi river and major tornadoes have plowed right through Dallas, Kansas City, Omaha, etc. In August 1999 a tornado went right through downtown Salt Lake City SEE REPORT)

4. We should open windows if a tornado is approaching. (FALSE: STAY AWAY from all windows. It won’t make any difference whether the windows are open or closed IF your home is struck by a tornado).

5. The southwest corner of the house is the safest location during a tornado. (FALSE: Always go to the lowest level and center of house during a warning. A small interior room like a bathroom is structurally the strongest. Cover your head!).

6. Deaths from tornadoes are more likely in the Southeastern U.S. than here in the Great Plains. (TRUE: Partly due to: population concentration, lack of basements, also diurnal timing, and higher concentration of mobile homes).

7. There are small U.S. regions of unexpected high tornado frequency and areas with unexpected low frequency of tornadoes. (TRUE: There are several “holes” in the map of tornado distribution and small regions of extreme concentration. Hall County has a tornado density of 124.5 tornadoes per 1000 sq. miles however, Lancaster County only has 35.8 tornadoes per 1000 sq. miles and Dodge County only has 35.5 tornadoes per 10000 sq. miles).

8. Tornadoes, like lightning, never strike twice. (FALSE: Guy, Arkansas has been hit 3 times by a tornado damaging the same church each time. AND, Cordell, KS had a tornado hit it on May 20th >>> 3 years in a row!! — 1916,1917,1918).

9. Tornadoes are the number one weather killer in the U.S. (FALSE: 1960-1996 total fatalities: flash floods: 4629; lightning: 3221; tornadoes: 2734; hurricanes: 1104).

10. The “clash of the seasons” causes tornadoes. (FALSE: A temperature contrast is important, but circulation dynamics (shear), upper level support (jet stream) and high moisture content are more important than a temperature contrast).

11. Reported tornadoes are increasing in frequency. (TRUE, but, is it real? It is assumed that since the number of days with tornadoes is NOT increasing nor are the larger tornadoes increasing in number, just the smaller ones, that the increase might be the result of better reporting of the smaller tornadoes).

12. Annual tornado deaths are decreasing in number. (FALSE: Early on in the data record it was true, but during the last decade the fatality rate has leveled off and stopped decreasing. But, with increasing population, and the rate remaining static, it is actually becoming safer!).

13. Tornadoes can rotate clockwise as well as anti-clockwise. (TRUE: A few small F-0 and F-1 tornadoes can rotate “anti-cyclonically” (especially late summer, NW flow tornadoes). Also, rare, small tornadoes can change “morph” from anticyclonic to cyclonic!).

14. Most tornadoes are the large size that you see on the evening news. (FALSE: Most tornadoes are small 50-100 feet wide, travel < 1 mile, last a few minutes. The large F-4 and F-5 tornadoes combined represent less than 5% of all tornadoes).

15. Tornado damage is caused by rapid reduction in pressure (leave windows open as tornado approaches). (FALSE: Open windows will NOT equalize the air pressure if a tornado strikes. Damage is caused by wind gusts and flying debris. Dr. Ted Fujita showed that an open garage causes MORE damage to a house!)

16. Tornadic thunderstorms produce an above average amount of lightning and and a larger than normal amount of hail compared to non-tornadic thunderstorms. (TRUE: Intense updrafts amplify charge separation and electrical build-up as well as increased lifting to freeze layers of supercooled water drops).

17. Doppler radar will observe ALL tornadoes. (FALSE: Doppler, although much more accurate than earlier radar, cannot see the very smallest of tornadoes that arerope-likein size, plus due to the curvature of the earth, Doppler radar can only see the upper portions of storms that are more than 60 miles away from the radar).  TORNADO MYTHS & TORNADO REALITY .

18. The movieTWISTERwith Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton was based on the National Severe Storms Laboratory and University of Oklahoma storm chasers and was therefore, very factual. (FALSE: Hollywood produces fantasy. For reality, check out the many documentaries shown by the Weather Channel, Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel, and the IMAX movie, “Storm Chasers“).

19. Cars are safer than mobile homes during a tornado (with no other shelter available). (TRUE..FALSE..WELL, MAYBE. Both are deadly locations but cars might be marginally safer according to researchers. However, the best advice is to abandon both for shelter!)TORNADO MYTHS & TORNADO REALITY .

20. Tornado chasing looks like its fun. I should try it! (FALSE: It may look like fun, but it is extremely dangerous. Leave the chasing to the professionals and watch their photographs from the safety of your home.TORNADO MYTHS & TORNADO REALITY .

The Wedge Tornado

Typical “wedge tornado” is straight on the sides not funnel shaped and has a wide damage path. It’s usually as wide, or wider than it is tall. These monsters are not necessarily stronger than funnels or other shaped tornadoes, but they do cover much more ground. This particular tornado was hanging out the west side of a supercell thunderstorm in the Texas Panhandle.

The vehicle in the foreground is an NSSL chase vehicle doing its job long before books and movies told about chasing storms. In those days there was little glory just long days and tiring drives home while Oklahoma City DJ’s played requested songs for the returning chasers. Occasionally, there was big reward like on this day.TORNADO MYTHS & TORNADO REALITY .

Shortly after this photo was taken this tornado tore through a small Texas town. Residents saw it coming and were under ground, or in a safe shelter. This was the first in a series of tornadoes to strike the Texas Panhandle and western Oklahoma that day. Another Wedge Tornado With A Different Appearance This tornado lacks the typical funnel or classic tornadic appearance. Huge funnels like this one that are a mile wide are sometimes unrecognizable at close range as a tornado.

They lack the classic narrow funnel appearance, but tend to appear as a boiling wall of fog approaching from out of nowhere, since they favor a position close to the rain wall. Generally the rain stops and the tornado makes a rapid appearance.TORNADO MYTHS & TORNADO REALITY .

These storms are the ones that are generally blamed for “striking without warning” since some people try to observe the tornado before taking shelter. Funnels of this character are more common in the southeastern quarter of the nation where moisture from the Gulf of Mexico is thick and cloud bases are low.

That said, this one was in the Texas Panhandle and they can form anywhere in the plains when conditions are ripe. The width of this particular beast varies depending on whose damage survey one believes. Original damage surveys measured over a mile wide at some places, but newer versions put it at less than half that size. When it crossed the Interstate at I- 40 the appearance from one mile away filled one half the drivers side window all the windshield and part of their passenger window.

Now the amazing part, two men on motorcycles were lying in the shallow depression between lanes as it passed over. They saw it coming and dumped their bikes to lie flat in the grassy low spot. It worked and both were unhurt. Odds are they will remember that day for a long time .

A Classic Tornado

But It’s White Sometimes The Funnel Does Damage And The Condensation Funnel Is Not On The Ground. This contorted tube type tornado did tree damage in the forested area to our north. The funnel appears to not be on the ground, but it was for quite a while. As part of a TV crew in 1980 we photographed this tornado from 2 miles south.

There was no lightning or rain where we were doing our taping, a perfect setup we thought. Lightning came down from the anvil of the storm and struck the powers lines, traveled down the pole and across the barb wire fence.TORNADO MYTHS & TORNADO REALITY .

Four of us found ourselves on the ground after a bright arc came out of my hand and struck my friend who was standing behind me. All of us survived, but we were sore for a couple of days. The video was shown on a TV station in Oklahoma City. After the news a technician recorded another story over the tape.TORNADO MYTHS & TORNADO REALITY .

The record of the lightning strike was lost forever except in our minds, where it remains very clear to this day. A somewhat humorous story was written about the incident and later published in Stormtrack It’s all in the angle of the sun. The tornado seen here is “front lit” by sunlight so it’s white. Most tornadoes are photographed as they move in from the west with the sunlight filtering in behind them.

Those tornadoes are generally black to dark grey. Regardless of the color the damage is the same. This tornado was hanging out of the back of the storm in northern Iowa. The white cloud at the base of the funnel is water being rotated into a white froth. Tornadoes that that occur in the sunlight can be dangerous to those thinking the storm is over. This tornado was probably not easy to see from straight north or in the rain. The photography from that angle was very low contrast.

At the time Stormtrack was a hand typed newsletter distributed to about 100 storm chasers. Discontinuous Funnel in the Rain This tornado was northeast of Bennett, Colorado in the late 1980’s. The funnel made an sudden appearance from out of the rain then extended a weak circulation to the ground.TORNADO MYTHS & TORNADO REALITY .

It was hard to tell if the funnel looped back into the rain or it had a break in the condensation. Funnels such as this are hard to see and an example of what may lurk in the rain during a day when the potential for tornadic storms is present. This particular tornado did not do any damage that we know about. The northeast section of Adams County, Colorado is mainly open farm land with sparsely scattered homes.

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