The Devastating Art Of The Tornado

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The topic that I have chosen to cover in this assignment is the tornado. Being from the Midwest I have seen my fair share of the enormous storm cells and find them to be quite interesting. As long as I am at a safe distance from them that is. They aren’t much fun to be in that is for sure. The number one question I am always asked is what is it like. Well, its windy. There is an ear-piercing howl in the air, much like that of a freight train, accompanied by extreme winds, rain, and sometimes even hail. They can be very violent and dangerous to be anywhere in the vicinity of.

So before we go into the research portion of where they hit and how much damage they have caused, lets actually discuss what they are and how they are formed. I am no scientist or meteorologist so I decided to turn to the professionals to better paint the picture. The Old Farmer’s Almanac has the best description of a tornado. The author stated “a tornado is a violently rotating column of air between a cloud and Earth, touching both (Boeckmann, 2008). She then went on to describe that “as air rises, it cools, and the moisture in it begins to condense, forming a cloud. If the lifting force is strong enough and the air has enough moisture, this cloud can tower more than 50,000 feet with updrafts of up to and exceeding 100mph” (Boeckmann, 2008).

Tornadoes have been known to have a few different names as well. Some call them supercells which isn’t exactly accurate as a supercell is a form of mesocyclone that is caused from huge updrafts of air. Supercells can form into tornadoes but are not always the case. Tornadoes have also been called twisters which is just another term used to describe a smaller tornado. The United States has had the most tornadoes in history with approximately 1,000 occurring annually and the geography of the country makes up the perfect breeding grounds for tornadoes to form. Polar airs from Canada mixed with tropical air from the Gulf of Mexico and the dry air from the Southwest all clash in the middle and produce thunderstorms that create tornadoes.

As far as tornado predictions go, scientists weren’t able to predict them per say 100 years ago but they were able to establish warning signs that allowed to them to prepare for a potential tornado. The first possible tornado report in the United States dates back to as far as 1643. The tornado touched down in the towns of Lynn, Newbury, and Hampton, Massachusetts. The report was recorded by the governor who also happened to be a weather enthusiast. His name was John Winthrop. As the story goes, he was sitting in his meeting house when a sudden gust of wind whipped up dust, lifting his house and killing a nearby observer (NOAA, 2007).

Even today, it is very difficult to predict a tornado. Some scientists believe that they are impossible to predict, that only warning signs can be evaluated and if certain conditions are met then the warnings are issued. According to the one report from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “tornadoes are much harder to forecast that hurricanes, which are larger storms that last a lot longer” (Howard, 2016). He also talked about the future of forecast a little. Currently scientists notify the public through two forms. There are tornado warnings and tornado watches.

A warning means that a tornado has been sighted touching ground and a warning means that conditions are right for one to be created so be on the lookout. But as far as the actual prediction or forecast goes, meteorologist wont come right out and say that it is on its way, they will only describe the conditions and say that it is possible. As fara as future predictions go though, they claim that “as computers get faster and data improves, forecasts may get more accurate” (Howard, 2016).

Tornadoes do touch down all over the world and scientists have been able to study them on every continent except Antarctica, but they are predominant in the United States. It is actually kind of difficult to compare other countries to the United States when it comes to tornadoes. According to a reporter from the weather station advisor, the United States on average, has the most tornadoes annually with 1,200. Canada cam in second but with very little information, so my comparisons will come from third which is England with an average of 34 per year. In describing a single tornado that has hit each of the countries, I first started off with the United States. The most recent well-known devastating tornado was the one that hit Joplin, MO on May 22, 2011.

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The tornado was an EF-5 tornado with wind speeds in excess of 200 mph. It stayed on the ground for a record setting 38 minutes and took 163 lives, and injuring over 1,200 more (Wheatley, 2016). The tornado was only in town for 32 of that 38 minutes though. The tornado covered an estimated 22.1 miles and destroyed or damaged over 8,600 residences. The total recovery costs for the city were estimated at over $2 billion and took just shy of a year for the city to recover. The disaster was labeled a state of emergency by the Missouri governor and brought recovery efforts from all over the country to include a visit from the President of the United States. Below is a picture of the map that showed the devastating path of the tornado along with a fact sheet from the city of Joplin.

Moving on to the comparison country of England, the most devastating tornado in recent history was the EF-4 that hit the Birmingham area on July 28, 2005. In Britain, they actually use another scale called the Torro scale but is very similar to the Enhanced Fujita (EF) that is used here in the United States. Fortunately, this tornado touched down and went around the edge of the city only hitting the suburban areas and not the main portion of the city. It was also during the day while most were at work and fortunately no one was killed. Only 19 were injured. Total cost of damages was estimated to be in the range of 40 million Euro. According to the BBC, it was the largest tornado in size to touch down in England (Russell, 2010). The recovery efforts took less than one year for the Birmingham area to recover.

So how does one prepare for a tornado. There isn’t really any way to mitigate or prevent a tornado from happening. That is in the hands of mother nature. But what we can do is to best prepare ourselves in the event that one should pay us a visit. One way is to re-enforce structures as they are building built. Another way is to build a tornado shelter or bunker. A lot of homes have cellars beneath them. In the city of Joplin, most builders are mandating that any home they build will come with a re-enforced concrete tornado shelter that will be placed somewhere on the property, usually either next to the house or in the garage. Below are two examples that are currently being installed in homes all around the city.

The population in the United Stated during the time of the tornado was over 311 million. Today that number has grown to over 331 million. According to the Pew Research Center, “If current trends continue, the population of the United States will rise to 438 million in 2050, from 296 million in 2005, and 82% of the increase will be due to immigrants arriving from 2005 to 2050 and their U.S.-born descendants” (Passel & Cohn, 2019). The United States has other natural disasters that it has been impacted by. They include: floods, hurricanes, wild fires, earthquakes, blizzards, and even a mud slide that happened in Washington in 2014 as well as a tsunami that hit American Samoa, a United States territory, in 2009. The most common that happen yearly are hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, and wild fires.

The population of England when the tornado struck the Birmingham area was just over 50 million and is currently over 66 million. According to, “the UK population is projected to pass 70 million by mid-2029 and be 72.9 million in mid-2041(Zheng & Yifan, 2016). England has had other natural disasters strike such as hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunami (1755), and one Great Frost in 1709. The most recent natural disaster to strike England was a wild fire in 2018 and a hurricane in 2017. There aren’t any re-occurring natural disasters that threaten the country on a yearly basis though.

I think that both of these countries responded similarly when it came to the reaction and recovery of their natural disasters. Like I said before, I simply chose a single large tornado with devastating effects for my comparison because there are so many that strike on a yearly basis. Especially in the United States.

When the tornado hit Joplin, and they called is a state of emergency, it was amazing to watch how the entire country came together to assist in the efforts. I was personally there the morning after the tornado hit, and to see the devastation, and then watch the clean up crews and emergency services crews from all over come to Missouri to assist was a jaw-dropping experience. With the tornado in England, it was mostly construction crews and tree removal service crews that were required as it hit the edge of town, and crews from all over the country arrived to assist in the efforts. Hopefully, as science evolves, we will one day be able to predict the deadly storms and prevent further losses.

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