The tornadoes disaster that struck the south Tuesday was different. We’ve seen interviews of people after a tornado struck their home, or threw them around. They’ve always been curiously stoic, that they are alive and that’s all that matter. The reporter ends by saying something like “looking at the debris and destruction, it’s amazing no one was killed.” Not so this time.
People were visibly shaken, edgy, overwhelmed. There didn’t seem to be any warning. An aerial view of a touchdown on Union University campus shows signs of the whirring motion that hit like a blender. The middle of the campus is gone, while the outward spirals of wind blew apart the dorms that were clustered around it. One student got sucked out of a hallway while holding onto a heavy gumball machine. He didn’t have enough time to run inside far enough. Part of the building collapsed on him but he made it. Up to 60 other people didn’t.
The death toll keeps climbing as people look through the debris. I’m tornado phobic. Not so much of the actual funnel but because caught off guard, these storms are deadly. And the chances of being caught off-guard are greater than you think. I found a good website, WeatherEye, that based its info on results of Project Vortex, the world’s largest storm-chasing project. What better info than people that sit in those weird mobile units gathering data at the edge of a huge twister.
It’s always been believed that a tornado takes 20-30 minutes to form, and we have detectors everywhere. Try 5 to 10 minutes, and tornadoes many times come from small weather patterns that develop between weather stations. So what happened Tuesday is something like this. You’re sitting there in Tennessee in February. There are storm predictions. The storm starts. And out of nowhere drops a funnel cloud. You’re not prepared at all, just hanging onto your breeches. It lasts a few minutes, but your life is changed forever—no mementos, no trophies, no pictures, nothing to wear, no paperwork, no purse, no pets…absolutely stripped. The teeth of some of the people interviewed were still chattering. I don’t ever want to be surprised like that, not living in a frame house with a 4 ft. crawlspace, along with 2 cats and a parrot. All I visualize is the entire contents of our pole barn whisking around and mowing my house to shreds, while I’m trapped below listening to it.
I’ve got good reason to be afraid. Our weather is getting more and more erratic, and it’s those warm days that don’t want to budge when the cold moves in that cause the problems. After this week’s tornado fest, everyone should be a little more respectful. You would think by now we would have better predictions.
According to WeatherEye, NASA launched an OTD or Optical Transient Detector satellite in 1995 that was able to view lightening strikes even in the daylight. That satellite passed over a storm and picked up 200 lightening flashes while our sensors on the ground picked up only 9. It also detected plenty of cloud-to-cloud strikes. While they seemed to reach their peak, a tornado touched down. There seems to be a correlation between cloud to cloud lightening activity and the materialization of a tornado. This satellite picked up as much as 20 times more cloud-to-cloud activity than detected on the ground.
That was back in 95, why are we still being surprised by tornadoes like those on Tuesday? It’s 2008. We have a state of the art satellite that can help predict bad weather patterns before they strike, far better than any other before. It’s sitting in a warehouse somewhere. President Bush didn’t allow money for it. He wants to pursue the space station project. The shelved satellite was to replace one that is soon to be obsolete and out of service. In view of the bad weather that we are experiencing, and it’s only going to get worse, I think it would be prudent to urge whoever is the next president to get it launched, and quickly.