One of the things on my bucket list is to go on a tornado chase with a team of professional storm chasers. Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve been fascinated with tornados. I think my interest started when I first watched The Wizard Of Oz. The sight of that twister behind Dorothy both horrified and fascinated me. In fact, I’m so intrigued by these wind storms that years ago I wrote a satirical novella called FUJITA’S ITCH. I vividly remember driving through Washington state one day and seeing hundreds of huge dust devils swirling over the plains on either side of me.
The majority of tornados occur in an amorphous region called Tornado Alley. Tornado Alley cuts through parts of Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska, but these storm can happen outside that area, too. In 2011 a terrible twister struck Springfield, Massachusetts and killed three people and injured over three hundred. In 1953 an F4 hit Worcester, MA.
Did you know that tornados can come in all shapes and sizes. Here is a chart below showing the different variety of twisters.
The peak of tornado season is May to early June and most tornadoes occur between 4 and 9pm. The strongest tornado is designated as an F5 and can have winds up to three hundred mph. There’s so much new information about tornado development that if you’re interested, I suggest you do some research on these fascinating storms and how they form.
The most powerful tornado on record is the El Reno tornado. It happened on May 31st, 2013 and at one point had a width of 2.6 miles on the ground. Wrote Climate Central’s Andrew Freedman: “The width of the tornado was equivalent to the entire north-south length of New York City’s Central Park.” Wind speeds topped out at 296 mph and it traveled over 16 miles on the ground. A picture of that tornado is below.
Tornados have been frequently portrayed in books and films. The movie, Twister, was a prime example of a popular movie. I feel terrible for all the lives and damages these storms create, but at the same time I can’t help but be awed by these magnificent beasts formed by nature. Someday, when I finally do go on my tornado chase, I’ll get back to you with my thoughts of seeing a twister up close and personal. Until then, I’ll continue to study and watch clips of them on You Tube.
In the summer of 1969 tornadoes hit a rural area in northeast Ohio. Our house is perched on the edge of a hogback left by the glaciers overlooking a forested ravine with a small creek running at the bottom. I remember that whole day as odd. Hot, sultry, no breeze, sunny with some clouds high in the blue sky. In the late afternoon the sky to the west turned the queerest shade of green I have ever seen.
A bit later the wind began to pick up. Then it began to rain. There had been storm warnings on the radio all afternoon so my dad shepherded us all downstairs. But because of the position of the house with the view into the ravine all the outside walls were windows. Of course young children would want to see, so we were pressed against the glass enjoying the ferocity if the storm. As we watched, the rain began to fall up not down and that’s when we heard the sound of the train. It really does sound like the roar of a train passing!
The tornado had come from the northwest and was caught by the beginning of the creek bed running below our house. It followed the deepening valley, passed by the windows without causing any damage to them or the house, hopped the large stream the creek emptied into, and dissipated. The rain continued even as the sun came out and created a full rainbow over the woods. It was like the ending to a disaster movie!
We found out later that it had set down in the neighboring woods and egg-beatered all the trees inside the perimeter. Looking from the outside all appeared well. A short walk between the trees and it was total destruction. We lost several large beech trees, three of which were dropped onto our house crushing one end.
Since then I have experience several tornado events. It’s as wild and unpredictable as you would expect. A local farmer lost his house and barn, but the bales that were stacked in the barn were untouched. It stood there all summer. A perfect cube several stories tall. Another farmer had his milking barn collapse on his stock. But because of the metal framing for the feed bunks, the roof couldn’t squash the cows, and they were able to lead all of them out to safety. There’s a straight row of pines that lost they’re tops. Each one snapped off 2/3 from the base as a constant reminder of the event.
And to finish, when my dad was a boy, he experienced tornadoes in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. He said one time the funnel ran down a street destroying all the houses, jumped over one, touched down on the other side, and continued up the street. Another time, it sashayed from one street back to the next, skipping one or two homes and demolishing the next few.
I enthusiastically encourage you to experience your dream. Tornadoes are just another way that nature reminds us that as much as we like to this otherwise, we are not in charge!
Saw one in the distance back in the 1960s while driving through Oklahoma. Two hit St. Albans, ME a year apart when we were living in Hartland. The substitute mail carrier for our route lost his roof and car in the second one.