Considering the recent events concerning weather, I thought it would be good to talk about it. There has been a surge in major weather events in the last year including the most tropical cyclones in the Atlantic ever, record amounts of snow and freezing temperatures. The year 2020 didn’t see that many tornadoes, but 2021 is seeing them.
What is a tornado and when do they form?
A tornado is a violently rotating column of air usually produced by a supercell thunderstorm. They are vicious and powerful. They can stab a plastic straw through a tree stump or slice through concrete with a guitar string. However, they are very sensitive to their environment; thus, they don’t usually last that long. They need all the conditions to be just right or else they’ll shoot back up into the storm.
April is considered the start of the tornado season in Tornado Alley, which is the stretch of land from northern Texas to South Dakota and from eastern Wyoming to western Wisconsin. On average it sees the most tornadoes every year than everywhere else in the world. This is because of the area’s climate, not because it’s flat. This area sees a vast amount of tornadoes because of its position in relation to cool air from the Rocky Mountains and warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico. If a tornado wants to form, it will form. Mountains and hilly areas cannot stop it. Because of this misconception, many people don’t think they’ll get hit by one, which puts them in harm’s way.
Another misconception is that tornadoes don’t usually happen in the winter, specifically the ones that occurred in January in Mississippi and Alabama are very rare. This is inaccurate, as they can occur in any month at any time. Tornado Alley is not the only region that regularly sees tornadoes. During the month of February, states like Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Georgia still see about three tornadoes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s data from 1991 to 2010. As spring creeps closer, the number of tornadoes increases by the week.
If you look at a map of average tornadoes per month, you will see that during January, southern states like Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi see the most tornadoes. In February, it averages out among the Southeast with Florida seeing the most. In March, tornadoes start popping up in Midwest states. From April to June, it gradually shifts from the Southeast to the Tornado Alley, Southeast states sometimes only seeing one or two tornadoes and Florida still sees an average of seven. In July, states in the northern Midwest like North Dakota, Minnesota and even Colorado reach double digits. Much like March, there aren’t as many; however, Florida still sees eight. October and November see the numbers in the north dropping and receding to the south. By December, mostly the Southeast states see tornadoes. This is probably because of the shift in warm temperatures and moisture as the sun slowly stretches up the continent.
How are tornado strengths rated? The Enhanced Fujita scale measures the destruction afterwards. Tornadoes are rarely ever rated while they’re still on the ground. The scale goes from EF 0 to EF 5. An EF 0 has been described as a few shingles missing and maybe a couple downed branches, while an EF 5 has been described as apocalyptic.
How do you survive a tornado?
If you are able, get to the lowest point of the building, preferably underground like in a basement, cellar or storm shelter. Get as low to the ground as possible. If underground isn’t an option, get to an area with the fewest windows, outside-leading doors and/or walls that touch the outside. Curl yourself in the fetal position, protecting your head and vital organs. If you live in an area that experiences tornadoes on a regular basis, have an emergency bag. This should have water, toilet paper, a change of clothes, sneakers, non-perishable food, a flashlight, batteries, a first aid kit and a list of phone numbers and addresses.
If you are outside, get to shelter. Do not try to outrun or out-drive a tornado. They can be faster than you. If you are in your car, pull over and get as low to the ground as possible. Do not seek protection under an overpass! The winds can intensify and become more dangerous.
Above all, take warnings and watches seriously. Stay vigilant and be safe.