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I have a bunch of disorganized thoughts on tornadoes that I want to jot down, but I don't want to have to write a bunch of "fluff" to make it into a nice little piece of prose that reads like a story. Bullet points are good.

Before I get to that, though, I need to let you guys know that a fourth day of severe weather expected tomorrow. The Storm Prediction Center has issued another moderate risk for severe weather a little south and east of the areas impacted today. The threat involves a few significant tornadoes, very large hail, and damaging winds. If it gets hairy again tomorrow, I'll start another liveblog. Hopefully it won't be necessary.

Now for my disorganized thoughts...


  • Size matters, until it doesn't. Tornadoes are measured by the damage they produce. Certain types of damage are indicative of a certain wind speed. Tree limbs snapped off and shingles blown off a roof indicate winds the strength of an EF-0 tornado. A barn blown down is an EF-1 or so. A well-built modern school building built with cinder blocks reinforced by steel bars being completely destroyed, as was the case today, is an EF-5.  

    Winds matter more than size. One of the few F5/EF-5 tornadoes recorded in modern times, and the only one ever recorded in Canada, was a relatively narrow tornado in Manitoba that leveled exactly two homes. Larger tornadoes are certainly more damaging simply because of the square footage they consume, increasing the amount of debris flying around that collides with stuff and creates more debris, but size isn't always indicative of strength.

  • What causes a tornado to die? In big storms like the one that occurred in Moore this afternoon, it's usually a process called occlusion. Supercell thunderstorms act like mini low pressure systems. They have very small fronts that circulate around the rotating mesocyclone that acts as the supercell's engine.
    The black arrow denotes the inflow, or warm, moist air feeding into the thunderstorm. The rear flank downdraft (RFD) -- cool air descending around the back end of the thunderstorm -- acts like a mini-cold front that sweeps along the south side of the supercell. The tornado occurs in the hook echo of the storm, or roughly the pivot point between the rear flank downdraft and the inflow.

    Here's the radar from Moore right before the massive tornado struck the city. The blue arrow indicates the RFD -- the cold air wrapping around the back side of the supercell. The red arrow indicates the inflow -- the warm air being fed into the storm. The tornado is in the hook in the storm, and can be seen by the black triangle. The large blob of red and purple is actually a two mile wide area of debris spinning through the air around the tornado.

    This particular tornado died when the storm occluded, or the cold air caught up with the warm air and choked it off. Tornadoes don't like cooler, stable air. Once the storm hit Stanley Draper Lake east of Moore, it slowed down and rapidly dissipated. The News9 helicopter caught the tornado "roping out," or getting very narrow as it rapidly dissipates.

  • The debris ball was one of the most impressive debris balls I've ever seen on radar. A "debris ball" is a roughly-circular area of high reflectivity on a radar image. It usually shows up as dark red and purple right where the tornado is located. This happens because the radar beam is bouncing off all the plywood, trees, cars, and various other stuff flying around in the atmosphere in the tornado.

    Here's the radar as the tornado was hitting Moore (it's actually the same image that I posted above).

    Here's the debris ball from the iconic Tuscaloosa tornado in April 2011:


  • The National Weather Service in Norman OK issued a tornado warning well in advance of the tornado -- 40 minutes (!) before the tornado struck Moore. The warning was issued at 240PM, and the tornado didn't hit until 320PM. They actually issued it before the storm exhibited much rotation. The environment was so ripe for tornadoes that they knew that this rapidly developing supercell would produce a tornado at some point in the near future. A little while after they issued the warning, a tornado touched down near Newcastle, OK and exploded as it moved into Moore.

    This area of the country is extremely well prepared for tornadoes. Many Midwesterners have tornado shelters ("fraidy holes" as I hear Oklahomans call them) they run to when things get hairy. If you read/hear reports from ground zero in Newcastle and Moore, many of the survivors had to dig their way out of storm shelters to survive.

    There was plenty of warning. Tornado sirens, for as unreliable as they are, do help in spreading the word. Both radio and television were saturated with tornado forecasts for days before this event. Almost all radio stations in Oklahoma City switched over to a television station's live broadcasts when the tornadoes touched down. The Emergency Alert System went off on all stations to alert those who were unaware of the situation.

    This area was prepared. The people who died are people who either didn't make it underground in time or got buried in their shelter and passed away.


  • Unfortunately, this was one of those tornadoes where being underground was really your only way to survive without a high risk of life-threatening injuries. Usually weaker tornadoes don't completely destroy interior, first-floor rooms like broom closets and small bathrooms. Those are your best bet if you find yourself in the path of a tornado. Lie down in a bathtub with something big and bulky on top of you, like a mattress or couch cushions. A few people managed to survive by staying in their bathtub, but they were the lucky ones. An EF-5 tornado like this scours your home clean from its foundation.
  • If you know you're in the path of a tornado and it's not seconds from obliterating you (to put it nicely), there are a few things you can do to prepare yourself. Wear a bicycle helmet to protect your head from flying debris. The number one cause of death in a tornado is a fatal blow to your head. Protect your head. Wear goggles to protect your eyes from flying glass, sand, dirt, wood, and whatever else the tornado is flinging around. Wear jeans, a heavy jacket, sturdy shoes, and gloves before you go into your shelter. If your home is damaged or destroyed by the tornado, you'll need to climb out and walk through lots of unsafe debris. That's hard to do in flip-flops and a miniskirt. You'll look like a confused 1920s aviator when all is said and done, but you'll be a less injured confused 1920s aviator.
  • DO NOT SEEK SHELTER UNDER A BRIDGE OR HIGHWAY OVERPASS UNLESS YOU WANT TO DIE. I'm not kidding. People died doing that in the Shawnee tornado on Sunday.
  • An obscene number of people died in this tornado (confirmed fatalities were at 51 as I typed this paragraph) simply because it was unsurvivable if you weren't adequately protected. This tornado will be rated an EF-5. It scrubbed homes from their foundation. It ripped the grass out of the ground. It destroyed several solidly-built school buildings. Dr. Greg Forbes (a brilliant man who studied under Fujita Scale inventor Ted Fujita, and helped develop the Enhanced Fujita Scale) says he saw a steel tank bolted to the ground ripped up and tossed hundreds of feet, which clearly indicated EF-5 damage.

    Even in this case, being in an interior room or bath tub didn't guarantee survival. It was hell on earth.


  • We're going to hear incredible stories of teachers risking (and some potentially giving) their lives to save their students in the schools hit by the tornado today.

    Hug a teacher. Hug a rescue worker. Thank them. They're heroes. Seriously.


  • Sprawl is a big deal. Americans have a fetish for conquering wide open spaces and turning them into thriving metropolises (metropoli?) with miles and miles of little boxes on the countryside made of ticky-tacky. As we spread out and populate the landscape like rabbits, we're putting ourselves at greater risk for destruction.

    20 or 30 years ago, a tornado over the same area of Oklahoma would have caused a lot of damage, but nowhere near like what we saw today. Moore was a city of about 40,000 people when the horrific F5 tornado struck almost the exact same areas back on May 3 1999. US Census data shows that Moore's population exploded 33.9% between 2000 and 2010, and has grown even more (2.2%) since then, to a 2011 estimated population of 56,000.

    That's a lot of growth. That's a lot of growth that wasn't there 10 years ago. That's a lot of crap for a tornado to hit and destroy.

    Same with Tuscaloosa. Same with Joplin. Same with La Plata, Maryland. Same with the March 2 2012 outbreak across the Ohio Valley. As we grow and expand and pack ourselves more densely than ever before, tornadoes go from a minor tragic incident to a horrific event. It's amplified an untold amount when an EF-5 tornado tears through a populated area, like what happened in Moore.

    Disasters like this are a mixture of nature and human expansion. We need to take steps to make unsurvivable storms like this survivable. The NWS is always working to improve warning lead times to give the most warning possible before a storm hits. People in vulnerable areas who can afford to invest in tornado shelters should do so. Families need to make plans on what to do if and when a tornado hits. Schools and businesses need to have more frequent tornado drills so building occupants know what to do if one strikes. We need to make weather radios as common as smoke detectors and cell phones. Hell, they make severe weather alert apps for smartphones. There's virtually no reason anyone shouldn't be aware that a storm is coming. We need to start weather radio drives to get these valuable warning devices to those who can't afford them. If weather radios were as popular as Powerball tickets, this country would be so much better off.


    • As this is a political blog, it's hard for some to ignore the political aspects of a disaster like this. I tend to forcefully tell people who bring up politics that it's tacky as hell and they should feel bad for wanting to deny aid or "punish" people in this area for voting one way or another.

      I post these diaries because, if you read through the comment threads, a whole hell of a lot of active members and lurkers live in these red areas. People are people. We lambasted Republican politicians -- many of whom represent Oklahoma -- for voting against disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy victims. Don't wish the same on the people of Oklahoma. I don't care who they voted for. We're liberals. Compassion is a natural result of liberalism. We're supposed to be the good guys. Hold politicians like Jame Inhofe and Tom Coburn accountable for their hypocritical actions without cackling that the [insert choice names here] got slammed with bad weather.

      On the flip side of the coin, however, you have to give US Rep. Tom Cole (R, OK-3), in whose district Moore resides, credit where credit is due. When Republicans were gearing up to block Federal aid for Hurricane Sandy victims, Rep. Cole came out and spoke against their boneheadedness:

      "There's clearly a federal responsibility to act," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). "We have a national interest in getting this region on its feet as quickly as possible."


      No previous disaster relief bill has required offsetting spending cuts, and Cole called it "hypocritical" for lawmakers whose districts have benefited from federal aid after previous disasters to require sweeping spending cuts in order to authorize the storm aid.

      "We have never done that in the past in a disaster, and we certainly shouldn't do so now," Cole said.

      There's a big difference between being jubilant that Republican-voting Oklahoma got slammed by tornadoes and being a responsible citizen pressuring politicians to do the right thing. Spouting off like Erickson and the jerks on Twitter isn't the way to go, and that's what invites ire in liveblog comment threads.


    • Social media is an extremely useful tool in emergency situations like tornadoes. Meteorologists like James Spann have mastered the art of using Facebook and Twitter to quickly warn as many people as possible that severe weather is on its way. Even on my rinky dink little Facebook page, I'm able to spread warnings rather effectively to people in the path of dangerous weather. People might brush off Facebook and Twitter as a site for teens to play Candy Crush and Farmville, but it's immensely helpful in a situation like the one that unfolded today.


    • In every one of my severe weather diaries, I try to post useful links at the very end of the diary. If you have any suggestions for things I should add to the list, I'm all ears. I usually copy/paste from one diary to another so I don't leave any out. Here's the list from today's diaries.

    National Weather Service Main Page
    National Weather Service -- Central Oklahoma
    National Weather Service -- Tulsa OK
    National Weather Service -- Springfield MO
    National Weather Service -- St. Louis MO
    National Weather Service -- Kansas City MO
    National Weather Service -- Arkansas (whole state)

    Storm Prediction Center Main Page
    Storm Prediction Center -- Current Severe Weather Watches
    Storm Prediction Center -- Convective (Severe Weather) Outlooks
    Storm Prediction Center -- Mesoscale Discussions
    Storm Prediction Center -- Storm Reports
    Storm Prediction Center -- Mesoscale Analysis Pages

    Wunderground's Detailed Radar (click the + nearest to you to see your local radar)

    NOAA Weather Models's excellent GFS/NAM/RAP model website.

    ChaserTV-- live streaming video from storm chasers.

    News9 in Oklahoma City provides extremely thorough severe weather coverage. This is Gary England's station -- the pioneers of on-screen weather warnings and chasing tornadoes with helicopters. Their efforts, along with those of storm chasers, have saved thousands of lives.

    I'll continuously post updates to my Facebook page on this and most other major severe weather outbreaks.

9:41 PM PT: Some crafty ways to donate to the victims and rescue workers:
-Call local pizza places and pay for pizzas to be reserved for victims and/or rescue workers.
-Call area hotels and offer to buy some rooms for victims.

More ways to help can be found at the Moore Recovers website.

9:47 PM PT: From the Moore OK Tornado Info Facebook page:

Moore, OK is in desperate need of anyone who can help with horses! Over a hundred have been killed and many injured. If you have a trailer, medical supplies please they need your help! Especially Orr Family Farm at 14400 S. Western, OKC 73170. Tel 405-799-3276

10:56 PM PT: From the comments, a link to donate to an animal shelter taking in animals displaced by the Moore tornado.

They responded is where you
can donate: nasty pop up would not let me link directly.

In Comments put that this donation is for the displaced animals from the Moore, OK tornado and the shelter will get your donation.

by lakehillsliberal on Tue May 21, 2013 at 01:50:30 AM EDT

Originally posted to El Blogo de Weatherdudeo on Mon May 20, 2013 at 08:30 PM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Hawks.

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