You don't need a weather man to know which way the wind blows.
- Bob Dylan
Electrical Discharges inside Tornados
Any farmer from America's "tornado alley (Oklahoma and Kansas, primarily)" will testify to the extreme violence of a tornado vortex.
Tornados are associated with electrical storms. Scientists have been arguing for years as to whether storm electricity helps spawn tornados and whether electrical effects are important attributes of the funnels. The first eyewitness account is descriptive of obvious electrical activity inside a funnel. The second bit of testimony is even more interesting since it describes long vertical light columns (like "neon tubes) associated with tornado funnels. The tubes tie in with occasional observations of aurora-like columns above distant thunderstorms.
A farmer living near Greensburg, Kansas on 22 June 1928 had the rare "privilege" of looking right up into a tornado funnel while standing at the entrance of his cyclone cellar.
"As I paused to look I saw that the lower end, which had been sweeping the ground, was beginning to rise. I knew what that meant, so I kept my position. I knew that I was comparatively safe and I knew that if the tornado again dipped I could drop down and close the door before any harm could be done.
"At last the great shaggy end of the funnel hung directly overhead. Everything was as still as death. There was a strong gassy odor and it seemed that I could not breathe. There was a screaming, hissing sound coming directly from the end of the funnel.
"I looked up and to my astonishment I saw right up into the heart of the tornado!
"There was a circular opening in the center of the funnel, about 50 or 100 feet in diameter, and extending straight upward for a distance of at least ½ mile, as best I could judge under the circumstances. The walls of this opening were of rotating clouds and the whole was made brilliantly visible by constant flashes of lightning which zigzagged from side to side." (Monthly Weather Review, 58: 205, 1930)
The 25 May 1955 tornado at Blackwell, Oklahoma, was a particularly strong tornado. Lee Hunter saw the light-column effect vividly.
"The funnel from the cloud to the ground was lit up. It was a steady, deep blue light - very bright. It had an orange color fire in the centre from the cloud to the ground. As it came along my field, it took a swath about 100 yards wide. As it swung from left to right, it looked like a giant neon tube in the air or a Bagman at a railroad crossing. As it swung along the ground level, the orange fire or electricity would gush out from the bottom of the funnel, and the updraft would take it up in the air causing a terrific light - and it was gone!" (Journal of Meteorology, 14:284, 1957)
Source: Handbook of Unusual Phenomena: Eyewitness Accounts of Nature's Greatest Mysteries by William R Corliss
Plains Tornadoes Rich in Research Data
by Kelly Kurt
Norman, Oklahoma - The vision of scientists taming deadly storms isn't anything more than a pipe dream, researchers say. They don't even know yet how giant tornadoes are born. But a University of Oklahoma researcher who trailed the funnels that killed 41 people last week predicts more may be learned from that May 3 evening than a decade of storm chasing.
"We're going to make quantum leaps, I think - I hope," professor Howie Bluestein said Tuesday.
President Clinton, viewing the ruins Saturday of neighbourhoods swept away in the storms, suggested seeing if the "frontiers of science can widen to the point where we can dilute the strength of the storm." He said, "We'll put Oklahoma at the centre of that."
But it's unlikely the strength of storms is something that can - or should - be tamed, said Harold Brooks, research meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman. Tornadoes spin from thunderstorms that hold the energy of "an atomic bomb explosion per second," he said. "If we take that option away from the thunderstorm, it may respond in some way that is even less friendly than a tornado." Even if the technology existed, Brooks doubts taxpayers would support the cost of maintaining the equipment, such as a fleet of aircraft, to attack and dilute storms.
The tornado that hit the Oklahoma City suburbs last week reached wind speeds of 318 miles an hour, according to readings taken by one of the University of Oklahoma's Doppler on Wheels radar trucks. It was rated F-5 on the Fujita scale, the highest ranking for twisters.
Two teams led by Joshua Wurman, an assistant professor in the meteorology department and head of Oklahoma University's storm-tracking unit, intercepted the storm system that afternoon west of Lawton and trailed its path past Oklahoma City. Later that night, the team followed a mile-wide tornado that ploughed through the town of Mulhall. "We had one radar watch a powerful tornado be born," Wurman said. "That's another piece of the puzzle."
Down the hall from Wurman's office, Bluestein pointed to an image recorded by another Doppler radar on the truck his team drove near the storm. Tiny dots appear in the centre of a mass of swirling red and blue that show varying wind speeds. "These were small tornadoes within the large cone," he said. The radar image might help explain phenomenon such as a mobile home in Bridge Creek that was sucked away by a tornado while lawn chairs sat undisturbed nearby.
Bluestein, who has been tracking tornadoes across the prairie since 1977, said it could take months or even years to interpret all the data collected that evening. "I don't think we're ever going to be able to modify tornadoes," he said. "We still need to understand how tornadoes form." If researchers can do that, Brook said, they might be better able to predict intensity and tailor storm warnings accordingly.
"My house takes an F-1 tornado. In an F-3 tornado, our interior hallway is almost certainly survivable, although we may lose a good part of the house," Brooks said. "In an F-5 tornado, we're dead if we're there."
Source: NansoTimes 12 May 1999 © Nando Media and Associated Press
Armoured Tornado Camera Destroyed - by a Tornado
A camera specially designed to take pictures of the inside of a tornado has been destroyed - by a tornado. National Geographic constructed the armoured device and placed it in the path of a storm near Manchester, South Dakota. But it was blown away within seconds when the tornado hit. The remains were found stuck in mud more than 430 feet away. All the device's glass ports were smashed and the cameras inside were ruined, National Geographic said. The film was being sent back for processing just in case, but officials said they doubted it captured any images.
Source: www.ananova.com Thursday 26 June 2003 © Associated Press
Tuesday 4 May 1999: I don't think I experienced this day at all. I'm wondering if maybe New Zealand skipped this day. I think Oklahoma wishes they had. Instead, the region was crisscrossed by 76 tornadoes, one of which reached the dreaded Force 5 and killed more than 50 people. (And this is still before the expected "rapid climate change" hits!)
The last picture was taken less than a mile from the tornado.
Source: www.lasvegasmariancenter.com 15 June 2001
For pages on natural disasters - including the above-mentioned lightning strikes, volcanoes and hurricanes but also global warming and more - as well as satellite photos and
some great pictures of trees, clicking the "Up" button immediately below takes you to the Table of Contents page for this Environment section.