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May 8, 2003

Funnels
Posted by Teresa at 09:34 AM *

This spring’s tornadoes have been the worst in years, with about three dozen deaths so far, along with the usual wrecked buildings and uprooted trees. Still, I find this photo oddly beautiful, as photos of approaching tornadoes sometimes are, with their still-untouched peaceful foregrounds glowing with that yellowy-green pre-storm light, against a slate-blue and unimaginably violent sky. Here’s another from a while back. And a third , and fourth. And here’s a whole page of them, looking like they were painted by Grant Wood or John Steuart Curry.

(Don’t fancy that? Okay, how about a tornado in the style of John Millais? No? A Turner, then?)

Comments on Funnels:
#1 ::: claudia ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2003, 11:58 AM:

I don't know about you but this really seems like the hand of hell coming right down to earth destroying whatever gets in its way.

#2 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2003, 12:03 PM:

I guess, looking at them, still on a screen, they could be considered beautiful. But a lifetime in the Midwest changes one -- and those particular greens scream "Hide. Now."

A rather nasty supercell cruised just south of the city Tuesday night, dropping a few twisters and some near legendary hail. There's a squall line forming up now, it's about 40 miles SW, rolling east and becoming more coherent, though the early morning lines aren't usually the ones that turn into killers. This is the "warm" line of storms, as much warmer and humid air moves up from the south, it'll push a line of moderate storms ahead of it. Later, we'll get a cold front coming back through, with another line of storms. This'll repeat for most of a month. It's usually the cold-front storms you really have to worry about, but there's been enough early-morning warm front tornadoes that you pay attention.

April and May are always interesting times.

#3 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2003, 12:05 PM:

Ten years ago, driving along Interstate 90 through eastern North Dakota with D. Potter in a U-Haul truck filled with D.'s worldly goods, we drove west into an eastward-moving thunderstorm. Rain and hail fell on us, naturally, and as we progressed the base of the storm came into view. At its leading edge was a wall cloud, straight out of that cult film classic, "Tornado Spotters Guide."

We were in the middle of nowhere, miles and miles from the nearest shelter. There was nothing to do but press on. Thankfully the wall cloud was rather to the south of the highway. I watched it as much as I could while I drove — the base of the wall cloud was rotating, but no funnel formed while we were in the area.

And, after we passed the wall cloud to the safety of the storm's interior, as we came through to the other side of the storm, we reached the sunlight shining through in the amazing golden half-light you note in the photos to which you link. Photographs can't do justice to that light, not really.

#4 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2003, 12:06 PM:

In spite of having lived in Indiana for eight years, it remains my lifelong ambition to see one of those things in person. The closest I came was a huge black swirling cloud that passed over downtown El Paso in the wake of funnel sightings in nearby New Mexico.

#5 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2003, 12:31 PM:

Beautiful pictures. Last tornado in Massachusetts, I seem to recall, was about 1955. In the west of the state.

I don't suppose anyone knows of a page that posts QuickTimes or other videos of tornadoes?

#6 ::: Paul Riddell ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2003, 01:18 PM:

Too close to last night for comfort. All of North Texas has been under ridiculous numbers of tonado watches and warnings, and those green skies are always a beautiful threat, like an eyelash viper or green mamba. (All we've been getting in Dallas have been the occasional golfball-sized-hailstorm, but the main storms keep passing to the north or south. Even so, I take the tornadoes as a warning that the summer is going to be even hotter and more brutal than in 1998, and 1998 was BAD.)

As far as Erik's comment is concerned, I hear him about longtime ingrained warnings of that sort. Last year, I was living in North Florida, and every day at about 4 in the afternoon, the whole area would get pounded with tremendous gullywasher rainstorms. Nobody there could understand why I'd rush out to see the color of the sky when they'd start; after all, they didn't live in a place where those sorts of storms, where you could hear the rain pounding on the roof over the sound of stereo headphones, were immediately followed by tornado sirens. Nothing like watching two funnel clouds pass over my old high school (while I was _in_ the school) to get those sorts of habits...

#7 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2003, 02:00 PM:

John, for online videos, you will have to search around,or check the Weather Channel. Probably the best resource is the Tornado Project Online, the producers of some amazing videos. The site offers lots of stats, including some fascinating top ten lists. You might be interested to know the Massachusetts tops the lists for tornado deaths per 10,000 miles area -- how strange. And there have been spikes up in your area as recently as the mid 90's, even though you haven't seen a bad one like an F4 since the 50's.

#9 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2003, 03:24 PM:

Thanks, Claude.

Of course, it's sheer laziness on my part. Ten seconds with Google gave me this link. (In QuickTime and RealPlayer.)

#10 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2003, 07:52 PM:

Paul: I'm not sure you ever lose those reflexes. I grew up in Oklahoma and lived either there or in Kansas or Texas until I was in my 30s. I had been living in the SF Bay Area for quite a few years when the following happened. Jordin and I were out running around doing stuff one weekend day and I kept feeling more and more uncomfortable and uneasy. As we were driving home it struck me. Those were tornado clouds in the sky overhead. I said that to Jordin who told me that the BA didn't have tornadoes. Sure enough, there was a tornado in the North Bay that afternoon. I'm not crazy about tornadoes, but I'd rather deal with them than earthquakes.

MKK

#11 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2003, 10:40 PM:

I worked in downtown St. Paul on the 20th floor of the World Trade Center (yes, I know, but it's not my fault). Our company had the whole floor, and there were huge windows everywhere. Once, the sirens went off, and the radio said that there was a tornado over downtown St. Paul, but that it had not yet touched down. Guess what the entire office, most of them Midwesterners born and bred, did. In a single mass, we all rushed into the conference room with the biggest plate glass window, floor to ceiling and the full length of the room, and strained to see the funnel cloud.

#12 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2003, 11:59 PM:

Well, I don't know. I don't like them -- tornadoes have come too close to killing me or my loved ones mrore times than I care to really consider. I've spent times in elementary, junior high and high schoole huddled down in the first floor hallways -- the closest encounter was when the teachers of my elementary school left after the alert had passed, only to find most of thier cars gone -- taken up by a tornado that'd just missed the school. Or maybe it was the one that wiped out the side of the street my sister wasn't living on.

And, now, Okalhoma City gets smacked, including a GM plant. And my local weather forecasters post this gem of a forecast discussion. Normally, these are in a very terse syntax, developed when t
hey were propogated by slow teletype links. (parentheticals in lc are my expansions)

AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE ST LOUIS MO
400 PM CDT THU MAY 8 2003

SHORT AND UNSCIENTIFIC FORECAST DISCUSSION DUE TO ACTIVE WEATHER...

SEVERE WEATHER THREAT CONTINUES OFF AND ON THROUGH SATURDAY NIGHT AS WAVE AFTER WAVE FORMS OVER SOUTHWESTERN KANSAS AND MOVES NORTHEASTWARD BRINGING VERY MOIST AND UNSTABLE AIR INTO THE AREA. POTENT UPPER LEVEL SYSTEM KEEPS SPINNING OFF SMALL VORTICES AND EJECTING THEM NORTHEASTWARD WHICH HELPS ENHANCE VERTICAL MOTION THROUGHOUT THE PERIOD. SHEAR AND BUOYANCY PROFILES ARE FAVORABLE FOR SEVERE WEATHER OUTBREAKS ON AND OFF WITH THE ONLY REAL BREAK DURING THE DAY FRIDAY AS IT LOOKS LIKE WEAK CAP WILL KEEP THE UPDRAFTS FROM BUBBLING UP. CONSIDERED INTRODUCING A SLIGHT CHANCE
POP (propability of precipitation) FOR FRIDAY...BUT DECIDED TO HOLD OFF AND LET THE NEXT SHIFT MAKE THE FINAL DECISION. BOTH MODELS ARE FAIRLY CLOSE WITH THE FROPA (front passage) WHICH WILL END THIS BOUT WITH SEVERE WEATHER ON SUNDAY MORNING. EXTENDED...WE'LL FINALLY HAVE A BREAK IN ALL THE SEVERE WEATHER AFTER THE COLD FRONT FINALLY MOVES THROUGH. HIGH PRESSURE BUILDS
INTO THE MID-MISSISSIPPI VALLEY REGION BEHIND THE COLD FRONT AND IT LOOKS LIKE AT LEAST A COUPLE OF DAYS OF PLACID WEATHER UNDER AN UPPER LEVEL RIDGE.

Thankfully. It's been storm after storm in St. Louis, each worse than the last, and it looks like there's a fair amount of weather in the area tonight -- though it looks like Mid-State Illinios and points north are the big losers tonight -- there's a line of storms from St. Louis north to Peoria, and a wide area all the way up to Madison, WI. The NEXRAD Radar Summary for the are sums things up. The 3 digit numbers are heights of echos, in hundreds of feet (350=35,000 feet) the 2 digit numbers at the ends of arrows are speed of that motion indicated by the barb, in knots. Blue and Red Boxes are Severe Thunderstorm and Tornado watches. "HAIL" means Nexrad's picking up very strong spikes, which means ice, not water. "MESO" means Mesocyclonic activity -- a very intense, rotating storm. "TVS" is Tornado Vortex Signature -- the doppler of the winds indicates a tornado. If you look now (2300CDT, 08-MAY-2003,) you'll see a cell just SW of Peoria, IL (PIA), tops of 45,000 feet, moving NW at 58 knots(!) showing hail and a tornado signature.

It's one of those nights, though, right now, it looks like it'll stay mostly quite here -- just the tail of that line might hit us. But my neighbors to the north are in for a long night.




#13 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2003, 04:30 AM:

If you want paintings of storms, the king is 19th-century American landscapist Martin Johnson Heade--see, e.g.,
http://www.artchive.com/artchive/H/heade.html

--but the little jpegs don't really do his subtlety justice. See if you can find some originals.
Winslow Homer and Albert Pinkham Ryder also did some good stuff.

#14 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2003, 04:48 AM:

I guess, looking at them, still on a screen, they could be considered beautiful. But a lifetime in the Midwest changes one -- and those particular greens scream "Hide. Now."

Reminds me of my attitude towards earthquakes: when I was a kid, I thought small earthquakes were exciting and interesting. Then I lived through Loma Prieta, and my attitude towards them changed dramatically.

David Eppstein linked to an amazing picture; and I was even more surprised to find a comment on that page from David Goldfarb. In case anyone else was wondering, that wasn't me; it's David A. Goldfarb, a professor of Slavic languages at Barnard College in NYC.

#15 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2003, 11:17 AM:

I had the misfortune to be off at school when Hurricane Frederick hit my hometown. My folks told of hearing twisters zip overhead in the middle of the night, but all I got to see was the bisected Winn-Dizie store when I returned, where the twister had evidently entered through the front door and sauntered on out through the back, leaving a wide seam straight through the middle. That, and a few uprooted trees of impressive size.

Meanwhile, speaking of traumatic disasters, not only did I have to change web hosts, but Netscape mail has been unavailable for days.

#16 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2003, 11:27 AM:

I was amazed by the accuracy of the forecasts in the Oklahoma City area last night. They were predicting to the minute when the storm would pass through each town in its path. No reports of deaths at this point, and I think this has something to do with the fact that the forecasting technology is so much better now. When that siren goes off, you no longer have as much excuse to wonder if it's a false alarm. Living in Moore OK looks like a bad gamble -- it's been devastated by three tornadoes in the past six years. Norman wasn't in the path of the storm, but there was a pretty stiff wind as I left work and walked to my car last night (after reviewing tornado procedures with the library's evening crew, just in case).

#17 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2003, 11:42 AM:

Janet: I did my undergrad and graduate work at the University of Oklahoma so I spent a lot of years in Norman. Points north if it (like Moore and OKC) frequently got hit, but Norman almost never did. I think it's a bit lower than the surrounding areas due to being in the bend of the Canadian River bed and so they mostly skip over it.

It's been my experience that tornadoes in the Great Plains have a much lower death rate than those in, say Ohio, or other similar areas of the midwest simply because people in the Great Plains have more experience dealing with them and know better what to do. And not do. About 10 or 15 years ago tornadoes completely destroyed the small Oklahoma town my grandparents lived in, but there were no deaths. Mind boggling property destruction, but no deaths. The reason I prefer tornadoes to earthquakes is that you do, in fact, get warnings with tornadoes, and there are measures you can take to make yourself safe. There's no warning for earthquakes and about all you can do is pray the ground doesn't open underneath you and that nothing falls on you. The feeling of helplessness is simply overwhelming.
Yes, I do have control issues. Why do you ask?

MKK

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