Friday, May 27, 2011

Carolina Blues

"Carolina Blues," Blues Traveller.

Cleaning Up and Sorting Out

The analysis of this week's tornadoes is only now starting to give a sense of the overall picture...

Starting with a tornado outbreak on Sunday May 22 (including the monster twister that hit Joplin, MO., and another tornado that killed 2 in the middle of north Minneapolis, MN.), the week progressed with a wild Tuesday and Wednesday tornado outbreak that produced over a hundred tornadoes from Texas and Oklahoma northwest into Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. (On Wednesday, there was even an isolated tornado in northern California!)

But despite the wild weather Tuesday and Wednesday, the casualties from that outbreak were considerably lower than the Joplin tornado. (Of course that still means that over 150 died from tornadoes just since last Saturday.)

So why had this year been such a horror? Really, it is simply probablity going against us. We have had years with more tornadoes, and years with more strong tornadoes. As bad as the April Alabama tornado outbreak was, it only produced a single EF5 tornado - and that was in Mississippi. The 1974 "Super Outbreak" produced six! But that outbreak did produce several large, long-track* tornadoes - and they traveled through densely populated northern Alabama, moving northeast right along I-20 and I-59, where a lot of people are. This year's tornadoes have hit populated area, so the toll they wreak has been higher. This has been the deadliest year for tornadoes since 1953.

Contrast that with the EF5 tornado that made a direct hit on Joplin, Mo., on May 22. Here, it was a matter of pure bad luck, or bad odds, or... I don't know what you call it, but Joplin's number came up. Some days, no matter how good you are or what you do, you're just screwed. That EF5 tornado made a direct hit on the city, and an EF5 will mow anything short of a bunker down. And it did.

But what about Tuesday and Wednesday? Well, this time good luck prevailed. Take Tuesday, for example: seven tornadoes touched down in central Oklahoma (including at least three EF-4s), three of which seemed poised to cruise into the Oklahoma City metro area. (Including one which was making a beeline for the Storm Prediction Center in Norman.) For whatever reason, two of them dissipated just short, and the third veered north into Guthrie. Those storms were powerful enough to kill, and did kill ten in the farms and small towns west of OKC.