The violent, mid-western spring storms that occasionally spawn remind me how, as a young Pennsylvania farm lad, I’d recall those hurricanes we’d occasionally get, particularly Hurricane Hazel in October 1954. However, I don’t remember witnessing tornadoes and have no recollection of any ever touching down near our farm.
As a rule, hurricanes originate in the southeast and move north along the eastern Appalachian plateau. Tornadoes spawn in the southwest and climb northeast following the western edge of the Appalachians.
The first tornado that caught my attention was the one that leveled Xenia back in the 1970s. Since then I’ve been most cautious during inclement spring weather and make every attempt to seek shelter whenever possible. After all, who really knows when the big one will hit?
Which brings us to the tornado that touched down on Manchester Road in Coventry Township last week. It ripped apart a Burger King sign and closed the fuel pumps across the road at the Acme store. We can all thank the Good Lord there were no casualties.
Tornadoes can be as devastating as Hurricanes, causing great real estate and property damage and, unfortunately, an enormous loss of life. They differ from hurricanes in that they are vertical funnels of rapidly spinning air. The funnel itself may grow to a width of 660 feet. Winds may top 250 miles per hour (mph) or more and can create a path of destruction a mile wide and 50 miles long. Anything in its path, including life, is endangered.
Known also as twisters, they form from thunderstorms and are frequently accompanied by heavy hail. When winds change speed and direction, it creates a horizontal spinning effect inside storm cells. This effect is then tipped vertically by rising air moving up through the thunderclouds.
It’s these giant, persistent, thunderstorms, known as super cells, that give birth to the most destructive tornadoes. After much research, I discovered that these violent storms can strike almost anywhere around the world. But the United States, in particular, is fertile ground for them. Almost 1,000 tornadoes strike America nearly every year.
"Tornado Alley," the name given to an area that includes eastern South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, northern Texas, and eastern Colorado, is home to the most powerful and by far, destructive of these storms. Tornados in the United States cause 80 deaths and more than 1500 injuries annually.
Tornadoes move at speeds of 10 to 20 mph although they’ve been clocked at wind bursts of up to 70 mph. People, cars and even buildings could be hurled aloft by tornado-force winds or simply blown away.
Many tornadoes do not get very far, as was witnessed by the Manchester Road touchdown last week. They rarely travel more then six miles in their short life spans and occur more often in late afternoon, when thunderstorms are more prevalent. They’re more common in the spring and early summer. However, tornadoes can and do form at any time of the day and year. Most tornado injuries and deaths are caused by flying debris.
Unfortunately, Tornado forecasters can not give the same kind of timely warning that hurricane forecasters give, but they do enough to save lives. Today, the average warning time for a tornado alert is 13 minutes. They can also be identified by warning signs that include a dark, greenish sky, large hail and a powerful, train-like, roar.
Waterspouts are not water tornadoes but are related to twisters. They are much weaker and form over warm waters. Sometimes, however, they do move inland and occasionally become tornadoes. Dust devils are different. They are small, fast rotating columns of air that are made visible by the dust and dirt they pick up. Dust devils are not associated with thunderstorms.
In the event a tornado does threaten, seek safe shelter immediately.
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