May 26, 2011 — There have been a lot more tornadoes than usual this Spring in the U.S. — over 240 reported in at least 14 states, mainly in the south and midwest.
The most destructive one went through Joplin, Missouri last Sunday, killing 122 people so far. It’s the deadliest tornado since records started being kept in 1950, and in the strongest category for a tornado you can have. There are a lot of people still missing, too, and over 1,000 people injured. Homes, schools and hospitals were destroyed.
These winds were so strong — over 200 miles per hour — that they picked up cars as if they were soda cans, snapped telephone poles in two and stripped the bark right off trees. X-rays from the hospital were found 70 miles away. School has been closed for the rest of the school year. Schools that weren’t destroyed are now shelters and makeshift medical centers.
It’s path was 6 miles long and half a mile wide. Sadly, it traveled directly through the town of Joplin where almost 50,000 people live.
It’s hard to imagine the power of that kind of wind, how scary it must have been to experience it, and how sad it is for the people looking for missing relatives and grieving the ones who died. Even for those who survived, it’ll take a really long time to rebuild homes and lives.
About 2,000 structures were wrecked, some estimating about 20%-25% of the whole town.
Thankfully, people have come forward to help. In addition to the responders in Joplin, firefighters and rescue workers from other towns and states have come to help too, as have regular people. Kids are also collecting much needed items to send.
President Obama will be visiting Joplin on Sunday to look at the damage himself, talk to people, and see what they need. When a disaster is really big like this, the government uses money it has set aside for emergencies. The President said, “We’re going to stay there until every home is repaired, until every neighborhood is rebuilt, until every business is back on its feet.”
Even so, these peoples lives have been changed forever. This is also true for the victims of some of the other tornadoes, including a particularly bad one in Alabama in April.
What’s a tornado?
Though they’ve been observed on every continent except Antarctica, more tornadoes happen in the U.S. than any other country, and specifically in area called “Tornado Alley”. They can happen at any time, though their “season” is usually from April through June.
Tornadoes form when two different masses of temperatures and humidity meet (cool dry air from the north mixing with warm moist air from the southeast, for example) and form a thunderstorm. If the lower layers of the atmosphere are unstable, it pushes warm air upward, tilting it from horizontal to vertical. It starts to spiral as it rises and can grow increasingly intense.
Damage is caused when the swirling wind touches the ground while still touching (usually) a cumulonimbus cloud (the super puffy ones). Even though technology has advanced to help detect tornadoes, they’re still hard to predict. People usually only have a few minutes’ warning.
If you live in a tornado-prone area, you most likely already know that you do. Though this has been a terrible tragedy, it’s rare to die in a tornado, about 1 in 5 million (according to the New York Times).
Why there’s such a huge number of them this tornado season is much more complicated. Some researchers think it may involve a weather pattern in the North Atlantic that has created a bit of a roadblock for some air, leaving it to linger longer on land, as the cold air from the North Pacific comes in and meets it.
If you’d like to help
Here are some reputable organizations if you’d like to get involved.
AmericaCares, www.americares.org , they work with clinics, shelters and healthcare providers in Joplin
Convoy of Hope, www.convoyofhope.org , they deliver truckloads of donations to shelters, including supplies, food and water
The Food Bank for Central and Northeastern Missouri, www.sharefoodbringhope.org , they accept food donations and money donations to buy food.
Habitat For Humanity, www.habitat.org , they help with rebuilding homes and buildings, and shelter assistance
American Red Cross, www.redcross.org , they help provide emergency responders, supplies, shelter and comfort.
(this list was compiled by the Christian Science Monitor)