Atmosphere And Weather

Tornado Alley Explained

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"Tornado Alley Explained"
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Weather can be a welcome friend bringing the soft sprinkling of spring rain, or it can be devastatingly destructive, with enough brute force to completely level almost any building in the matter of seconds. Anyone who lives in Oklahoma or Kansas can probably concur that when the alarms start wailing and the local emergency network is sounding off, it is going to be one of those days!

Tornado Alley is the nickname given to the large span of land that covers the middle part of the United States, reaching across the Great Plains that begins between Texas and Louisiana, and tears a path between the Rocky Mountains in the west to the Appalachians Mountains in the East. An average of over twelve hundred tornadoes are reported across the United States every year, and approximately 80% are centered upon the helpless residents of this highly susceptible area.

Before I explain the anatomy of this particular landmass, I would like you to visualize what it would be like to come into the path of something 500-2500 feet in width, harvesting catastrophic wind speeds between 200-600 miles per hour. This awesome act of nature or "finger of God" as some storm chasers put it, has enough driving force to scatter cars like they were a bunch children's toys, pick-up entire homes and relocate them miles away, and drive a solid piece of wood into solid steel, as though it was a stick of butter. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune to be victimized by one of these massive columns of rotating hell, can tell you that a Tornado may look cool in the movies but when you hear that freight train coming; you better run for your life.

So why do Tornadoes pick this specific topical location to carve a path of destruction each year. It isn't fate or a personal vendetta from God that makes the choice; it is an act of nature and science most unkind. The anatomy of Tornado Alley begins with a large mass of humid warm air that surges from the Gulf of Mexico, and collides head on with the cooler, drier air masses from the Northern Canada region. This collision essentially explodes into a huge bulk of thunderstorms and super-cells that can quite often give birth to a Tornado. The problem with this, other than the air masses, also is due to the flatness and the degree of distance from both the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, so no other influence can change the constant flow or air streams that drives these masses into headlong into one another.

The second and probably worst part of Tornado Alley is not only the frequent uprising of such storms, but also the shear fury and magnitude of the type of beast that can be released from these abnormally large and unstable super-cells. Since right now I am focusing my explanation on Tornado Alley, I will just briefly outline another important layer of factoids to properly explain the relevance of the above statement.

The Fujita Scale is a form of measurement used to scale the magnitude of a tornado in the gage of wind speed or velocity. This is done using F followed by a number range from zero to five (well six but the reaper hasn't come yet); with five being the highest (at least as of yet, but that's another article). The category F4 carries a wind speed ranging from 207-260mph, and this can quite easily pickup a full semi tractor trailer and send it hurtling in any direction. Houses, and most structures incur severe damage during this type of storm. The F5 is nothing short of pure destruction, with speeds ranging 261-318mph; this is a moving day you never planned, and your car could very well be found miles away if at all. If an F5 was to hit almost any structure head-on, there would be barely a chance that it would be standing after the dust settled.

Tornado alley not only spawns the most tornadic storms, but they also incur the greatest number of higher-class funnels than anywhere else in the world. The state of Kansas has the highest documented number of F5 tornadoes going back to 1880. Kentucky caries an equally devastating rank as the highest percentage of tornadoes to be between F4 and F5.

There is a small breath of relief from under this blanket of doom and gloom, since almost any building now built within the alley is held to much stricter building codes, due to the severity and frequency of this weather system prone locale. Also recent meteorological breakthroughs have created a better advance warning system to allow a better window of time to hurry into that storm cellar, basement or bathtub.

Sure, that still doesn't change the recent growth in super storms which most weather chasers are already theorizing the eventuality of a full-blown F6, although some speculation exists that one or two already touched down. If such storms do become a reality, there isn't one structure that is designed well enough to withstand a fully rotating F6 monster!

So there you have it, Tornado Alley in a nutshell. I have witnessed many things firsthand that have made me wish I stayed home, but the elevation of terror and fear that comes from looking back into your rear-view mirror, only to see that the car that was behind you left the road surface, is unquestionably an emotion without words.

More about this author: Douglas Black

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