A blog about tornadoes

There really is no scientific consensus or connection [between global warming and tornadic activity]….Jumping from a large-scale event like global warming to relatively small-scale events like tornadoes is a huge leap across a variety of scales.”


    The entire theory behind global warming is that mankind's fossil fuel powered industrialized society increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and that greatly enhances the greenhouse effect and causes temperatures to rise.  The theory has not verified.  It turns out that Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a minor greenhouse gas with no significant warming effect.  So even if warming meant more and more violent tornadoes, there still would not be any connection between man-made warming and an increase in tornado intensity or the number of tornadoes.


The Pacific Ocean is largely in control of the basic weather pattern over the United States.  In the mid latitude Northern Hemisphere, the air flow is essentially from west to east; from the Pacific across the U.S.  The Pacific is the largest body of water on the Planet.  It has a major impact.  When there is a well developed La Nina ocean water temperature cooling of the Equatorial Pacific combined with the cold mid and northern latitudes water pattern over the balance of the northern hemisphere Pacific Ocean, this sets up and upper air pattern that keeps the jet stream stronger and dipping further southward from the Mississippi Valley eastward in the U.S.  This produced the drought in Texas this past winter and has lifted the Spring storms to the north and east of the traditional tornado ally into the more populated, more humid, strong jet stream and stronger frontal region of the nation.  Bingo, tornadoes abound and the death count rises with less open country side.  There is an historic correlation between tornado years and the cold pattern in the Pacific.  My friend Joe D'Aleo writes about it on WeatherBell and ICECAP.us.  Here is an excerpt:

 One last point. the great Stanley Changnon, formerly director of the Illinois Water Survey had done a study probably in the 1990s that I reported on about how although the media attention was mainly on the feared El Ninos, that La Ninas were far more dangerous and costly with more cold and heavy winter snows that paralyze economies and transportation, more spring flooding and deadly and damaging severe weather outbreaks and more landfalling hurricanes than El Nino. The last few years and especially this year is an illustration of this. The severe weather season is not over and then we have the hurricane season which both JB and I think will be more impactful.

See posts on Weatherbell.com.

No doubt there will be some suggesting the severe weather and floods is due to global warming but as we discussed in numerous posts on Weatherbell (like this from last week advertising this outbreak), it was a combination of the most spring snowcover across the hemisphere in a quarter century, unusual cold across the north (Billings MT 118 straight days with lows below 40, a new record and soil temperatures in Iowa and other parts of the Upper Midwest still mostly in the 40s, which is why corn planting is well behind normal) which increases the contrast and enhances the jet stream which energizes the storms that ride along it, and finally warm dry air flowing out of the droughty southern plains into mid levels making the air convectively unstable. These classic severe weather ingredients were common in the last cold PDO when the La Ninas occurred (1965 Palm Sunday outbreak, the 1967 Belvidere and St Louis outbreaks and then the 1974 Superoutbreak).  The last time we had these active springs was the last time the globe was COOLING – from the late 1940s to the mid 1970s. Don't let them tell you its warming. 

And, Anthony Watts has written a well crafted paper showing the folly of blaming this tornado event on climate change.  It is linked at


Now, my previous paper on tornadoes and a research paper on tornadoes done by my brother, Richard Coleman.

I saw a tornado once. It popped up from a passing squall line just out the window at the original Weather Channel building in Atlanta in 1982. It was a EF1 and it didn't stay on the ground but 20 seconds or so. No big deal. These days everybody has a camera and tornado pictures flood in all Spring. But still tornadoes can be a terrible deadly force destroying lives in a matter of seconds. And they continue to be a challenge to predict though our tools are greatly enhanced now and there are fewer false alarms. The National Weather Service and the TV stations work together to get timely warnings out to the public and the system is saving thousands of lives each year. For the TV weathercaster in he Midwest, the Spring can be even more difficult and demanding that the winter snow storm forecasts. In the Spring of 1965 in Omaha, Nebraska, I had thirty consecutive days of tornado warnings. The entire farm town of Yorktown, Iowa, in our service area, was destroyed by a tornado. I hope our warnings helped save lives there. Only two died out of a population of 600 or so. Previously while I was in college at the University of Illinois at Champaign, Illinois in the early 1950s, I also did weather reports on the local TV station. Weather radar was just being developed. The Illinois Water Survey, a research unit associated with the U of I, operated one of the very first weather radars. I used to drive out to the airport and look at it before I went to the TV station and I would tell the viewers what I saw. When that radar was being first tested a few years earlier, my older brother Richard Coleman was on the staff that conducted a summer of tests with it. Richard now lives in Ohio and looks after some business interests in his retirement years, but also researches and writes a topical paper almost every week. This week he wrote about tornadoes. He recounts his story of that test weather radar summer in Champaign, Illinois and tells a lot more about tornadoes in his own, slightly quirky way. I share that paper with you below.


by Richard Coleman

Tornados are twisty things that come down out of the clouds in the sky and knock things around. They kill a lot of people and cows and chickens and knock down houses and flip over house trailers before they go back up into their cloud. I have read all of the stuff about what causes them and where and when they strike but I question most of it. They come where and when they want and always have. Trying to get tornados organized is a total waste of time. My neighbor Peg goes to the basement of her house when there is a tornado warning on TV and she has spent an awful lot of time in her basement in the last 30 years and no tornado has even come close to Sabina, we have been pretty good.

My first job out of college was set up by one of my Professors, Charles Colby. He had come to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale to get out of the “nasty town of Chicago” after a long career at the University of Chicago. He got me this mysterious summer job to “assist in the evaluation of a new radar” that had been developed by the Raytheon Company for the National Weather Service for the evaluation of severe weather outbreaks. The radar had been installed at the University of Illinois Airport south of Champaign so I went up and spent the summer in an empty fraternity house. It was a big, 20' in diameter, dish on top of a 30' tower and it not only went around and around, it went up and down as well.

The team that was assembled to evaluate this big Radar included a wide range of college graduates from Meteorologists to Physicists and Mathematicians and such as me, the soul Geographer. My job was to develop see through overlaps for the big green scope where the radar reflections were recorded so that we could see state boundaries, cities etc., as storms moved along. It was complicated because the radar had three ranges, 50 miles, 100 miles and 150 miles and it could be changed with a flip of the switch so my overlays had to be flipped as well. Most of the work was at night because our team leader, Michael Spock, thought that severe weather only developed at night. He was an “egg head” from Upper New York who had no concept at all of violent storms and had never seen a tornado or the damage that one could cause. He, like most egg heads, lived in a different world.

Anyhow, it was a stormy summer and we witnessed on that big old radar scope the movement of many severe storms as they crossed the Mississippi River from Iowa and crossed the entire state of Illinois. One night, long after midnight, we saw a very big violent thunderstorm approaching our location and a “hook” developed on the southeast corner of the storm and then the whole storm turned very, very black on our radar scope. We had witnessed the first radar image of a tornado, reflecting debris as it was lifted aloft. When the newspapers had the story of the tornado the next day, we got out the films and studied them and realized the significance of what we had witnessed. We all got excited and spent the rest of the summer looking at the storms on the scope for another “hook” and were rewarded with two more and called the Highway Patrol to drive out and confirm them. One was confirmed but the other was not and we finally figured out that the second tornado had been up in the air but had never come down to the ground; no debris.

The end of the story, is tragic. We all prepared “typed” reports for Mike to take to Washington and the National Weather Service but they never got there. The DC-3 that Mike took from Chicago to Washington crashed over the Appalachians and Mike and our report were lost. I spent several days during my first year at Wisconsin trying to “retype” my part of the reports.

Tornados have been around a long, long time, all over the world. Historically reports of tornados go back to when men first learned to write. The exception to this is the Holy Land as they have been good, no tornados. The whirlwinds reported in Proverbs, Job, Isaiah and Zechariah were just that, whirlwinds blowing sand out of the desert, not coming down from the clouds. Tornados hit some funny places regular. The most hit is my Bengal's land, Bangladesh where over 1,200 tornados per year kill an average of 152. They had the most deaths, 1,300 from any one tornado on April 26, 1989 and have had twenty tornados that kill more than 100 people. This is a tiny country, on the delta of the Ganges River next to India, with poorly built homes and a very high density of population. In this country we have an average of 1,200 tornados per year that kill an average of 80, nothing compared to the Bengal land. How can one tiny country get so many tornadoes? They have not been very good to my pretty striped Bengals.

Some of the early tornadoes were very, very big. One hit London in 1091 that is still considered England's biggest ever. It destroyed the then wooden London Bridge and about 20 Churches as London was full of Churches. One hit Malta in 1551 that killed 600 plus people and destroyed over 500 houses and about 10,000 bee hives. This is a tiny little island that is full of bees and honey and the tornado came out of the sea as a water spout and then went back into the sea when done. (Some say it happened in 1556) France had a tornado in 1669 that ran for over 200 miles on the ground, the longest ever in Europe. There was a tornado in Sicily in 1851 that killed over 500 folks. It was actually two tornados side by side, very unusual. Though we have no pictures of these early ones, descriptions are very much like the tornadoes of today, dark clouds and twirling winds carrying debris aloft and twisting trees to bits. Similarly in this country some of the earliest were apparently pretty nasty. One hit coastal New Hampshire in 1643 and even killed an Indian. Reverend Increase (I love that name) Mather reported a tornado in Cambridge in 1680 that killed his servant. A tornado “ran up the Merrimac River” in 1759 which Henry David Thoreau later made famous with his writings.

There are tornados in Australia and South America that turn clockwise but they are really the same as ours. In South America they are mostly on the Pampas of Argentina with a few into Brazil. In 1973 one killed over 500 horses. In Australia they have about 16 tornados per year and twice that many water spouts that are tornados over the water. In 1893 an Australian tornado hit the island of Stradpoke (yes I got that right) and broke it in two. There is now a North Island and a South Island. The same 1893 tornado blew a big ship ashore that ended up in the Brisbane Botanical Gardens. There also tornados in China and India and South Africa, much like our own.

Tornados are totally unpredictable – anyone who tells you differently has just not read the facts. They come when they want to come and not a day before. The Global Warming nuts talk and talk about all of the bad things that are going to happen if we don't do things their way. They talk about CO2 producing more storms and tornados etc. From May of 1999 until May of 2007 we had no F-5 tornado in this country, not a single one. This is the longest period of history without a strong tornado – they are just not predictable.

Let me give you some examples – Mexico has very few tornados but the day before Cortes reached Mexico City, August 21, 1521, a tornado hit the city which was built on an island in a lake. It scared the defending Aztecs who were a very superstitious people. They climbed to the top of their temples and did not defend their city at all. A tornado in Mexico City, just that one thank you. Then on April 4, 2007 a tornado started in Piedras Negras and killed 4 people before crossing the Rio Grande to Eagle Pass, Texas where it killed 7 more. Alaska is not supposed to have tornados but on August 2, 2005 one was seen in the mountains on Popof Island wherever that is.

Then in this country we don't have many tornados as far east as Washington DC but boy we got one- it hit on August 8, 1814 the day after the stupid British had tried to burn the City. It not only put out the fires that they had set but it killed several of the dumb British soldiers in their bright red suits. I have never heard of another tornado in Washington DC but they sure got one when they needed it. Then Anthony Wayne got help from a tornado when he came to Ohio to put down the Indian gangs that were causing trouble. He beat Tecumseh and a bunch of other Indians at the battle of “Fallen Timbers” on the Maumee River south of Toledo. The timbers had been knocked down by a tornado and made an ideal defense for Anthony and his rather small army. It was one of very few victories over the Indians.

In the county where I live we had a similar event. No one saw it but in 1806 when men took their grain north to mills to get it ground (White women did not grind corn) they found their way blocked by a solid line of fallen timber. A tornado had come through the area and blocked all trails north for over two miles. They had to blaze new trails north. Then in 1891 we got a big F-5 tornado that formed west of Wilmington and came straight through town and took the steeples off of all of the Churches and killed a few men. The “learned men” of town expressed surprise in the headlines of the local paper the next day. In their view tornados would follow the rivers and creeks and never come through their county seat which was high and dry. That was the thinking of the day. The Bible says nothing about Churches having steeples and that one tornado took them off of the Catholic Church, Quaker Church, Presbyterian Church, Baptist Church, Methodist Church and then the Christian Church before it quit having missed the AME Church which had no steeple.

I have a friend who asked me for 10 years in a row to “take a few weeks off in April and go out west to see some big tornados.” We all hear these stories and see these reports of all of the big tornadoes out west in “Tornado Alley.” Is it real? All I know is that the 10 largest tornadoes from the standpoint of loss of life are not in Nebraska. As a matter of fact they are:

1. Tri State Tornado, 3/18/25 that started in Missouri and crossed Illinois and ended up in Indiana and killed 695 people, mostly in Southern Illinois.

2. Natchez Mississippi in 5/7/1840 that killed 359 White people and a bunch of Black Slaves that were not even counted.

3. St. Louis and East St. Louis as it crossed the mighty Mississippi 5/26/96 and killed over 255.

4. Tupelo, Mississippi on 4/5/36 that killed 216.

5. Gainesville, Georgia the next day, 4/6/36 that killed 203.

6. The Texas-Oklahoma tornado, with most of the damage in Glazier, Texas on 4/9/47 that killed 181.

7. The Louisiana and Mississippi tornado of 4/24/08 that killed 143, mostly in Arnite.

8. A big one in New Richwood, Wisconsin on 6/12/1899 that killed 127.

9. One in Flint, Michigan on 6/8/53 that killed 123.

10. And one a month earlier on 5/11/53 that killed 114 in Waco, Texas.

You see, no biggies in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska but of course there are not many people out there either. I think that the “chasers” go out to these plains states to see tornadoes because they are so pretty – way up high, big ropy funnels, mostly in the daylight hours etc. There are a bunch of these nuts that go chasing every year and take lots of pictures which they used to be able to sell to the Networks before everyone got a cell phone camera and more pictures than anyone cares to see.

I have read all of the reports of the experts on what causes tornadoes. You can read it any time you want. I now get 40 tornado warnings per year where I live and the tornados are pretty small and knock down a few rotten trees and old, old barns but they sure warn us a lot with TV reports of spirals aloft and suspicious vortexes etc. When a tornado decides to come down out of big cloud and tear things up it will come down out of the clouds and tear things up.

If you read the text books about tornados they say that they are caused when (1) there is a lot of low level humidity, and (2) there is a lot of drier air aloft and (3) there is a triggering event like a front or air mass conversion and then (4) temperature decreases with rapidly rising thermals or (5) dry air overflows the moist air at ground level. They also talk about wind shear from rapidly falling shafts of rain laden air. They don't really know why some days tornados come and some days they do not come.

Canada has an excellent tornado alert system. Their's are tiny things, only 5% F-3 and bigger and most F-1s and they kill very few people with a few exceptions. They had a biggie that hit Edmonton, 7/31/87 and killed 27 and another that hit Pine Lake, Alberta on 7/14/00 that killed 12 but this is rare. When we had our big flock of killing tornadoes in April of 1974 Canada also had 14 tornadoes that killed 9. The most damage ever done by a tornado in Canada was 500 million dollars in Southern Ontario, 9/19/05 and much of that was to crops.

Tornados do some weird things. Once the twisty winds took a plastic phonograph record and stuck it 6 inches into the trunk of a live Oak Tree. Try that sometime. One also pushed a nylon fishing cord through a 2″ x 4″. They do some funny things, not so funny if it gets ahold of you. In Texas 1947 a tornado picked up a lady and carried her 1,700 feet from her house before it put her back down with only cuts and bruises. In Wilmington where I live a tornado sucked all of the water out of the well behind the jail and they had to haul in water for three days. In Brunswick, Ontario a small tornado went through town and an hour later worms began falling from the sky until the ground was covered over two square blocks. They just do some very peculiar things.

And yes, there tornados in California, 303 in the last 50 years but no deaths and most are small fellas, F-1 and under. There has also been a tornado reported in Iceland at the town of Skeidararsandur (I got it right) which did little damage but definitely was a twister photographed by many. There have also been 40 tornados in Hawaii in the last 50 years including one at Kailu-Kona on January 1, 1971 that destroyed a 7 story steel hotel (that is what it says) and did 2.5 million dollars in damage before it went out to sea.

Now there are some myths about tornados, stupid stuff mainly, like they can pluck the feathers out of chickens. Our friends from Mythbusters had fun with that one and even shot a dead chicken out of a cannon, no luck. Another myth promoted by some of our “learned ones” was that tornados would not come to any major city because of “dust domes” or “heat domes”. This despite the fact that three have come to downtown St. Louis, one on May 27, 1896 that crossed the mighty Mississippi and killed over 255 and put the Eads Bridge out of commission for several months and another that started in Tower Grove on March 8, 1871 and killed 9 and a third on September 29, 1927 that began in Webster Grove and killed 72 before it ended in downtown. St. Louis has had 22 other tornados in the suburbs and yet the myth persists. They are just trouble makers I guess.

Then last September 17 one hit New York City at 5:30 pm and killed a man in Queens. Yes, they will come downtown. Cincinnati has had a number of tornados, one on January 19, 1928 hit Cumminsville early in the morning and destroyed several big industrial buildings. Another hit Mt. Lookout, an eastern suburb on Christmas Day 1925 and crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky where it killed a group of milk cows. They definitely do not avoid big cities. Philadelphia has had a number of tornados, the biggest in 1885 that crossed the Walt Whitman Bridge from Camden and killed 42 people in North Philadelphia.

The third myth had to do with hiding from tornados underneath bridges. Many stopped their cars and did just that until a tornado sucked a mother and her daughter out from under a bridge near Orlando, Florida and killed them both. I was hit by a tornado one night coming out of Indianapolis as I came out from under an Interstate Highway bridge on IS 74. A small tornado knocked my car and four others into the median. It was gone in a minute and the main damage was from the five of us running into each other. I drove home with one headlight.

Some people develop real phobias after surviving a tornado. Several families had to move from Xenia, Ohio after the killer tornado of 1974 because they could not sleep during any storm, scared near to death of a repeat, while others proudly said, “they never hit the same place twice and we are now safe.” Neither are very accurate – they come when they come.

In 2004 I saw a report that Walmart Stores had stopped stocking underarm deodorant in 44 counties because it sat on the shelf for over 10 years and had to be thrown away. Now, that is a good reason for tornados. The 44 counties were in Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky and they got plenty of tornados for their stupidity. This is in the heart of the Bible Belt but apparently they don't even use underarm deodorant before going to Church.

Who knows why tornados hit where they hit. Athens, Ohio, the home of Ohio University and one of this country's biggest beer drinking schools, has never had a tornado.

Now back to Bangladesh, home of the killing tornadoes. They have an awful lot of people in a mighty small area but the tornadoes are spawned by Monsoons. Monsoons are seasonal rain and wind storms that come to the same places each year at about the same time. In Bengalia this hits every March and April and that is when the problem develops. A Meteorologist by the name of Jonathon Finch from the University of Virginia did his thesis on the causes of tornados in Bangladesh. I read the whole thing – it is complicated – but in summary he says that: (1) a dry wind develops with (2) a low level flow from the Bay of Bengal and (3) then there is an elevated mixed layer of dry and wet air and (4) there are then short vertical winds that produce (5) maximized shear. I still do not understand it all. He went To Bombay, India, next to the land of Bengals, and with the help of an interpreter he read all of the accounts of tornados and discovered 30 that were never reported except locally. He also mapped the tracks of all of them as they crossed the 300 mile by 200 mile country. They start in the highlands and come downhill.

The big one, most deaths ever, anywhere on earth, was April 26, 1989 and it had a path of destruction that was a half a mile wide and 50 miles long. It totally destroyed two villages, Santuria and Manikgano and left a path of total destruction, down to the grass roots and the estimate of 1,300 killed is just that, an estimate because many bodies washed out to sea in the mighty Ganges River which cuts the country in half.

Bangladesh has had a stormy history. It finally broke away from Pakistan in 1971 and they assassinated many Presidents including the first female President in the Far East and still have coups and phony elections and killings. A stormy history for a country full of storms. They only have 200 to 300 of the pretty Bengal Tigers left in the mountains. They eat foxes and wolves and other nasty fellas but the Bengaly people go up there and shoot them for their pretty skins. It is sad. Maybe if they quit killing those who try to lead, and quit killing the Bengals the tornados would go away. If they do not, the tornados will come down from the hills in the Spring and flatten their flimsy houses and kill their women and children. My plan is worth a try. Who knows what really causes tornados?

Finally a nice little poem by a 9 year old tornado survivor:

     Tranquil blue and billowy white, turns gray and dark, hint of night.
     Spring, showers gone, rocks of ice, things outside will pay the price.
     Quietness, stillness, sirens sound, Heart is racing, to the underground.

     Gentle breeze, soft and warm, turns violent, cold, funnels form.
     Electric blue brightens the dark, sound like the world's being torn apart.
     Protective walls secure all around, blown to bits, fall to the ground.

     Chaotic, loud, cover your ears, close your eyes, and feel your fears.
      Eternity, eternity, so long, but so fast, will this day be my last?
     Then, silent, still, is it gone? What if I move, what if I'm wrong?

     The stench of mud and wet grass, electric sparks and broken glass.
     It took the trees, it took the houses, it shattered lives and broke some bones.
     It has no guilt and no remorse, just takes what it wants while on it's course.

     Listen close, nature's talking, it just might mean the

“The Dead Man's Walking”
April M. Crawford, Age 9, Gadsden, Florida 2009
(Copy-rite OHFA)

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