Perilous World

April 28, 2011

Weather horror back East is only a prelude to the coming commonplace.
A tornado onslaught yesterday killed 159 people across the US south, 128 in my birth state of Alabama — a catastrophic situation which will only get worse as man-influenced climate change increases these “extreme events” to a weather-related new normal.

Film of the twister in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is like something out of a movie (‘Twister,’ maybe) with devastation near-beyond the imagination: “It literally obliterated blocks and blocks of the city,” Mayor Walter Maddox said, describing Tuscaloosa’s infrastructure as “decimated.”
Scary shit, believe me.

(Illustration found here).

Growing up in Alabama, these storms were pants-shitting frightful.
A lot of people had shelters — my grandparents (on my daddy’s side) had one built into the side of a small hill near the house, but to my recollection was never used — and as kids we played in and around the small, frame dugout sort of structure with the biggest threat (as our parents continually warned) was rattlesnakes.
Tornadoes seemed to come out of nowhere, although the wind and blowing rain presented a great stage for the damn things to form — and then suddenly there she was hollowing like a banshee making everybody scream and run around like crazy folks (which we were for a few minutes).
Lightening storms were another horror and as a kid I would listen intently as the storm approached — first the flash of sharp, nasty light followed by thunder, and if one counted ‘one-thousand one, two-thousand two, three-thousand three…’ and so on to track the approaching shitstorm until lightening and thunder became one horrifying single event.
My daddy’s mother was a screamer and she’d start wailing as soon as the wind picked up, scaring the living shit out of us kids.
I hated bad weather to happen while I was at my grandmother’s house — she was wonderful and sweet, but mercy, she’d lose that wonderful, sweet sense at the onslaught of hurtling wind.
Ah, the good old days.

My grandparents storm shelter looked something similar to the one at left, although in my memory’s eye it didn’t seem as dilapidated, and there weren’t that much weed growth around it.
Nowadays, the shelters come already made by different companies, including one with the logo “Have Storm Shelters Will Travel,” which ain’t really the strongest selling point in high winds.

This pictured shelter looks like a total rattlesnake den.

(Illustration found here).

And the twisters are becoming more frequent, and although there’s reports climate change will enhance these storms, no one seems to know for sure how much.
From the New York Times this week:

Now, as the country braces for several more days of potentially violent weather, meteorologists say the number of April tornadoes is on track to top the current record.
There have been, according to preliminary estimates, about 250 tornadoes so far this month and, in all likelihood, more are still to come, said Greg Carbin, the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

Although the average number of April tornadoes steadily increased from 74 a year in the 1950s to 163 a year in the 2000s, nearly all of the increase is of the least powerful tornadoes that may touch down briefly without causing much damage.
That suggests better reporting is largely responsible for the increase.
There are, on average, 1,300 tornadoes each year in the United States, which have caused an average of 65 deaths annually in recent years.
The number of tornadoes rated from EF1 to EF5 on the enhanced Fujita scale, used to measure tornado strength, has stayed relatively constant for the past half century at about 500 annually.
But in that time the number of confirmed EF0 tornadoes has steadily increased to more than 800 a year from less than 100 a year, said Harold Brooks, a research meteorologist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory.

Crazy climate makes for crazy weather.

Dr. Jeff Masters, at Wunderblog: An average April has “only” 163 tornadoes, so we are already 300% over average for the month, and may approach 400% after today’s outbreak.
Masters also contends massive flooding in the upper Midwest — the rare high-levels of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers — has been caused in part by the near-record temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico: The deluge of rain that caused this flood found its genesis in a flow of warm, humid air coming from the Gulf of Mexico. Sea surface temperatures (SSTs )in the Gulf of Mexico are currently close to 1 °C above average. Only two Aprils since the 1800s (2002 and 1991) have had April SSTs more than 1 °C above average, so current SSTs are among the highest on record.
Read a good analysis of that aspect at Climate Progress.

Buckle up, or run for that shelter, and watch out for rattlesnakes, and, don’t pay any attention to that screaming grandmother over there, she’s only a bit worried is all.

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