Wednesday, June 18, 2014

We aren't in Kansas anymore Toto........

"It seemed like forever, but I guess it was only a couple minutes, and it was coming down on top of us," Hauf told CNN's "New Day. "But the coolers held together wonderfully."

In the small town of Pilger NE, Becky Hauf had always heard the there would never be a tornado because the town was too close to the Elkhorn River.  Instead, on June 16 2014, twin tornadoes destroyed about 3/4 of the 350 residents homes and businesses.  I think that most of us have watched the local news stories about tornadoes with a passing interest but Monday night's coverage from a storm tracking team had many glued to the screen.  They were following a rare occurrence of twin tornadoes of almost equal strength, moving parallel to each other, from 3 to 1 mile apart at times.

There are many types of tornadoes such as : the traditional single tornado that forms and then breaks apart, a single tornado that forms, breaks apart and then reforms further away, satellite tornadoes that have a single large tornado but spins off smaller tornadoes that move away in opposite directions and multi-vortex tornadoes that create numerous small tornadoes within the center of a much larger tornado.  Monday night's tornadoes were rare because they were two separate tornadoes created from the same large supercell and were entirely independent of each other.  Neither one of the two tornadoes was affecting or feeding off the other, which is why they could travel in the same direction and so close to each other.

It is not uncommon to see two tornadoes spawned by the same supercell and have them travel rogether but usually one had touched the ground first and is now breaking apart while the second is forming and trying to touchdown.  Both tornadoes on Monday night formed at about the same time and traveled together for more than 50 minutes through sparsely populated farmland.  Far more destructive through can be the multi-vortex tornadoes that have vortexes spinning inside and around the main vortex.  The last example of the destruction of one of these storms was on May 3 1999, when 74 tornadoes touched down in Kansas and Oklahoma in one day.

 Probably the most famous picture of twin tornadoes comes from Elkhart, Indiana during the Palm Sunday Tornado outbreak on April 11 1965.  It shows two tornadoes in close proximity of each other, both estimated to be F-4 in strength.  In 12 hours that day, six states and four dozen counties were hit by tornadoes.  The two tornadoes in the picture though are probably not the same as what hit Pilger NE on Monday but rather, they show a more common multi-vortex tornado with two very large funnels at the same time.  While they are different in origin though, they can be just as destructive.

  Becky Hauf had stated that she had heard the common thought that Pilger would never see a tornado and that is easy to understand if you live in an area such as New England.  Most people don't believe that they will ever see tornadoes like they experience in the areas known as tornado alley.  New England is not immune to tornadoes as history has shown.  On Oct 4 1979, an F-4 tornado touched down in Poquonock CT and traveled north through Windsor Locks.  It was unusual because it was both late in the season to see a tornado anywhere and the tornado headed due north, not the usual direction of travel for storms like that.  When it was over, homes had been destroyed, an American Airlines plane had manged to spot the storm and divert his landing at Bradley Airport and over 30 vintage planes had been destroyed or damaged at the Bradley Air Museum as well as most of the state's National Guard helicopters.  It was surprising that there were only 3 people killed by a storm that large in an area that really has no real preparedness for tornadoes.

On June 1 2011, brought a day with multiple tornadoes touching down in central and western MA, leaving 4 dead.  One F-3 tornado left a 39 mile long path of destruction in a state that sees an average of  two tornadoes a year, while the other 5 tornadoes that had been confirmed were F-1 and F-0 in strength.  It was reported that there was more than $150 million in damages but the toll in lives and property could have been much higher if the largest tornado had directly hit the city of Springfield.

I hope that the information gained by chasing the twin tornadoes that occurred in Pilger NE this week will further the knowledge that scientists are accumulating about these dangerous storms,  It has been stated that the twins are too rare to predict but hopefully this information will help in predicting and warning residents of the threat that may be bearing down on them.

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