The Joplin tornado, rated EF–5 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, hit the state of Missouri on May 22, 2011. It is considered one of the deadliest tornadoes in US history. Tornadoes routinely occur all over the world and cause various levels of damage to life and property. I chose this topic because I have always been fascinated with tornadoes and other severe weather and climate events, the precautions or warnings associated with them, and how the latter helped reduce or even avoid the damages. I have also been very interested in thunderstorms and their formations, and how tornadoes, super tornadoes, supercells, etc. are formed and impact the weather and climate around us.
Most tornadoes form from supercell thunderstorms. In a thunderstorm, when there is a change in the wind direction and an increase in its speed, an invisible horizontal spinning of air currents is formed at the base of the storm, inside the cloud. This rising air in the thunderstorm, also called updrafts, tilts the rotating air from horizontal to vertical, which sometimes extends about 2-6 miles up into the thunderstorm. This forms a tornado extending from the area of rotation to the ground. Many factors aided in the formation of the Joplin Tornado. The location and strength of the jet stream are one such factor. A large mass of warm and moist air hung above the plains, and a low-pressure system pulled cool and dry air from further north, resulting in the formation of a cold front that moved westward. This created a lift, which formed many violent tornado-producing thunderstorms. One of those powerful storms entered Joplin city in Missouri and produced a tornado that intensified rapidly. There are some records for the Joplin tornado. It was one of the costliest tornadoes in U.S. history. It is also in the top 30 of the deadliest tornadoes in world history. There are many other interesting facts about tornadoes. A tornado can sometimes appear nearly transparent until it picks up dust and debris, or until clouds form within its funnel. Another interesting fact is that tornadoes are predicted to occur more likely between 3-9 pm, but have also occurred at other times.
Effects and Economic Impacts: The Joplin tornado caused over 161 fatalities and more than 1,000 injuries, making it the deadliest single tornado in the U.S. in the 61 years that official records have been kept. . The damage it caused to the surrounding environment and infrastructure made it the costliest tornado recorded, with a recorded loss of around $3 billion. The Joplin tornado damaged around 553 business structures and 7500 residential structures, 3000 of those residences were heavily damaged or completely destroyed. 84% of the deaths resulted from building and structural failures, and 75% of Joplin city suffered damage. This tornado affected over 5000 employees and more than 500 businesses. Over 15,000 vehicles including vans, buses, semis, etc. were crushed beyond recognition, and city parks and transportation infrastructure including streets, sidewalks, lights, signals, and signs were destroyed as well. Although most of the damage done was to the structures, transportation, and life, being an EF5 tornado, the uprooting of trees and destroying any vegetation on its path was an easy piece of work for the tornado, thus causing severe environmental damage.
Historical Relevance: The Joplin tornado is considered one of the deadliest tornadoes both in the U.S. and in world history. The death toll in Joplin city was so high because so many buildings were damaged or destroyed, creating doubt about whether a poor warning response, in comparison to that for other tornadoes, was responsible for the death toll. There have been many deadly tornadoes before and after the Joplin tornado. The Gainesville Tornado, the Tupelo Tornado, and the Tri-State Tornado, which caused around 203, 216, and 695 deaths respectively were some of the deadliest tornadoes in the 1900s. The Moore Tornado and El Reno Tornado in Oklahoma in 2013, two other EF-5 tornadoes, were some of the deadly tornadoes to hit the US after the Joplin Tornado. Many deadly tornadoes in the world have occurred and continue to occur here in the U.S. A large number of these tornadoes in the U.S occur in what is known as the “Tornado Alley”, an unofficial region, but meteorologists have used this term over the years to describe a huge distance of land spanning from northern Texas to Canada, centered at Oklahoma and Kansas. There is a reason that Tornado Alley is prone to tornadoes. Here, the warm and humid air from the Gulf of Mexico meets the cold, dry air from Canada and the Rocky Mountains. When these air masses collide with one another, the warm air is trapped under the cold air and rises. This air movement creates the perfect environment for the formation of tornadoes within the developing or developed thunderstorms and supercells .
Conclusion: Tornadoes, like many weather and climate events, can be forecasted and the public can be explained about the extent of damage, and precautions and methods to be taken to ensure their safety. Studies of tornadoes reveal that there are a few simple steps that can be taken in advance and when there is a tornado watch or tornado warning in place, to reduce or avoid damage from similar events in the future. First, always be prepared for a dangerous climate event. Have a radio operated by batteries, or other means of mass communication that do not get damaged by the high-speed winds of a tornado. The next important step is to be aware of the nearby safe shelters, and in the event that your neighbor has one and you don’t, try to befriend your neighbors early on. As all emergencies need, have an emergency kit with non-perishable food, water, and some first-aid supplies in case of any injuries or extended periods of time under circumstances where moving isn’t possible. The next important step is to always be up to date with the weather and climate of your area and know the possible signs of incoming disasters. For tornadoes, dark and green colored skies, large, dark low hanging clouds, large hail, or a loud freight train-like roar are some possible signs. In case of no nearby safe shelter, go to the basement or a room inside away from windows or walls, like a bathroom, closet, or center hallway. For comfort and a little extra safety, cover your body with a blanket or other sort of cushion, and protect your head. Never stay in a mobile home or car, and don’t try to outrun a tornado. Find a nearby sturdy building with a basement. The most important thing to look out for is a tornado watch and a tornado warning. A tornado watch means that the current weather conditions indicate a potential tornado. Tornado watches are normally lengthy, and no alarms are sounded. A tornado warning, on the other hand, means that a tornado has either been sighted or indicated by radar within or near the area covered by the warning. Tornado warning sirens are sounded, and when issued, any person in its path should take immediate safety precautions.To conclude, the Joplin Tornado of 2011 was a dangerous weather and climate event that took the lives of many, injured many more, and caused extensive damage to property and transportation, thus maiming Joplin city. However, with the current knowledge available to us, thanks to the research by meteorologists throughout the country, and by taking the necessary precautions and being aware and ready, we can, in our own way, battle these twisters, the damaging side of nature, head on and ensure that there is a minimal loss and damage to life, and perhaps property as well. Tornadoes cannot be averted; but, with early warnings, we can be astute and take necessary precautions to minimize the damage and save lives. The GOES-R series satellites deployed by NOAA to monitor the motion and inner details of the clouds will help to determine how likely a cloud is to produce a tornado. This knowledge, in combination with a robust early warning system, similar to the earthquake warning system in Japan, will in the future, be able to help reduce the loss of life and damage to property. It is up to us folks to ensure that no more lives are lost in such circumstances, and to ensure that our activities do not create impending doom for the planet, but that our actions benefit the planet and increase its wealth of nature, leaving for our future generations, a perfect, green planet that has the support of its people.
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