As a presenter on Fierce Earth a factual children's series on the great forces of nature, I have been part of a team putting together episodes on things such as volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis etc... One of these episodes which was recently put together was called Tornado, and documented these powerful phenomena. Although I did not take part directly in this episode, the recent deadly and record breaking Tornadoes that have struck Oklahoma, have brought these whirlwinds of air directly into the living rooms of us all through the many news bulletins and clips of their funnel shapes moving without mercy along the landscape. But what can we do about Tornadoes?
To understand them further, I caught up briefly with my co-presenter on Fierce Earth and photographer Mike Theiss, to get some basic answers about Tornadoes from someone who spends a lot of time in and around them:
What time of the year are we most at risk of tornado's? 'A Tornado Can happen any time of the year but statistically they are most common April, May, June in Tornado Alley. The is a second season but not as common in Late Sept, October and early November (Spring and Fall).'
Where else other than Tornado Alley in the US gets frequent tornadoes? 'Argentina gets a lot of Tornadoes. Western Australia, and parts of Europe. Here is a link to the map showing hot spots put together by the famous and late Ted Fujita.'
How is the intensity of a tornado measured? 'Tornadoes are measure on an EF Scale. This scale is figured out from looking at the damage it does to structures. If it never hits a structure it gets rated an EF-0.'(info on EF tornado scale)
Why have the recent ones in Oklahoma been so deadly? 'In Oklahoma they have not been more deadly its just there are more chasers (people who track down and report on live tornado's) so its covered more and because there is more and more population building in the areas tornadoes hit. But the frequency is actually the same its always been.'
What is the best thing that can be done to limit the danger of this magnificent force? 'Simple, if you live in Tornado Alley, Have an underground shelter and a weather radio.'
With natures wonders comes its dangers. Its powerful forces are far greater than we can tame, but we can understand them, work out when they are most likely to occur, and try to mitigate against their worst impact...the loss of life. The truth is there has not been any increase in tornado frequency or size. They occur in a number of locations around the world and are more common at certain times of the year. The best way to survive one is to get into an underground shelter as has been the case from the times of the 'Wizard of Oz' film, and early settlers along the planes. Today our shelters can be made to very high strength, and our ways of monitoring weather patterns and quick dissemination of information is always improving.
These recent deadly tornado's have only gone to emphasise the need to be aware and prepared as best as possible. Although people died in tragic circumstances, many were also saved by tornado shelters and early warning of the unfolding events. There are renewed calls for investment in shelters investment in shelters, and clearly where we can warn and alert people with increasing speed, even only with valuable minutes warning, more lives will be saved. Although the tornado's will devastate property and infrastructure, we can limit its impact on our most valuable of commodities...human life. My thoughts go to those in Oklahoma and elsewhere that have had their worlds turned upside down by these freakish and powerful whirlwinds.
Dougal and Mike will soon be filming the Monsoon in India for Fierce Earth,.
Follow Professor Dougal Jerram on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dougalearth