Friday, April 29, 2011

Storm Clouds

My brother and his family live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Wednesday, EF-4's and '5's rolled across the deep south, killing at least three hundred people and flattening whole towns, the worst tornado outbreak since 1974, and maybe the most damaging since the 1930's. 

More than 150 tornadoes unofficially reported. 

They are still searching for bodies in the rubble, and what a half-mile to mile-wide whirlwind does to bolted-to-the-foundation houses sometimes looks like yard debris run through a wood chipper. Pictures of people standing on a concrete slab where their homes were. Cars upside down blocks away from where they were parked. 

Where I grew up, there weren't basements–if you dig down a few feet, you hit water. 

NPR interviewed a fireman in the hospital who survived. He went to fetch his sons and saw one of them snatched away as the walls of his house collapsed, as if the boy was attached to a giant rubber band and snapped into the air. Miraculously, the boy survived with only minor injuries. The wind carried him into the air ... and then set him down. He walked back relatively unharmed, tracking his father's flashlight beam.

The fireman had broken ribs and a collapsed lung where he was hit by his washing machine.
Imagine how strong a wind must be to pick up your washing machine and smack you with it.

The son wondered to his dad if the next house they had could have a basement. Oh, yeah, the father said, even if he had to dig it with his own hands. 

Life in Tornado Alley.

My brother and his family were outside the path. They saw it, but it missed them. Didn't even lose power.

Those of you who believe in global warming–and count me among them, the science makes sense to me–probably have heard that the rise in ocean temperatures of even a degree or two will almost certainly increase both the frequency and severity of storms–hurricanes, tornadoes, down to the summer thunderstorms. Weather is driven by many things, but temperature is high on the list. 

We aren't talking about having to turn the AC on a little earlier and sweltering through a couple more days of 100+ days in August. Global changes will be profound. Stronger storms are only a tiny part of it. Once you start screwing up a major ecosystem, you really have no idea how that is going to manifest, the Butterfly Effect spawns across Chaos Theory. 

For all our technology and control of our environment, when the big winds roar, the best we can do is to warn people and then hunker down. Category 5's and EF-5's are apt to start showing up more often. We aren't ready for either, and I'm not sure what we can do to get ready. 

Buckle up. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

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