Tuesday June 25, 2019

Tornadoes, Floods Break Weather Records in US Midwest

Scientists have been studying possible links between climate change and the frequency and ferocity of tornadoes

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flooding, tornadoes, midwest
This image made from video provided by KWTV-KOTV shows two funnel clouds formed in Crescent, Okla., May 20, 2019. VOA

Hundreds of tornadoes and widespread floods have ravaged the U.S. Midwest and Great Plains states over the past couple of weeks. The flooding is breaking some weather records, and at least 38 people have been killed by tornadoes in the United States so far this year.

Blame climate change?

Scientists have been studying possible links between climate change and the frequency and ferocity of tornadoes.

Villanova University professor Stephen Strader says it is not yet clear how much influence the warming atmosphere and other changes have on these deadly storms.

In a VOA interview, the extreme weather scientist said, “We’re not there from a scientific standpoint, yet.” He said it does seem likely, but not certain, that we will see more severe weather of various kinds in the future.

weather Midwest
Helen McKoy walks down a flooded street in her neighborhood as Florence continues to dump heavy rain in Fayetteville, N.C., Sept. 16, 2018. VOA

Flooding

National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist Andy Foster in Kansas City, Missouri, says there has been “major record flooding” across much of the central U.S.

He told VOA that heavy snow cover melted and combined with large amounts of rain from “multiple storm systems” saturated the ground and caused river flooding. Foster said when still more major storms brought “copious amounts” of rain, there was nowhere for the water to go, sparking flash floods in several states, inundating roads, towns and farmland.

Storms that led to flooding also included an unusual flurry of tornado activity.

weather midwest, flooding
Repair and cleaning efforts begin on a neighborhood damaged by a tornado storm system that passed through the area, destroying homes and cutting off access to utilities, May 29, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. VOA

Tornadoes

U.S. records show that destructive and deadly twisters are common during the spring months, particularly in an area called “Tornado Alley,” which covers several Midwestern states. The midsection of the United States is where cold air from the Rocky Mountains collides with warm, moist air flowing up from the Gulf of Mexico — prime conditions for tornadoes to form.

The mixture is part of the complex recipe for compact but powerful storms that tear roofs off buildings, toss huge trucks across farm fields, uproot trees and shred multistory brick buildings, all of which produce flying debris that can kill people.

Research scientist Harold Brooks says clusters of tornadoes occur every five or 10 years, but “the second half of May is going to go down as one of the busiest two-week periods on record.”

In a phone interview from the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma, Brooks said the clearest trend in the data is not more or stronger tornadoes, but more days each year with multiple storms.

Villanova professor Strader said scientists currently have a hard time predicting tornadoes even “a few hours before the event,” so making projections about how many deadly storms may erupt years or decades from now is a daunting task.

tornado, flooding, weather midwest
Shaun Vaine, left, and Michele Thrash, right, stand in their destroyed home at the River’s Edge apartment complex, May 28, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio, the day after a tornado struck the city. VOA

Saving lives

As the annual death toll from tornadoes dropped significantly from the 1920s to the 1990s, the value of predicting violent storms has become more apparent. Brooks and other experts say lives have been saved through better forecasting, improved building codes and more effective warnings.

Strader said those improvements “stalled out” in recent years, prompting officials to seek better ways to educate the public and communicate timely, effective warnings. He said some people stay in mobile homes and other vulnerable places even after they get warnings in time to move to shelter.

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As a start, weather experts are teaming up with social scientists to craft warnings that people will heed to find safety, either in a sturdy building or other safe place, Strader said.

“We’re bridging the physical science with social scientists to really look at what we can do to continue to solve this tornado issue,” he said. (VOA)

Next Story

Prompt Evacuations in Southwestern Iran After Heavy Rains

Besides heavy rains, heavy damage from the floods has been blamed on widespread disregard for safety regulations in building and road constructions near rivers.

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A general view of the flooded city of Poldokhtar in the Lorestan province, April 2, 2019. Officials have ordered mass evacuations in neighboring Khuzestan as extensive rainfall reaches the oil-rich southwestern province. VOA

Iranian authorities have ordered the evacuation of six more towns in the southwestern province of Khuzestan, which is widely inundated with floods, state TV reported Saturday.

Gholamreza Shariati, the provincial governor, told state TV that rescue teams are taking residents to nearby shelters, including three army barracks.

Evacuation orders came as a new round of rain and floods is expected.

Shariati said emergency discharges from dams and reservoirs were adding to the high floodwaters, but such measures were essential to prevent the dams from overflowing or catastrophic breaches, with river waters continuing to rise upstream from the province.

Young men were asked to remain behind to help with rescue operations.

An Iranian woman walks through a flooded street in the city of Poldokhtar in the Lorestan province, April 02, 2019.
An Iranian woman walks through a flooded street in the city of Poldokhtar in the Lorestan province, April 02, 2019. VOA

Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli told state TV that about 400,000 people are at risk out of the province’s population of 5 million.

Eleven towns and scores of villages have been evacuated. There have been no evacuation orders for major cities, including the province’s capital of Ahvaz, which has 1.7 million residents.

There have been no reports of damage to the province’s petroleum facilities, which account for roughly 80 percent of Iran’s oil production.

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Authorities have put the number of dead at 70 people, as major flooding has hit the western half of the country, after years of drought.

Besides heavy rains, heavy damage from the floods has been blamed on widespread disregard for safety regulations in building and road constructions near rivers. (VOA)