Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Tornadoes. Yikes.

The tornadoes throughout the Midwest and South have left incredible passages of death and destruction in their wake. It's almost unimaginable, and I don't doubt that The Man In The Chair, The Very Reverend Brother Harold Camping, is saying, "See, see, Itoldyouso, oh Ye of Little Faith, Burn! Burn! Et Cetera! Shall we take our next call, please; WELcome to Open Forum."

Triumphalism is such a pain in the ass.

But anyway, I was watching the coverage in Oklahoma the other day, watching these tornadoes form and do their nasty business one after the other for hours; it was mesmerizing and horrifying at the same time. We have connections to and friends in Oklahoma, as we do in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Texas and elsewhere subject to "tornadic storms" as they are calling this super-abundance of super-cells, so every time the reports start coming in of tornadoes touching down we check locations and send off emails and IMs to see whether everyone is OK. So far, so good for the people we know, but what a horrible thing for all those hundreds dead and thousands injured so far this year.

The tornado coverage in Oklahoma on channel 9 was remarkable. They were locating and tracking the storms and warning people in their paths to take shelter, and I have no doubt that the fact they were keeping on top of the situation and reporting constantly and consistently saved many lives. The problem was, as was painfully obvious, many people don't have tornado shelters any more, they don't have storm cellars, and too many people still aren't able to get out of the way.

While the tornadoes keep plowing through the Midwest and South, the video above shot last evening is from about 70 miles north of where I'm typing; it was one of three to five tornadoes that touched down in the area yesterday, all in rural areas where there were no people or structures, but it was a reminder that "nowhere is safe." Not really.

Tornadoes used to be considered "impossible" in California, and reports of them were non-existent. The nature of the landscape was supposed to be a preventative to tornado formation: there wasn't enough room between the mountain ranges, so they said, for tornadic vortexes to assemble. So even if there were occasional "tornado-like winds", there couldn't be tornadoes as such. Not in California. Oh no.

Except... well, there were tornadoes, and every now and then, one would blow off someone's roof or down some trees, or even cause an injury or death. For years, the weather service denied it was even possible for there to be tornadoes in California, no matter what witnesses were reporting and/or photographs showed. They were rare, to be sure, for the weather conditions and landscape in California are no match for those of the Midwest and South, but still they happened, and Californians who saw and reported them were getting angrier and angrier at the continuing official denials.

And then one season there were perhaps a dozen or more in the space of a few hours, amply documented with pictures and extensive damage reports, and very slowly, officialdom took notice and allowed as how something "like a tornado" might have happened.


And then finally, climate scientists redid their calculations and determined that, yes, under highly unusual circumstances, it was possible for minor tornadoes to form over parts of California, particularly the Central Valley, and it was possible, though rare, that tornadoes in California could actually cause property damage, injury, or even death.

What was bizarre was the persistence of denial.

UPDATE: Then I heard a weather service expert on the news today say that, actually, tornadoes are quite common in California, particularly in the Central Valley, and people shouldn't be surprised about it.

Plus ça change?

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