The terrible, fascinating power of tornadoes

May. 24, 2013 @ 09:14 AM

Storms fascinate me.   When we lived in Russellville, Arkansas, I often sat on our front porch and watched thunderstorms come across Mount Nebo, several miles in the distance

So, Monday afternoon’s violent tornado near Oklahoma City piqued my interest in tornado statistics.

The National Climatic Data Center provided a wealth of information.

 “Tornado Alley” runs from Texas through Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska and extends into South Dakota.  From 1991 to 2010, these five states averaged a combined 406 tornadoes annually.  All other states together averaged a total of 847 tornadoes annually.

The top ten states were:  Texas, 155; Kansas, 96; Florida, 66; Oklahoma, 62; Nebraska 57; Illinois, 57; Colorado 53; Iowa 51; and Minnesota and Missouri with 45 each.  North Carolina averaged 31 tornadoes. 

The Tornado History Project reports that 20 tornadoes occurred in Union County from 1950 to 2011 with a total of 26 injuries and a single fatality.

The EF5 tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma last week is also a relatively rare event.  Only 0.1 percent of all tornadoes, or one in 1,000, achieve deadly EF5 status with wind gusts greater than 200 miles per hour.

Based on the number of deaths, the ten most devastating tornado events in the U.S were:

  • March 18, 1925, in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, 2,027 injuries, 695 deaths.
  • May 6, 1840, in Louisiana and Mississippi near Natchez, 109 injuries, 317 deaths.
  • May 27, 1896, the Great St. Louis Tornado in Missouri and Illinois, 1,000 injuries, 255 deaths.
  • April 5, 1936, Tupelo, Mississippi, 700 injuries, 216 deaths.
  • April 6, 1936, Gainesville, Georgia, 1,600 injuries, 203 deaths.
  • April 9, 1947, Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma, 970 injuries, 181 deaths.
  • May 22, 2011, Joplin, Missouri, 1,000 injuries, 158 deaths.
  • April 24, 1908, Amite, Louisiana and Purvis, Mississippi, 770 injuries, 143 deaths.
  • June 12, 1899, New Richmond, Wisconsin, 200 injuries, 117 deaths.
  • June 8, 1953, Flint, Michigan, 844 injuries, 116 deaths.

On May 5, 1989, a tornado resulting in six injuries and one death, struck Union County.  An F4 tornado began west of Monroe between New Town and Cuthbertson Roads, moved east through the southeast edge of Indian Trail and after travelling 13 miles dissipated in Fairview.  Twelve homes were destroyed along a path up to 500 yards wide.  Two dozen homes were heavily damaged.

All but one of the F4 or F5 events listed above occurred in April, May or June.  In the Southeast U.S., most tornadoes occur in early spring.

The State Climate Office of North Carolina indicates that, in our state, most tornadoes are of F0 and F1 intensity with the majority of more intense tornadoes occurring in central North Carolina.

Perhaps, it is the unpredictable awesome power of tornadoes and thunderstorms that fascinates me, something my oldest granddaughter, who is 10, shares with me.  On the Saturday prior to last week’s tornado, when asked what she would do if she won the lottery, Katie responded that she would buy an RV and chase tornadoes in Oklahoma. 

Please pray for those affected by this year’s tornadoes.  To donate to relief efforts, contact local offices of the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

 • Marvin Enderle us the publisher of The Enquirer-Journal.