Archive for Tornado

Climate Change: Observations and Insight

ENERGETIC TAILS AND ENERGIZED TALES

The inkling that something was not right in the wild world of weather happened in 1999. I had moved into my almost-hilltop bungalow in Nashville, and had a marvelous view all around. I could see to the horizon and the hills, and with a short walk to a slightly higher hill I had a stunning view for miles around, and photograph-worthy for certain sights.

One night not long after I was preparing for bed, I looked out a western window and saw lightning flashing white and frequently from an approaching storm. It was far enough away that thunder was not yet audible, and it was after 1o PM. I thought it odd, but stayed awake till well after midnight to make sure the bad weather passed. 1999 was the start of what I later realized was a change in the weather in that part of the world.

When I was younger, it seemed bad weather happened in the morning or early afternoon. It seemed rare to get tornado-producing storms late at night, as happened in 1999 and into 2003 and beyond. From my bungalow I would see lightning flashing from storms so distant no thunder could be heard, and there were spectacular storms that came from explosive systems of clashing fronts and dry lines and unstable air.

Oklahoma and points west were the marker for storms we would get in those years. Explosive is an understatement for the cells that invaded Tennessee, setting off sirens in the middle of the night, dropping hail, producing high winds that whistled through the bars of the storm door, hail that pounded the windows and sounded as though someone was trowing ice cubes at the panes, and generating greenish and bluish lightning that would sear the skies for an hour or more.

These were storms that, unless one was a very sound sleeper, would either awaken one or, if on to the weather reports, might keep me up to watch and make sure danger was past. Even in 2002 there was an unusual day for bad weather, and I documented some of that in still color photos.

The conditions that hung over Tennessee on Veterans Day weekend of 2002 produced gigantic storms. In the afternoon it was sunny in Nashville, and I was going about my chores in the bungalow. I had the news on and the reports kept talking about storms going on, and eventually I was intrigued and went outside to ascerain if I could see anything or if some storms was approaching Nashville. What I saw was stunning.

Nearly due east of Nashville was a massive storm with a high top in motion. It was so large I could actually see the clouds moving in a clockwise direction and that feature came out in one of my photos. I snapped more pictures of that storm, which was not even in Davidson County but about 70 or so miles away. Incredible power,wild beauty, and the striking forces of nature took over that day.

As evening came I went outside again to photograph storms south and east of Nashville. Sunset colors painted those large clouds with pink and gold, and fine features of the cumulus clouds were highly visible as the storms were so big. Nashville eventually had storms that night.

2003 was another year of massive storms. Oklahoma was hit again and endured significant damage. Tennessee had storms from one of the larger systems that year, and the sirens went off over and time again.

2004 was a strange year. First odd happening was the death of my younger brother in April. Things went from bad to worse in the week we planned to lay him to rest. We were preparing to drive to the Johnson City area for the funeral and other events, and we stepped out of my parents’ home. At once I sensed very heavy and humid air, the skies with a milky gray appearance and cloudy. We drove on to the home of my dad’s best friend, and still we had no idea of what we would encounter less than an hour later.

On the road to the airport to collect my cousin who was coming in from Houston, I happened to turn back and look around. To the northwest was a dark, huge, gigantic storm bearing down on us fast. Shades of 1998 hit me all over again, and I had the feeling that storm had to be tornadic. It was, and we barely made it to the airport before the bad weather bulled on in. Heavy rain started just before we exited the interstate, and the rain was so heavy the airport roof started to leak.

Now that roof is fine when the weather is dry and sunny- the view is clear as a bell and the scenery is hilly. You can see the air pattern come in and work as usual, but in severe weather the last place you want to be is under a glass roof with a huge expanse. Fortunately no one in our party was injured, and I could see the storm moving off into other counties. Seems the reports said a tornado was down in Williamson County, but at last it was out of our way and we could resume our drive. Naturally we were careful along the way, and we arrived safely.

I learned a lot from those storms between 1998 and 2004, and did one more thing before moving to Chicago. I taught my mom how to read the clouds, to know the signs of incoming bad weather, such as the anvil, strange colors, vivid lightning, and of course tuning in to the weather. A severe storm that barreled through one afternoon as we were at the office inspired me to do that. Mom is a native Texan but still I thought it a good thing to do to fine tune her knowledge of approaching bad weather. It served us well when she visited Chicago in 2005, as there was a severe storm in that week.

Hopefully we will not get caught out in any of those conditions again, but we know what to do if we are fortunate enough to be around safe places to go. The storm that came through Chicago the week mom visited was heralded by diagonal clouds with an unusual color, greenish in appearance. We returned from the grocery store and had the television on. A tornado warning was issued for Cook County. It took only a second for me to say, “This IS Cook County!” And downstairs we went to wait it out.

Since that incident, Chicago has had its share of bad weather. Tornado warnings have happened at least once a year since I moved here, and there have been storms that painted the skies with layered clouds stacked like plates, rotating majestcally and with greenish appearances. Another storm produced a line of green lightning and a tornado strike in the north of town.

Yet another storm was one painted in my memory, and it happened to come in while I was at the Field Museum. On a top floor I was looking west and northwest and there was a massive, moving cloud making a bee line to the city. I left the museum and went to the Loop, figuring it a safe place to be in the face of the incoming weather. I visited my boyfriend at his workplace and he knew the storm was coming. He figured I might be able to make it home on the Red Line before the storm hit, and I tried to do just that.

Only seconds after I started walking down Jackson Street I looked around as usual for vigilance, and looked down the street. I paused- the storm was coming in and lowering with a grayish-black heavy cloud. I turned and started back for the shop but I was almost pushed down the street by a sudden driving rain and wind, and barely made it to the store before the area darkened with the full force of the tornadic storm. I stayed far away as possible from the glassy entrance of the store, and thought I heard a nearby tornado siren.

I feared for anyone stuck on the elevated tracks at that point, or anyone at the airports watching that hit downtown. The EL is close enough to the row of shops along Wabash Street that had the winds been strong enough, they might have shoved a train over to the street and possible into the store. It was a relief when the storm finally ended and I skedaddled for home.

One more well-documented storm happened during baseball season. The game was in the evening, and the event started as normal. Now, it is usual for cameras to pan around to gather the game-time atmosphere, and one of those cameras caught a sight that brought out a comment from one of the Cubs regular announcers. Northwest of the city was a lightning producing cloud and the lightning was green. Green lightning made the announcer nervous and it made me nervous too. Then the storm came in, Wrigley Field emptied and another camera caught the empty ballpark and the tornado warning siren could be heard. Again it was time to take cover, and the complex basement became the safe haven for a while. Our area of the city sustained no obvious or severe damage, and it was good when the bad weather finally passed.

Take nothing for granted- when conditions are ripe, pay attention to the skies. Watch and listen, know what is going on and what you are looking at. Have a plan of action- where to go, what to take along. Be careful when going above ground when the all clear is given. There could be structures damaged, glass and debris in the streets, and electric lines down and live. Stay out of the way of emergency vehicles and obey authorities’ instructions.

Lessons learned, photographic memories made, and still there is that little part of me that wants to chase those storms across the south and the prairie, camera at the ready, watching and listening. Someday perhaps I might take one of those tornado safaris or join a chase group… but seeing the average storms that come through here is enough for me right now.

Interesting reference: Veslind, Priit J. The Hard Science, Dumb Luck, and Cowboy Nerve of Chasing Tornadoes. National Geographic, April 2004. Includes fine photographs by Carsten Peter.

Divi Logan and ®EDUSHIRTS, Nashville and Chicago, ©2004 – 2012.

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Climate Change: Wacky Weather Observations

All right, inspiration takes shape- naturally! Here it is mid-February, and it is going to be 43 or maybe even higher in Chicago. Europe is in a deep and hard freeze, Afghanistan’s children are suffering in refugee camps, and snow is causing hazards in Eastern Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina, and there has been a deadly avalanche in Washington.

I understand first hand (and first sight too) the effects of climate change in the United States, and of course the patterns are global. Weather is affected by elements of atmospheric condition that circle the planet and where air, heat, water and winds mix and mingle.

April 16, 1998 in Nashville, Tennessee started out in a strange way. As I left for campus it seemed something was not right. It was too warm, though spring in the southeast was well in season. I went ahead to Belmont to spend time at the computer lab, and went out for a short break. Around 3 PM or so I returned to the business complex and noticed something in the northwestern sky that made me stop and examine it.

There was a majestic storm cloud dominating my view, and it already had an anvil top. At the time it did not register how close the storm was, and I had not listened to any news or weather reports. Well, before 3:30 a lady came into the computer lab to warn us about severe weather approaching our area. People went to the windows and outside to look at the storm. It had the classic “Weather Channel” appearance- mingling colors of yellowish gray, white, black, and grays, and the clouds were moving. In the northwest it was very dark and there was a sound as of rushing wind or an engine.

Stupidly, I was one of those who went outside, drawn as if magnetically to look at the big storm. “Is that wind?” I asked, and then it dawned on me that we could be in real trouble. I looked around to the south-southeast and saw a line of cloud moving at what must have been over 100 miles an hour, going to the north as if following 12th Avenue into downtown. Around that point we were told to get inside as the doors were closing. I think reports indicated that the windows at the campus were all ready starting to buckle and bend.

Inside and below ground, I phoned my mother and wondered deep inside if it would be our last conversation. Then came this darkness that seemed tangible, heavy and as if you could feel it. I wondered how much of downtown would be left when we emerged. When the time came to go topside, we went up and looked around.

Downtown was still there and from our view looked no worse for wear, which it turned out to be at later reports. We also learned another storm was on the way, and I wanted to find out if I could make it home. I started walking and – would you believe it- saw my mom’s car going down one of the usual streets we would take to the office. I could not catch up to her, and eventually got a ride from a nice lady with young children, and made it home, away from the downtown area.

Turns out that downtown was hit by winds of an F-3 tornado. Storms that day did damage on the east side of the Cumberland River as well, uprooted trees that President Jackson had planted at the Hermitage, and unleashed golf-ball sized hail, the aftermath of which could be seen on damaged cars. Color video and photos from that day show greenish-black-gray skies, terrified people, and damage to structures, and people watching the second incoming line of storms from the downtown area.

Tornadoes- energetic tails from gigantic supercell storms that spawn regularly in the southern regions- can happen it seems almost anytime of year now. Tennessee has had them in January and in November. Conditions being right, they can happen any time, and anyone in storm-prone areas must be on the alert when the elements conspire. More on that in my next article.

Divi Logan and ®EDUSHIRTS, Nashville and Chicago, ©2004 – 2012.

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