UWindsor Lance: Tornado Valley- not just in Kansas anymore

Tornado Alley (UWindsor Lance)

UWindsor Lance
Issue 04, Volume 85
June 13, 2012
Jon Liedtke


Is Tornado Alley shifting towards Windsor?

The majority of us have seen the Wizard of Oz and the devastating damage that a tornado can cause. Indeed, Dorothy nearly lost entire farm due to the twister which
lampooned her into a technicoloured adventure.

While we know that the story is fictional, and that Dorothy didn’t actually get sent to Oz, the method of which her family dealt with the situation was precisely accurate as how to best provide the highest level of safety. While her family traversed into the underground storm shelter correctly, Dorothy incorrectly took refuge in her bedroom, near a plethora of windows, which led to her being rendered unconscious.

Lions, tigers and bears aside, there are key ways to dealing with a tornado that greatly reduce the risk of injury. Before jumping into what you should do when a tornado strikes, allow me to briefly, and entirely unscientifically, speak about tornadoes and what they truly are.

A tornado is a rapidly rotating column of air which is in contact with both the surface of the earth, and the base of a cloud. The cloud is most often cumulonimbus, but in some rare cases can be a cumulus cloud.

Tornadoes can come in many different shapes and sizes. They are typically in the form of a visible funnel. With the narrow end of the funnel touching the earth and often encircled by a cloud of debris and dust, the average tornado can reach wind speeds of roughly 177 km/h, are about 76 metres across and travel several kilometers before dissipating.

While tornadoes occur on every continent (excluding Antarctica), the
majority of tornadoes occur in the Tornado Alley region of the United States. Tornado Alley, while not officially defined, is the areas in between the Rocky Mountains and Appalachian Mountains; think vertically dead centre USA. The
term ‘Tornado Alley’ was concocted by the media to refer to the area which had
greater numbers of tornadoes. Ninety per cent of tornadoes in the United States occur in Tornado Alley because cold, dry air from Canada (yeah, we’re partly to blame) and the Rocky Mountains meets with warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico and hot, dry air from the Sonoran Desert This mixture of air causes atmospheric instability, heavy precipitation, and many intense thunderstorms

Ontario Environment Commissioner Gord Miller recently visited Windsor and stated that extreme weather events are going to become the norm. With this change, Miller expects climate patterns to generally shift, and he believes that the tornado zones in the US are going to shift north.

Tornadoes can be detected using Pulse-Doppler radar, which recognizes patterns in velocity and reflectivity data such as hook echoes, or by the efforts of storm spotters.

Peter Kimbell, a warning preparedness meteorologist for Environment Canada, said there are about 13 tornadoes per year in Ontario. They are classified on the Fujita Scale, which ranges from zero to five, based on observed damage. Kimbell stated that an F0 would be rated at winds from 60 to 110 km/h, while an F5 would have winds of more than 420 km/h.

“The most recent F4 tornadoes would be the Barrie and Grand Valley tornadoes of May 31, 1985. There have been other F4 tornadoes, but the Barrie event stands out based on fatalities and total damage,” said Kimbell.

While he was not sure if the Barrie event ranked as the most severe of the F4s in Ontario history, Kimbell could not recall any F 5s in Ontario history.

Windsor experienced its strongest and deadliest tornado, a class F4, 1946. In the Super Outbreak of 1974, Windsor was the only Canadian city to experience a tornado, an F3, which killed nine people at the Windsor Curling Club.

While the US began a national storm spotting program in the 1950s, storm spotting became more organized in the mid-1970s when the US National Weather Service increased its efforts to train storm spotters to be able to spot key features of storms. Called Skywarn, the spotters were local sheriff’s deputies, state troopers, firefighters, ambulance drivers, amateur radio operators, civil defense (now emergency management) spotters, storm chasers and ordinary citizens.

Roughly a decade later in 1987, CANWARN (the Canadian Weather Amateur Radio Nemork) was created to act as an organized severe weather spotting and reporting program and was run by the Meteorological Services Division of Environment Canada.

Brent Ross, a spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety Services, outlines three tips when planning for a tornado strike:

  • Designate a safe room in your home where household members and pets may gather during a tornado. This should be a basement, storm cellar or interiror room on the lowest floor with no windows
  • “Conduct a tornado drill so that everyone knows what to do if a tornado is approaching”
  • Remove dead or rotting trees and branches that could fall and cause injury or damage.”

Ross also stated that it was useful to prepare an Emergency Preparedness Kit for the home, workplace and vehicle, as well as an Emergency Preparedness Action Plan for your household.

If you are indoors and a tornado strikes, the safest place to be IS in an underground shelter, basement or safe room. Indeed, putting as many walls as possible between you and the outside is crucial. Finally, get under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck, and remember, don’t ever open windows.

If a tornado strikes while you are outdoors, Ross warned “Do not wait until you see the tornado to get inside.” If you are caught outdoors, “Lay flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands.” Don’t go under an overpass or bridge, and watch out for flying debris.

Finally, if you are in a mobile home, evacuate the vehicle and head to the nearest sturdy building or shelter as quick as possible; “mobile homes, even when tied down offer little protection from tornadoes,” he added.

The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services maintains Ontario’s
Emergency Public Warning system. It features three types of warnings: red alerts; emergency Information advisories; and severe weather warnings.

The public is able to receive the warnings via RSS feed, SMS text messaging, e-mail, Facebook and Twitter.

Tornadoes are a dangerous force of nature which can act sporadic and cause destruction. Be vigilant and always stay alert.

Do not find yourself as Dorothy did; unprepared, uninformed and eventually, unconscious.


UWindsor Lance
Tornado Valley- not just in Kansas anymore
Issue 04, Volume 85
June 13, 2012
Jon Liedtke
Page 7

Jon Liedtke was the Features and Opinions Editor, Advertising Manager and Deficit Consultant at the UWindsor Lance.