The tornado that destroyed my hometown was born in an otherwise unremarkable atmospheric collision over the American Central Plains. On May 22, 2011, a geostationary satellite 22,300 miles overhead recorded a large collection of cloud lines drifting over southeastern Kansas. At around 2 p.m, one of the cloud lines exploded, like a cartographic-scale dry-ice bomb. Dense white vapors poured from nothing, and over the next five hours the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration monitored the growing supercell thunderstorm as it drifted toward a three-letter abbreviation on the map: "JLN."
Just after 5 p.m., two storm chasers driving toward the western edge of Joplin, Missouri, spotted a translucent set of tendrils reaching down from the storm's low black thunderhead. Almost as quickly as they formed, the tendrils disappeared. And then things took a turn. A dark blob half a mile wide congealed and dropped from the clouds. As it touched the ground, it filled with sparks from ruptured power lines, like a jar of fireflies. At 5:41, the National Weather Service office in Springfield, Missouri, issued this alert: NUMEROUS REPORTS OF TORNADO ON THE GROUND WEST OF JOPLIN AND POWER FLASHES.
The tornado intensified as it strafed the roofs and treetops of Joplin's western suburbs. By the time it reached the city limits, where 49,000 people lived, it had evolved into an EF-5, the most destructive type of tornado on the Enhanced Fujita scale. Unlike EF-4s, which are merely "devastating," EF-5s produce "incredible" damage. An EF-4 is powerful enough to scrape civilization off the planet in a matter of minutes. An EF-5 is more powerful still.
When the storm hit Joplin, the winds inside the funnel were spinning faster than 200 mph—yet the whole column was crawling forward at less than 10 mph, giving it time to wood-chip everything beneath it. The tornado produced a good deal of incredible, EF-5-worthy damage in the office park that surrounded St. John's Hospital, one of the region's major medical centers. In 45 seconds, it shifted the nine-story structure four inches off its foundation.
By then, the tornado was three quarters of a mile wide. As it tacked slightly to the north, it flattened a downtrodden swath of old Main Street. After gnawing through half a dozen intervening residential blocks, the tornado hit Joplin High School, a recently refurbished brick complex at the town's middle-class core. Security cameras intended to monitor lunch-hour skippers now recorded surges of water that rendered the parking lot indistinguishable from a harbor in a hurricane. Inside, chairs and papers swarmed as the walls began to collapse.
Meteorologists watching radar screens at a safe remove now saw a white-pink blob representing the tornado's swirl of debris swing through the rest of the city like a wrecking ball. But when it reached the open pasture at Joplin's eastern edge, the tornado—as if it had been fueled by manmade structures and was now depleted—delivered a few dying spasms and vanished.
My wife and I were eating dinner at home in Brooklyn when we heard the news. Her sister called: There had been a tornado, and it sounded bad. Growing up in Joplin means growing up with tornado warnings, so I was certain this was yet another false alarm. Still, we moved to the couch and turned on the Weather Channel. Mike Bettes, one of the network's on-camera meteorologists, was standing in a field of debris, talking to dazed Joplinites whose homes had just been leveled. At first we thought the crew was filming outside of town, in the country. A couple of houses down? Not so bad for late May in southwest Missouri. Then the camera turned and landed on St. John's Hospital. Windows blasted out, every surrounding structure demolished, it looked like the backdrop from a high-budget zombie movie. The hospital is in the middle of town. It's also about half a mile from my dad's house. On camera, Bettes choked up, turned his head, and broke into tears.That's when we freaked out.
We started calling, texting, posting urgent Facebook messages asking family and friends for information. I haven't lived in Joplin since I left for college, but my parents, grandparents, and plenty of aunts, uncles, cousins and old friends still live in the area. Same goes for my wife, another Joplin native. No phone calls were getting through, but our parents texted back quickly: They were fine, and so were their homes. Throughout the evening it became obvious that the storm was extraordinarily severe. Nonetheless, it wasn't until the morning that we realized that the damage reports that had been streaming in over Facebook weren't isolated. One continuous stream of demolition connected them all.
The tornado destroyed 20 percent of the property in Joplin, killed 161 people, and injured 1,150 more, all in a town with just 49,000 residents. That doesn't quite make it the deadliest tornado in history. The worst was the Tri-State tornado of March 18, 1925, which in three and a half hours killed 695 people in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. But because the Tri-State tornado (and the other five storms responsible for more deaths than the Joplin tornado) happened before the invention of modern weather-monitoring instruments, it's unclear whether they involved single funnel clouds or entire swarms. As a result, the Joplin tornado is the deadliest single tornado on record.
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please no argueing about global warming, this is just too sad, RIP
Thank you for this article on the Joplin tornado, as it's a perfect example of the sort of AGW agitprop which persuaded me to NOT renew my subscription.
Although the global warming issue may be a factor, the largest reason why disasters are getting worse is because with an exploding population, there are more people in environmentally dangerous areas. As there is more development and expansion in tornado alley, tornadoes will more frequently hit populated areas and cause more damage and death. More buildings being built in earthquake-prone areas causes more death and damage, not any statistical increase in earthquake frequency or power. Katrina wouldn't have been bad if a million people didn't live below sea level within a mile of the ocean. Everybody, especially the media, sees all of these increasing death tolls and wrongly politicize it and try to make it a major issue on global warming or government inaction (not saying they don't have a little to do with it), but it is mostly just an unfortunate consequence of having over 7 billion people on the planet (in 1960 there were only 3 billion) living in much more densely populated areas.
This is sad. I subscribed to Popular Science but this article should have been published in Popular Religion (Globalwarmisim) and mythology. Thank you for prompting me to cancel my subscription in favor of real science periodicals. The Globalwarmist claim that higher taxes, and larger government control of people's lives, will cool the Earth is a hysterical!
The whole St. John's moving 4 inches off the foundation is a myth. Somehow started early after the tornado. I live in Joplin and know people who work in the building maintenance department of St. Johns and they say the whole moving 4 inches thing is bogus.
The Joplin storm is a disaster of immense proportions. However, somehow tying this disaster to global warming is a real stretch. Depending upon the particular source, the time period considered and other assumptions, we could as well be in a period of global cooling.
Honor the "Science" in your title. If there is hard science that somehow ties this storm to changes in the climate, that would be appropriate. Tying your lead story to an opinion regarding climate dynamics is not.
Stick with Science, hard science.
"Global Warming" ? (as opposed to anthropogenic global warming ?)
Yes, it began at the bottom of the Little Ice Age in the late 1600s, some two centuries BEFORE there was any increase in the co2 level, and, since 1998 there has been no statistically significant warming.
In any event, there is no evidence linking co2 to an increase in the planet's temperature. Computer models are not evidence of anything beyond the modeller's understanding, agendas, and confirmation bias. (And, of course the models have all grossly exaggerated this natural climate variation.)
Then there's the Medieval Warming Period. Some 900+ peer-reviewed studies - over quite a long period, and new confirming ones still coming in which show that the MWP was quite likely even warmer than now. Again, co2 had not risen at all back then, and, besides, the only possible cause for increasing co2 is our industrial activity which clearly was not evident 1000 years ago.
Finally, while co2 had been constant for several hundred thousand years before our industrial revolution (in the 1800s), it had been much higher before that for tens of millions of years before that, and lifeforms not unlike ours had no problem in that environment.
co2 is now around 400 ppmv (parts per million by volume) a trace gas. It is evidently increasing at 2 ppmv per YEAR, quite slowly. It will be around 600 ppmv by 2099 at its current rate of increase. A crowded gymnasium may be at 1000ppmv. Submarine crews survive with no apparent problems at 3000 to 5000 ppmv. CO2 has been 10X + higher during two ice ages, and going into one ice age.
Look around, the plants are loving this moderate increase and plants require less water when more co2 is available.
The politicians' motto of "never wasting a crisis" must remain inoperative. What we really have to avoid is anthropogenic interference in our politics!.
Popsci is no place for this type of nonscientific article. Best to stay out of the highly biased "green" zone.
all you idiots can bugger off, this is a science site, politicizing this is just plain rude and a slap in the face of the residents of Joplin that endured this tragedy, stick to your word (obviously doesn't mean much) and cancel your prescription and don't return here
I agree. This is not a scientific article. Its more a political statement using the victims of a natural tragedy as a scapegoat. Shame on Pop Sci becoming a mouth piece for Al Gore.
As an environmentalist who lives in the rainforest of Hawaii, I've been to Mid Way Atoll to study the effects of pollution. I also live on the slopes of Mauna Loa and I've been to the MLO where the famous Keeling Curve was developed. Its 9000 ft level, and just below it, at the 4000 ft level is one of the most active volcanos in the world, Kilauea/Puu Oo vent which has been erupting intermitantly since 1950 and continuously since 1983.
We put out 27 billion tons of C02/yr into an atmosphere that already has 3,600 billion tons of C02. Do the math and note that it comes to three fourths of 1%. And don't get me started about the pH drop which was measured in the massive plastic debris field between Hawaii and Alaska which is being enlarged by the Japan earthquake/tsunami.
I've lived in the area for 45 years. We have always had tornados and they have always been occasionally that bad. The reason there is more devastation is because of population growth, not global warming.
Is there no end to the deluge of global warming now styled climate change propaganda? Can man affect the environment, yes! Is man responsible for climate change, aka global warming, NO! Volcanoes are responsible for the majority of CO2, followed by swamps (decaying vegetation) etc. There is too much of the prevailing junk science regarding climate change. Climate change has occured for millions of year and will continue despite our efforts.
I believe that a nuclear war could result in an asteroid hit. I will leave it to your imagination how that can happen.
clearly it was chance.
this article is a reminder of why I cancelled my subscription a couple of years ago ... lack of objectivity and a leftist lean
More energy in the climate system means more extreme weather.
By Len Johnson
Sun Sep 07 02:15:58 BST 2008
I have been trying to get through to anybody who might listen. I've e-mailed so many people from the President to Anderson Cooper, and no response. After a hurricane hits cold water up north, it loses its strength. Why not drop ice from a specially designed aircraft like the ones that drop retardant and water on a fire. They have small ice makers that make cubes in less than 6 minutes. You just need to expand on the idea, suck up some water, freeze it and drop that ice down into the heat towers near the center of the hurricane. Depending on how much you cool it down, could be equal to how much power you lessen it by. It could easily be turned into nothing more than a rain storm. There was an article in Pop Sc that displays the heat towers in the hurricanes. It may also be the same in tornadoes. With as much financial damage from one level 4 or greater storm, spending the money to develop or just load one aircraft with enough ice for the experiment would justify it, especially if just one life was saved.
I guess deep in my heart I've always wanted to be Pecos Bill and lasso a tornado, since I grew up in the mid-west.
I knew it, I knew it. An article that talks about Global Warming and (even though it is something that is widely recognized by international scientific communities) and even though the site is called popular science the lemmings here start screaming and ranting and threatening to cancel subscriptions!!!
It is hilarious and disheartening all at the same time. And to all of you anti global warming folks. Trust us, the zealotry of you people is way beyond what I normally see in people who accept that global warming is or may be happening. The anti global warming "devotees and church goers" are much more fanatical than what I usually see on the left. That warming has become "highly biased" is exactly because of people like you. It's impossible to discuss the topic rationally. Just look at the stuff you all type up above ^. It's ridiculous. It's childish. How can you talk about something when you have idiots ranting and calling it propaganda and threatening to cancel subscriptions unless you subscribe to a right wing politcal viewpoijnt in your scientific articles.
I've seen it so much by now I shouldn't be shocked. But seriously, it still blows my mind every time that people can be so god awful stubborn and dumb.
I wonder how many comments were left here from people who simply read the title of the article and not the article itself. There are no calls for increased government spending or taxation. There is no "religion of global warming" except for the global warming deniers out there. I am proud to say that I am from Joplin and I was there 48 hours after the tornado struck working with my church group. I saw the same types of things that the author describes. And neither he nor I are saying "global warming caused this". Rather, it is a look into what increased temperatures can do to current weather conditions.
READ THE ARTICLE before you start bashing and name-calling! And also read a few more scientific (yes, an overwhelming majority of scientists do acknowledge the reality of climate change due to air pollution) papers, articles, or books about climate change before you start polluting the internet with your nonsense.
The bogus statistics quoted above would be very much different if the "global warming debate" were divided into two very different categories or descriptive names:
1. Global Climate Change/Global Warming
2. Human-Caused Climate Change.
Virtually every serious observer now agrees that the Earth is once again warming, as it has many, many times in the last millennia, alternating with periods of global cooling. According to an extremely competent statistical climatologist who spoke in our town some years ago, the overall trend now is global cooling, but tiny spikes on that trend line, representing minor heating and cooling periods, appear as major trends to we humans with our short life spans.
Like microbes on a bowling ball spinning towards a crash, some feel that we human organisms MUST be causing whatever changes are happening at any given moment--while one single volcano (Nyiragongo) every day emits 7000 TONS of sulfur dioxide, more than all of the factories and cars in the USA. What fools we mortals be!
If the leftist publishers would only make clear if they are fostering the idea that the Earth is warming--which it is at this moment in time--or that the inhabitants of Earth are CAUSING this little warming blip--which is utter nonsense, as they well know--we could reasonable discuss how we should cope with this natural change.
Those who disagree with this comment might start by explaining how the primitive sea creatures in the early eons of our small planet, managed to affect their climate, which was alternating warming and cooling eras then just as it still is now.
You live in Kansas a state so famous for tornadoes that someone wrote a book called the Wizard of Oz.
You don't need to blame global warming you need to realise where you live has always had loads of tornadoes if you don't want to build tornado proof housing then move somewhere else.
@JoplinAdam, the author was careful not to say the tornado in Joplin was connected to global warming, but he DID say that extreme weather events will become more extreme and more common because of global warming. He shamelessly exploited the tragedy in Joplin to further his contention that global warming is a big deal and that humans are the primary cause.
@BobBlah, As for those of us who deny that global warming is a problem and that humans account for anything but a small fraction of it, we're the zealots defending SCIENCE and FACTS. Meanwhile the leading global warmists like Al Gore, James Hansen, et al., insist that the "debate is over," and the "science is settled." The zombies at the IPCC continue to present biased reports, cherry-picking papers to support their contention that humans are causing disastrous warming even though it has been brought to their attention numerous times that their process is badly flawed and skewed to reject the wealth of data that contradicts their pre-determined conclusions. And as the Climategate e-mails revealed (the very REAL scandal, thank you), the pseudo-scientists at East Anglia, Penn State and other centers of global warmism are exerting all the considerable influence they can to silence debate and prevent the publication of scientific papers which contradict their viewpoint. Which group is behaving more like the Medieval religious inquisitions? The global warmists by silencing their opposition and suppressing studies, facts, and evidence? Or the "deniers" like Steve McIntyre who contest the global warmists erroneous assertions, methods, and data?
@laurenra - LOL You just proved my point. You're practically screaming in your post and it's filled with loaded language and beyond biased opinion and the continued to attempt to inflame people over debunked scandals. It's obviously impossible to have a conversation with you about this topic. Nothing you said has any meaning, it simply indicates you're the type that will go to the ends of the earth to try and prove them wrong instead of rationally considering the subject and dare finding any middle ground. You also consider the science settled (just in your favor.)You are the zealot laurenra. Look in the mirror. You're the bizzaro Al Gore.
By month, increased ice cream sales appear to result in an increase in cases of children drowning... not sure if we should blame GW or ice cream. Probably best if the government prevents the sale of ice cream and works to improve global climate to be on the safe side.
Also, GW is probably happening... but that doesn't mean that it is the result of human impact. The glaciers that covered most of North America disappeared way before we started the industrial revolution.
Look carefully at the graphic labelled “Warming Trends.” It shows that there has been an increased ratio of high vs. low temperature records beginning in the 1980’s and continuing. It also shows that there has been an increase in EF-0 and EF-1 tornadoes from 1990 onwards, but a decrease in the numbers of more powerful EF-2 and above storms. Apparently, warmer temperatures are associated with LESS severe tornadoes. So, the author’s conclusion flies in the face of the evidence he presents.
@laurenra7 I am from Joplin as are a lot of friends who are on both sides of this debate and none of them find this article shamelessly exploitative.
What could be a more nonsensical conclusion than the end of “Did Global Warming Destroy My Hometown”? After concluding that humans are changing global climate in disastrous ways the author ends, “The process we’ve set in motion is unpredictable enough that we can’t know for certain what kind of world we’ll have in 20 or 50 or 100 years. But we won’t be able to say we couldn’t have seen it coming.” In other words, we can’t see what the world will be like but we can see it coming.
Most of the article is a personal essay about the devastation of Joplin, MO, and a well written horror-thriller of weather. But the relatively small part of the article that tries to say the Joplin tornado is a warning of a more violent world to come is sadly lacking in anything but rank speculation strung together with theory and speculation.
To show that a warmer world will lead to more numerous and more violent weather events the only convincing evidence would be comparisons to other periods. Were such events more common worldwide during the medieval warming, during the Little Ice Age, before the Industrial Revolution, after it? As the author noted, the tri state tornado of 1925 killed many more people than the Joplin storm in a time when the region was much less populated. But that too is a single event and can’t prove things were worse then. Same for the 1906 Galveston hurricane that killed more than 6,000. Or the extreme blizzards of 1897 that piled drifts 15 feet high even in England. How about the extreme heat wave of 1885 that killed hundreds of people in England?
Moral of the story: people are always complaining about the weather and in any year that seems unusual, we hear that the world is changing and we can see it coming. Until we have better data, we don’t even know that a warming climate will increase the number of extreme events or decrease the number, or make some kinds more prevalent, others less prevalent. The author cites one scientist with one reason (more moisture in the air) to predict a more violent world. So far climate models have been notoriously unreliable. Predictions of severe hurricane seasons for the years since Katrina flopped badly and most seasons were less severe than usual.
We may soon have the kind of data we need to compare the present to the past. The Climate Database Modernization Program (CDMP) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is collecting 39 categories of historical information for the past 3 centuries. The CDMP goal“includes identification of variations in frequency of extreme heat waves, cold waves, and heavy precipitation events in the conterminous United States to provide a longer basis for understanding recent variations.”
As a science writer I am always skeptical of any article that cherry picks data and never once ponders or even mentions a positive effect from the phenomenon considered. Whenever a writer sees only trouble (or on rare occasions—say electric cars--only benefits), what we have is advertising, not reporting.
See: Invasive Plants by Kaufman and Kaufman (Stackpole Books, 2007); Coming Out of the Woods (Perseus Books 2001); No Turning Back (Basic Books, 1994)
I've been alive for almost six decades. I've seen storms... hurricanes, tornadoes, straight line winds, blizzards that do damage throughout that life. I've seen homes and businesses damaged and destroyed.
It's nature. Back then, now and tomorrow. If we surrender to Global Warming, they won't magically go away. If we pray to a god or to Darwin, they will still come and they will make us cry.
This is life on the rock called 'Earth'. Nothing more. Nothing less.
To answer the ? Yes. So WHY build the same type of House again, again, again, and again. I have a few designs that would fit great in all disaster areas, it's Green, Mother Nature proof, and Mother Nature approved. If I had some help I could get my Ideas out to where people need them. Rwdisland at yahoo or 757 637 5518.
I SUBSCRIBED TO POPSCI BECAUSE IT BILLED ITSELF AS A "SCIENCE" PUBLICATION. THERE IS NO SCIENCE OR EVEN COMMON SENSE IN THIS ARTICLE. PLEASE DON'T ASK ME TO RENEW MY SUBSCRIPTION.