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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In the aftermath of the tornado, citizens, reporters and government officials scrutinized the warning system and promised to find out what went wrong. Did forecasters give people enough notice? Did the satellite and radar systems work as designed? Did anyone pay attention? I was more interested in the cause of the storm itself. For years I had been hearing unnerving weather reports from back home: news of 70-degree days in January, of droughts followed by floods followed by droughts, of ice storms causing power outages not seen in the area since the advent of electricity. Was this tornado, by far the most devastating natural disaster the area had ever experienced, part of a pattern? Was climate change causing this insane weather?
I realized, as scientists dutifully reminded the press in the days after the storm, that it's probably impossible to draw a causal link between any single weather event and climate change. But I couldn't help but sympathize with the sentiment that Bill McKibben, a writer who has long argued that global warming is the single most important problem facing humanity, expressed that week in a Washington Post op-ed. The headline: "A Link between Climate Change and Joplin Tornadoes? Never!" Rather than making connections between the destruction in Joplin and the floods and fires and droughts happening around the world, he argued, "It's far smarter to repeat to yourself the comforting mantra that no single weather event can ever be directly tied to climate change."
When I read McKibben's column, I was in the middle of clearing my schedule and booking a trip back home. His sarcasm seemed to come from a place of exasperation that I happen to share—a frustration with the odd American reluctance to consider the possibility that climate change is not only real, but already contributing to disasters like the one in Joplin.
A week after the tornado, I set out with my dad in his pickup truck to retrace the storm's path. We started on the road west of town where storm chasers filmed those first portentous clouds. As we drove east, we encountered the first signs of damage—power lines askew, tree limbs down. The wounds soon became more traumatic. In a newish subdivision we saw the first real structural damage, a ranch-style home with a semi-collapsed garage. Above the garage door, a warning was scrawled in silver spray paint: "Looters will be shot!"
The destruction came into cinematic view as we crested a hill on West 26th Street, which overlooked St. John's. The storm had established new vistas, shaving away the houses and trees that had previously defined the skyline. Debarked trees, blond like treated lumber, splintered the horizon. We stopped to make sense of the view. To our right, two flower-covered crosses, one pink, one blue, stood at the threshold of a vanished home.
We got back in the truck and continued east, passing through neighborhoods that contained childhood homes, friends' childhood homes, elementary and middle and high schools. On the flight home, I had braced myself for this part. I had expected to look on the ruined landscape of my youth with sadness and nostalgia. But I was acutely aware that compared with the people fishing family photos from the rubble, I could not complain. It also turned out that the terrain was too disfigured to trigger many memories.
The town was so unrecognizable that one of the first tasks workers undertook, after clearing the streets of rubble, was painting street names onto the pavement at every intersection. The signs were gone, as were the landmarks, and even lifetime residents were finding it difficult to navigate. Some blocks seemed shorter than they had before; others, longer.
The major streets were clogged with emergency workers, police officers and other rubberneckers like me. Search-and-rescue crews had spray-painted the sides of damaged houses with tic-tac-toe-looking code that indicated that a house had been checked for bodies. Many were marked with a final message: "OK to Doze."
We soon arrived at another hill, this one overlooking the high school, from where we could see the mile and a half to Range Line Road, a new sight from this part of town. We stopped to walk around in the now empty neighborhood near the school. We inspected a heap of rubble on the edge of the high school's practice soccer fields, which was loaded with projectiles—nails, bricks, bolts, hunks of lumber and a manhole cover that I imagined flying around in the tornado like some Frisbee of Death.
We drove through the damage for another four miles or so, until the trail of debris ended as abruptly as it had begun. The sight of still-standing trees on the east end of town was a relief. Altogether the tornado destroyed 6,954 homes and caused at least $3 billion in damage. In the following weeks, the city would begin bulldozing the structures that were beyond repair. Dump trucks would cart away some 1.5 million cubic yards of rubble, depositing most of it in a landfill near the abandoned lead and zinc mines west of town.
And then what? My stepmother, a real-estate agent, predicted that in the process of rebuilding, landowners would combine small, old lots into larger plots that could hold the McMansions 21st-century Missourians have come to love and expect. Yet by the time those homes were built, plenty of former Joplinites would surely have relocated for good. All week she had been selling houses to dislocated residents who were desperate to find a place to live. Elderly couples who hadn't moved in 50 years were buying new homes sight unseen. Houses in Joplin are generally cheap and abundant, but now there weren't enough to go around.
Meteorologist once thought it was impossible to predict a tornado and, even if it weren't, that warning the public could cause mass panic and do more harm than the weather itself. Then on March 25, 1948, Ernest J. Fawbush and Robert C. Miller, meteorologists at the Tinker Air Force Base in central Oklahoma, issued the first tornado forecast, predicting more than three hours in advance that a squall line headed for the base was likely to produce a twister. Sure enough, a tornado ripped through the base three hours later, making Fawbush and Miller look like geniuses. Three years after that, the two founded the Severe Storms Forecast Center at Tinker, where their continued success in predicting storms made them moderately famous. As the Saturday Evening Post put it in 1951, the Fawbush-Miller system meant that "the Oklahoma farmer who said he always depended upon flying cornstalks and bed quilts to warn him of an approaching twister will now have ample time to walk—not run—to his 'scarehole.'"
Fawbush and Miller's bureau has since grown into the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center (SPC), which issues watches for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes nationwide. "We are to tornadoes as the National Hurricane Center is to hurricanes," says Greg Carbin, a warning-coordination meteorologist at the SPC. "We're the national center of expertise related to severe-storm forecasting across the continental United States. But unlike the Hurricane Center, we really don't have a season." Using two geosynchronous satellites and a nationwide network of approximately 120 Doppler radar stations, forecasters watch for the conditions that spawn severe thunderstorms and tornadoes—typically a mixture of dry, cold air from the west with warm, moist air from the south. Carbin and his colleagues can often tell days in advance when weather conditions will be right for tornado formation. When a tornado seems likely, the agency hands responsibility over to local Weather Forecast Offices, which use radar to look for the telltale "hook echo" emitted by radio waves bouncing off a tornado's cyclonic winds. If forecasters detect it, they upgrade the tornado watch to a tornado warning.
The system usually works pretty well. Carbin says that several days before the other great tornado disaster of 2011—the epic three-day outbreak that began on April 25, in which at least 178 individual twisters swarmed the American Southeast, killing 321 people—forecasters could see that in a few days, the atmosphere would be primed for a massive tornado outbreak. "We knew this was a bad deal," Carbin says. Still, no matter how far in advance forecasters see tornado-ripe conditions forming, predicting the time and place an individual funnel cloud will form is profoundly more difficult.
The Joplin tornado, unlike the April outbreak, gave little warning. "Joplin was a typical May severe-weather day on the Southern Plains," Carbin says. "Why that particular storm formed in southeast Kansas and why it evolved the way it did—it's not something you'd be able to pick out and say: This is the storm of the day."
Until late in the afternoon on May 22, forecasters were saying that severe hail was the likeliest threat from the thunderstorm brewing over the Central Plains. Then at 5:17 p.m., after coordinating with Carbin's team in Norman, Oklahoma, the Storm Prediction Center in Springfield issued the tornado warning that TV and radio stations in Joplin broadcast to their viewers and listeners. The system gave the people of Joplin 24 minutes of warning—enough notice to qualify the Joplin storm as well warned.
Still, in June, when a team of National Weather Service meteorologists traveled to Joplin to interview survivors and extract lessons from the chaos, they found problems. To some extent, local warning agencies and the NWS crossed signals, which may have caused confusion among the public. But the biggest concern was what the investigators called siren fatigue.
Like many other towns, Joplin's policy is to sound a three-minute siren when a storm with winds stronger than 75 mph is approaching town, regardless of whether an NWS agency has issued a watch or warning. So at 5:11 on May 22, after local emergency managers were informed that a funnel cloud had been sighted over southeast Kansas, the city sounded a siren. But warning too early can be dangerous, particularly in a siren-jaded area. The NWS study describes one man's confused, lackadaisical response: "(1) Heard first sirens at 5:11 p.m. CDT (estimated 30–35 minutes before tornado hit). (2) Went to the TV and heard NWS warning from TV override that indicated tornado near airport drive seven miles north (polygon #30) of his location. (3) Went on porch with family and had a cigar."
Twenty-seven minutes later, the man heard another set of sirens. At this point, he "thought something wasn't right," so he went back inside and turned on the TV, where meteorologists were still warning that the threat was north of town. Then his wife yelled "Basement!" The report concludes this summary of events thusly: "Tornado hit as they reached the top of the basement stairs, destroying their home."
If I had been living in Joplin that day, I probably wouldn't have thought to go to the porch and smoke a cigar. But I almost certainly would have walked outside and looked at the sky. Only when the horizon turned green and the dogs began howling would I have hurried to the basement.
One way to fight warning fatigue could be using sirens with different pitches or rhythms to warn of different events. The idea that such an adjustment might be necessary seemed to annoy Bill Davis, head of the NWS forecast office in Springfield. "A warning is a warning," he vented to the Joplin Globe. "How many adjectives and adverbs do we have to use to make the point that there's a possibility you could die?"
Dennis S. Mileti, a University of Colorado sociologist who has studied public warnings, has explained that none of this should have surprised the NOAA researchers. "Most people rarely, if ever, experience nature's extremes in the form of natural and other disaster types," Mileti has written. "The result is that most people do not perceive risk. Instead, most think they are safe from nature and other violent forces."
The most natural way to determine whether global warming is altering tornado patterns is to look for changes in tornado statistics and then see whether climate models can explain those changes. But the lack of reliable historical tornado data makes this kind of study challenging at best. And tornadoes are poorly understood to begin with. Scientists still aren't entirely sure why one particular rotating thunderstorm transforms into a funnel cloud while another one doesn't.
Warming Trends: Climate scientists are increasingly able to draw lines that suggest a correlation between climate change and extreme weather events. Causation is more complex, but faster computers and better models are beginning to point to a connection—a task that's easier with temperature extremes than it is with tornadoes.
Click to expand infographic: Scientists call the process of spotting climate variability and attempting to isolate the contribution of man-made climate change "detection and attribution." Researchers have been doing detection-and-attribution studies on well-understood, well-documented phenomena such as temperature changes and rainfall patterns for more than a decade.
Nonetheless, even scientists who believe that climate change is likely to lead to more events like the Joplin tornado hesitate to draw conclusions about what is going on with the weather right now. In the days after the storm, the editors at the environmental website Yale Environment 360 asked several climate experts to answer the question: Is extreme weather linked to global warming? Andrew Watson, a professor of environmental sciences at the University of East Anglia in England, responded, "My answer to this question as posed is no. However, if you were to ask instead whether I expect that human-caused climate change will lead to more extreme weather events, the answer would be yes."
This type of reticence surely comes in part from healthy scientific skepticism—the hesitancy to overinterpret data and the impulse to accumulate decades' worth of statistics before drawing conclusions. But it also seems likely that climate scientists are triply cautious with their public statements because of they way they've been dragged into the culture wars. Recall that the university where Andrew Watson works was implicated, and then vindicated, in the phony scandal called Climategate, in which skeptics used out-of-context bits from stolen e-mails to make it sound as if researchers were engaged in some great conspiracy. Climate scientists have become the abortion doctors of the scientific establishment: maligned, ridiculed, harassed, and even physically threatened. Several climate scientists in Australia, which had been debating a tax on carbon emissions, received so many death threats that their universities moved their offices to "secure facilities."
Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the Climate Analysis Section of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, is more willing than most climate scientists to link current extreme weather with climate change. He explained to me that climate change is not directly causing events such as the Joplin tornado. It is, however, "loading the dice" by increasing the amount of energy in the atmosphere, making events that would occur naturally all the more powerful and violent.
The argument is based on simple thermodynamics: As the atmosphere warms, it holds more moisture. Since 1970, atmospheric water-vapor concentrations have increased by 4 percent. That additional moisture is fuel for storms. Day to day, Trenberth says, the effect of the increased water-vapor concentration is modest, but over time the accumulated changes result in a "magnifying effect" of 5 to 10 percent. "That's often enough to make this thunderstorm into a supercell storm, or to create new records," he says.
Trenberth has been working on this thesis since the late 1990s, and although scientists increasingly accept his argument, many are still hesitant to go as far as he does. As he told the climate writer Joseph Romm in 2010, soon after so-called thousand-year floods soaked Tennessee, the link between present-day extreme weather and well-established climatic trends "often gets underplayed by my fellow scientists."
Determining whether climate change caused, or even worsened, an individual tornado seems to be beyond the epistemological limits of science. But if it's impossible to prove causation, it's easy to see a disturbing correlation. Climate change is happening; climate change should make many types of extreme weather more intense; extreme-weather events are already becoming more common. "The warning signs are there," Trenberth says.
While I was on my way back to Missouri, a friend sent a Facebook invitation to the newly created "Joplin Expatriates" group. It was an open call to a local bar for Saturday night, six days after the storm: "A Date for Destruction: Let's Get Drunk!" I RSVP'd yes, with a note that said I expected to need a drink after seeing the destruction. "You will need five," someone posted in reply.
By the day of the gathering, the disaster zone was festering. The air carried the smell of rotting meat, fiberglass insulation, chainsaw exhaust, burning plastic and the kind of mold that requires you to tear all the drywall out of your house. Now and then, sawdust sprayed from fresh-cut tree limbs freshened the breeze. Cleanup-crew volunteers had spent the week helping people search their destroyed homes for heirlooms before the rubble was bulldozed into a heap.
Many of those volunteers, among them my oldest and greatest friends, were at the bar. Spirits were surprisingly high. After a cursory discussion of our impressions of the damage—"Can you believe this?" "No, not really"—conversation turned to reunion-style catching up. In a way, it felt like December 23, when native sons and daughters, back in town for Christmas, sneak out to meet friends in the still-unregulated cigarette smoke of Joplin dive bars.
Even so, that week local kitchens and dining rooms had a way of turning into impromptu PTSD support groups. One night at my dad's, a neighbor who had spent the evening of the tornado volunteering in an emergency room described an array of horrors: an elderly woman, fully conscious, whose scalp was peeled back, exposing her skull. Another victim whose jaw had been torn halfway off. Still-living victims who emergency workers decided to black-tag, leaving them to their death so they could devote their limited time and resources to helping people who had a chance of surviving.
Another night, after dinner, my mother's boyfriend told the story of the 12-year-old girl he met at the hospital where he was helping out. She had been in the AT&T store on Range Line when the tornado hit. During the storm, she was separated from her family. Strangers brought her to the hospital. My mother's boyfriend stayed with her through the evening and tried to help her find her family. No one had any idea where they were. At the end of his volunteer shift, the fate of the girl's family was still a mystery.
The U.S. Global Research Change Program, a federal project charged with determining how climate change will manifest itself in America, has predicted that in the coming decades the middle of the country will become hotter and drier, while the East will get wetter—and everywhere, the rain that does fall will fall more heavily. This very likely is already happening. Last year, the U.S. experienced its hottest summer in 75 years. In Joplin, as cleanup crews bulldozed homes and hauled away the debris, the temperature set new records almost daily, reaching an unnerving high of 110°F. The heat and drought were even worse to the south; Texas experienced the driest year in history. Yet for five states in the Northeast, 2011 was the wettest year on record. Earlier in the year, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia all recorded their wettest April in 116 years. The Mississippi River flooded three million acres in three states. In September, after Hurricane Irene soaked the East Coast, topsoil from flooded farms upstate turned New York Harbor the color of Yoo-hoo. The federal Disaster Relief Fund diverted money from the Joplin relief effort to help pay for that flooding.
wrote on his blog, "Any one of the extreme weather events of 2010"—a year whose litany of disasters reads much like last year's—"or 2011 could have occurred naturally sometime during the past 1,000 years. But it is highly improbable that the remarkable extreme weather events of 2010 and 2011 could have all happened in such a short period of time without some powerful climate-altering force at work."The meteorologist Jeff Masters
Despite all of this, a Pew poll conducted in 2010 found that just 59 percent of Americans think there is solid evidence that the planet is warming—and that's down from 79 percent in 2006. Only 27 percent of Americans surveyed in a different poll said climate change was their greatest environmental concern.
In 2009, 29 scientists published a paper in the journal Nature titled "A Safe Operating Space for Humanity." In it, they listed a series of data points that will determine whether the planet remains habitable. The highest "safe" concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 350 parts per million. The current level is 387 ppm, and it is increasing by 2 ppm annually. There's no reason to believe that trend will reverse or even slow down anytime soon. In 2010, as the weather became increasingly catastrophic, carbon-dioxide emissions increased by the largest percentage ever recorded.
In Joplin, a common explanation for abnormal weather is "It's all cyclical." These things have happened before, and they will happen again. But this explanation ignores an uncontestable fact: The world is different now than it was when the Tri-State tornado hit, or when the Great Plains became a dust bowl. We're the ones who changed it. 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.
This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Popular Science.
I found the article very well done. Reading through the comments I found the percentage of the people believing in global warming, and those denying it having any influence was about right on also.
I'm 70, and if there is one thing that I have learned in this life is that Man is like a bacterium in a petri dish. He will grow until he has consumed all his environment, denying to the bitter end that he was the cause his own fate.
Why that is I have never been sure, but greed, and "God will provide", seem to be two factors in the equation. As if Man's personal responsibility for Man's actions didn't exist. Only Man's wants seem to rule his reason for being.
There is evidence all about the world of the climatic changes that are taking place, much-much faster than Nature acts. The glaciers of 50 years ago are gone ! The Polar Ice Caps are going fast. The ocean temperatures are warming up and not circulating as fast as they were. This is simply because the heat sink difference between the Polar Ice Caps and the Topic's has changed dramatically in 40 years.
So it makes complete sense to me that changing "only" these two things would have a tremendous affect alone on the worlds weather systems.
Besides that, we're burning yesterdays stored sunlight over millions of years as oil and coal, simply to supply our energy needs today. And yet we still receive the same amount of sunlight each day as back then. But in return we add into that daily sunlight amount, 2/3rds of that energy stored of yesterday in oil and coal back into our atmosphere as waste heat, because that is the best our most efficient prime movers can produce.
No people......you've got your head in the sand if you don't see the writing on the wall. Go to Churchill, Canada and look at the lack of ice and soggy tundra. Go to Glacier National Park and look at the glacier(?). Go to the Alps, to South America, to Australia. Get out of your chair and LOOK. If for no other reason than the kids you brought into this world, who you expect to live in the results you/we left them. Then ask yourself if this is a future world that you would want to be born into.
the fact that popsci put Joplin back in people's minds again is enough justification for the article's publication, the fact that the denier camp has shamelessly exploited it's existance to spin their web of propaganda is despicable and dishonors those that have already suffered so much (while accusing popsci of exploitation, hypocrits), as JoplinAdam's post implies, maybe you should ask what the people of Joplin think before you run your ignorant mouths, shame on you
Great article PopSci!
Science is science, don't restrict yourself to "approved" topics.
So many craven dodges to avoid admitting what's happening.
They try to say there are not more tornadoes, simply more observed because the population is bigger. But the number of tornadoes in 1950 was aqbout 200, currently, it's 10 times that amount, but there are no more than 3 times as many people in the country! Also, the area where tornadoes normally occur was always much sparser, say, than the coasts, so it hasan'r necesarily even grown that much. Also, a tornado is a big thing. You can see it from far away, so you don't have to be near it to know it's occurring. Also, you can see the wreckage a tornado leaves so, even if you didn't see it, you can conclude it was there. And better observational techniques don't change the fact that tornadoes are occurring in places like Brooklyn where they provably never occurred before.
Neither can the increase is damage be ascribed to more people living in the tornado area. If the population hasn't grown by more than 200%, the number of homes will have grown by less. Also, where are the "scientists" if they know where tornadoes supposedly normally occur but didn't design homes better or make better recommendations for building? But, then, try to get two "experts" even to agree on what region constitutes "Tornado Alley". Also, Joplin, MIssouri has been around for more than a century and a quarter. If tornadoes are no different now than before, why is Joplin even here? Why wasn't it destoryed in the past?
And, since denial of unnaturally rapid and massive climate change is a lie, those who defend it will use the techniques of liars. They will not address the facts, they will resort either to not even answeting at all or, if they do answer, they will use unjustified dismissiveness, arrogance, contempt, viciousness, mockery, vulgarity.
bobblah, joplin, and d13. As an environmentalist and one who is skeptical of the IPCC's conclusions, I'd like ask you about my comments on C02. If you'd like to discuss oceanic pH, I'd be happy too. I'd also like to remind you that the IPCC is a "inter" "governmental" panel. NOT a scientific one.
Popsci has a political agenda. Just look at the "Top 10 Greenhouse Gases"..just hit global warming tag. Scroll to the C02 and you'll see large cooling towers spewing huge amounts of steam...but to the untrained eye, it could be interpreted as smoke...and C02.
This article leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Look at the title:
"Did Global Warming Destroy My Hometown? Last May, a massive tornado leveled Joplin, Missouri. Was it chance, or a warning of things to come?"
This gives the impression that the article is to debate the indirect cause of the tornado. However 4 of 5 pages of the article simply tell stories from the Joplin Tornado with no mention or relevance to the global warming issue. The stories are the best part of the article, however they do not directly relate to the topic. It is like they took two articles and mashed them together.
Q: Why were the unrelated stories in there?
A: An appeal to emotion. The author is using the victims of this tragedy to push their agenda. Regardless if you believe in man-made global warning, it is a shameful act, and it is NOT science.
If you have the data to back up your beliefs, why do need to resort to these tasteless tactics to convince people? I can tell you the effect it had on me: My BS detector was reading in the “probable” range. And when I read the phrase “uncontestable fact”, my BS detector was pegged.
enough is enough. one single data point does not determine a trend. weather changes in the last hundred years would not provide enough information to prove anything. go talk to a geologist and ask him about weather changes over millions of years. you are becoming a joke.
I read several stories on Global Warming, but have never seen any that uses 12/21/2012 as the date the earth goes back into Global Cooling. The earth's polar region will freese back up. Don't you think this might have something to do with the strange weather?
reulin01 demonstrates the patent deceitful nature so characteristic of the New World Order.
"One single data point does not determine a trend", reulin01 opines, which can be argued. But this is not one single point! It is the Northwest Passage being open for the first time in history; tornadoes occurring where they were never known before, like Brooklyn; the worst hurricane season on record; the arrival of unprecedented hundred mile per hour straight line wind storms, called "super derechos"; record breaking hundred degree heat waves from London to Siberia; the Nationql Weather Service actually having to recalculate windchill to reflect the fact that air holds more heat now than it used to; and the development of the first new cloud species in half a century, the unbdulatus aspiratus. Those who tout such "arguments" as reulin01 need their target audiences not to understand the world around them. That means reulin01 does not aim to convince all, only those who don't understand the world and are self-destructively gullible. And those are not the actions of a honorable individual.
And it is reulin01's insistence on trying to pass off the patently illegitimate characterization of Jpolin being the only incident under consideration which taints all of reulin01's assertions.
@ julianpenrod “So many craven dodges to avoid admitting what's happening. They try to say there are not more tornadoes, simply more observed because the population is bigger.”
Here is what the NOAA says: (I think we can agree that the NOAA is pretty credible source, right?)
“With increased national doppler radar coverage, increasing population, and greater attention to tornado reporting, there has been an increase in the number of tornado reports over the past several decades. This can create a misleading appearance of an increasing trend in tornado frequency.”
@ julianpenrod “But the number of tornadoes in 1950 was aqbout 200, currently, it's 10 times that amount”
Really? Care to share your source with us? Here is a nice graph again from the NOAA of the “total number of strong to violent tornadoes” for each year since 1950.
I don’t really see a clear trend here. If anything, I would say there is a slight trend to fewer tornados starting in 1974.
@ julianpenrod “Also, where are the "scientists" if they know where tornadoes supposedly normally occur but didn't design homes better or make better recommendations for building?”
Being hit by a tornado is not normal anywhere. Over a fifty year period, you have a 1% chance of that happening in the mid-west. Also, you cannot tornado proof your home or business unless you want to live underground. The smartest thing to do is to build safe rooms and storm shelters; and to get insurance.
@ julianpenrod “And, since denial of unnaturally rapid and massive climate change is a lie, those who defend it will use the techniques of liars. They will not address the facts, they will resort either to not even answeting at all or, if they do answer, they will use unjustified dismissiveness, arrogance, contempt, viciousness, mockery, vulgarity.”
Not only is your logic flawed, the assumptions they are based on are simply untrue. I have answered your arguments with facts and I have cited credible sources. If you wish to reply, please sight your sources, and I will consider your rebuttal.
To begin with, NOAA is as reliable as whatever "sources" said there were banned weapons systems in Iraq. They can say all they want about "advanced Doppler systems" and all, that's just for the gullible to repeat, thinking they really mean something. The fact is that, the population increasing by 200% does not cause a tenfold increase in reported tornadoes. They said there were mobile chemical warfare labs in IRaq simply because someone drew a picture of one! Anyone who believes government agencies don't work only to advance the New World Order agenda is just as malleable as the NWO needs them to be.
A graph of total tornado numbers since 1950 can be found at the address www.cnn.com/2011/US/05/24/chart.tornadoes/index.html. This rather reprises material provided by the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, although their material goes back to 1916. The chart provided by NOAA and endorsed by democedes demonstrates corporatist New World Order Madison Avenue chicanery. democedes is so confident that that they "don't really see a clear trend". But, which New World Order quislings count on, many if not most would overlook the fact that the chart is only for EF3 to EF5 tornadoes! The scale can go down to an F0 event! So, in order to hide how much tornado activity there really is, the quislings are presenting only half the total information! There were almost 1800 tornadoes in 2004, but NOAA cravenly, and it is cravenly, acknowledge only the 22 EF3 to EF5 events! They don't want people to know what's really going on!
It's like another malignant machination, the "torndao day". Some meteorologists are championing reporting activity only in "tornado days". So, if you have 1 or 1 million tornadoes in a day, it will count as only 1 "tornado day". As a result, no matter how many tornadoes there are in the year, they will never count more than 366 "tornado days"!
And the claim there is jno way to tornado proof a home is as reliable as the FDA allowing fen-phen to be sold.
And andwering criticism with carefully concocted NWO deceit is not really answering it. I stipulated addressing the facts, and talking about only part of the issue, as NOAA carefully does, is not addressing the facts.
If I see all the houses every day blowing away in my state, well I move. And if I knew 100% the reason why there are so my tornados or if I did not understand why at all, it would be the quantity that motivates me to move most of all.
Science sees no further than what it can sense.
Religion sees beyond the senses.
Right now and for most of the day here in So. CA the skies have been filled with Chemtrails. Why? To steer moisture away from coming inland like it would do naturally. Through the end of the last year, there were only two days of rain, when we should have had up to two weeks of rain. Same for January and the rest of the season. Learn the difference between a Contrail and a Chemtrail. From learning that you will be able to understand that storms like this could have been steered into Joplin. For what reason. To give the global warming conspiracy fanatics what they use to attempt to tell the rest of us that we are the cause of this kind of problem. Chemtrails are happening worldwide. If our own governments will not speak the truth about Chemtrails and why they are allowing for it to happen, then don't believe a word about global warming or that the curse of terrible weather is our fault.
Strictly speaking, when I talk of the weird weather, I speak now more of unnaturally rapid climate change and not global warming. But, chemtrails can be described as doing the equivalent of warming the air. The Nationall Weather Service did have to lower the effect of wind chill, in response the fact that the chemically tainted air does hold more heat. The air is more active, making it easier to manipulate it into storms and so on. Notice, the frequency of airplane crashes and, especially, machinations to avoid flying into certain particuklarly contaminated areas of atmosphere far, far surpass incidents in even the recent past. "Accident", "malfunctions" and "incidents" preventing take-off or forcing "diversions" are at unprecedented levels. One pilot actually returned to the gate, they claimed, because a young man on board had baggy jeans below his waist! This was a lie, the pilot knew there was dangerous air ahead and didn't want to fly into it! The air won't support aircraft, anymore, in wide stretches. And that's not suirprising. Rememberm, if air is onver 100 degrees, planes can't fly. The air may be cold, but the heat content seems much, much higher than it nromally would be.
And, indeed, side effects of the chemical contamination are widespread. The affected air is everywhere, even at ground level. Many have talked themselves into denying many strange things happening now, such as, for example, bread having unnaturally many particularly large holes in it. Air already containing more heat energy than usual, being heated more. And the chemicals in the air regularly wash down and mix with grounwater. Plants are showing an abnormal tendency toward spot die offs. In a tree, a few branches will suddenly all die, but the rest will stay green, or, in a row of similar plants, one or two will die, but the rest remain. The chemicals in the soil are poisonous, but only in concentration. Randomly, chemics can build up beneath some plants in a row, or be concentrated by some tap roots, and those areas die, but not the rest.
But there is another point to consider. Is 1997 when chemtrails began, or when the air reached saturation, and new chemicals precipitaated out? Another case of New World Order deceit. They can't deny the change in tornado numbers, so they provide charts back only to 1950. Almost every source of total tornado numbers only goes back to 1950. But the Oklahoma Meteorological Survey chart went back to 1916. From 1916 to 1950, the number of tornadoes remained remarkably constant at about 80 every year! At about 1950, the increase we see today began. The charts most sources provide don't go before 1950 so you can't see that, before then, tornado numbers were almost exactly constant. In 1950, jet travel began to become widespread. Also, rememerb the undulatus aspiratus was the first new cloud species to be idenified in a half century. The last addition to the cloud catalog was around 1950! It appears something was already being carried out then!
I feel that Co2. In the jet streams from from aircraft exhaust is the main cause. Over 80,000 tons is dumped in the jet stream per hour from over 7000 aircraft that fly the jet streams. Europe have carbon taxes on aircraft, and they should do the same in the U.S. before they destroy the Earth.
Wow! very intense discussions. It's all very predictable though. Yes the article is reaching for balance of the very real human tragedy and with the state of our knowledge of the atmosphere. The author is in a position to write this article. He grew up there! And he's a science writer. Yes he's tugging at our heart strings, and he wants good things to happen.
However the article left me flat. He says Home Depot can't build a better building. He says that building codes won't change. He says they'll build stick built McMansions. If these things come to pass then I lose some sympathy for the community. The government does give some guidance on how to prepare for this. The citizens of Joplin have heard from industry professionals about building alternatives.
Yes Home Depot can build a storm proof building, and yes the people can build storm proof houses! It's mostly a matter of choice. At this point the community needs to decide how it's going to proceed. Government grants are available for more resilient buildings for disaster relief. If you don't have a disaster no grants are available! Churches, schools and government centers may be quicker to use this approach. Homeowners can also apply for such grants. Some of these same buildings are very energy efficient with a much lower cost of ownership.
That's something I don't hear about enough. The combination of a home that is strong and energy efficient should appeal to this author, and belies his lack of knowledge. It became painfully obvious the author used his personal relationship to further his agenda.
Home building professionals always want to use technology that they are familiar with, as do housing inspectors, mortgage companies, and insurance companies. Nobody wants to be the "cook on the block with the weird looking house". So again, it comes to a personal choice with every homeowner considering building a new house in tornado alley, and the community as a whole needs to reevaluate what it's local norms may be.
I go on about this because I read very little in the article about the reality of what the community may do in the wake of disaster.
As for the politics of it all, I hope we don't destroy our economy so that some scientists can sleep at night. Any idea about any subject of discussion that degrades our ability to compete in a global economy is a bad idea, and should be judged severely.
Fashions come and go. I'll keep on reading PopSci,
@julianpenrod My apologies, I mistook you for someone who is sane.
@jon.paton "Yes Home Depot can build a storm proof building, and yes the people can build storm proof houses!"
There is a difference between storm proofing and tornado proofing. Most buildings are designed to withstand winds gusting up to 100 mph. This is storm proof. However, a Tornado like the one that hit Joplin was an EF5 with winds of more than 200 mph (some tornadoes can have winds up to 300 mph). And its not just the force of the wind, there is debris being carried by the wind that can punch through walls and break windows. And once the wind has a path inside your home, the strength of the entire structure greatly diminished.
While it is certainly possible to build a tornado proof house, it would cost many times more than a house built to code. And I don't think that concrete buildings are very energy efficient. However, building a safe room only costs around $2,000.00, and if you have good insurance, you can buy a new home if your home is destroyed.
I have lived in Kansas for 30 years of my life. All my family lives here. I have never had a friend or relative that has had any tornado damage...ever. I am not naive, it could happen. But I am not going squander what little money I do have to buy a fortress home to protect me from something that will most likely never come.
Well...your wrong. There are hundreds of homes and thousands of buildings just like what I'm talking about. They don't cost much more than stick built. PopSci doesn't talk about them. You'll just have to do some research. It sounds like you have the numbers right. You just seem to be a little close minded. Please do some research before you reply. Think out of the box. Look at some of FEMA's projects.
Good day all. I'm Robert a live long native of Joplin, borna nd raised. First the article was enjoyable to read. I disagree with the global warming had anything to do with the tornado on 22 May 2011. I can not see a storm of this magatuide could movea 9 story multi ton building 4 inches on its foundation. To move a building of that weight do one realize the force that it would take? Winds of 200mph would not be able to generate the force to move a building that weights over 100 tons. The amount of damage is because of the popluation amounts. Since 1990 the growth of the city and surrounding are has grown greatly. We must look at this strom froma science stand point and quiet throwing thoeries around. The main reason the death toll and injuries was so high is because the citizens was not taking the warnings seruiosly. I was just one block away from the path. When the frist warning was issued I wnet and started looking at the sky to see what was about to happen. I have taken many strom spoter classes over the years and I knew this was going to be one bad strom for the signs was there.
eaglejop....I hope that all is well in Joplin and that time has helped the healing. I'm glad you're OK.
Good journalism, & just an outstanding piece of writing.
If the people keep living in "Verbal Cocoons" ! If they can't see how the poles are melting away, if the can't see and feel the drought's in Texas ,tornado's in New England, what happen to Joplin, large floods in Vermont,extreme temperature's in the summer time. "When you make your bed, you have to lie in it". Yes, GLOBAL WARMING IS REAL! I am from Vermont.
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An excellent and extremely well-written article highlighting the human tragedy and challenges caused by extreme weather, and also the resilience of people’s spirits in the face of disaster. Well done.
As to the comments, it is extraordinary, to this scientist, to see so many examples of reflexive denialism overtake rational assessment of facts.
Fact: the world is warmer, and is still getting warmer. There is no doubt about that aspect. It is not “one side” of a scientific controversy. It is correct. Saying it isn’t so is wrong (and not really bright, either).
Fact: the author takes pains to point out that no single weather event could or should be tied to “global warming.” It’s in the article many times. So please stop beating that dead horse.
Fact: the more energy there is in the atmosphere, the greater the chance of extreme weather events. Again, not opinion, but physics. To say otherwise is simply wrong. You have the right to be wrong, but not to claim that it’s scientifically correct.
Fact: there have indeed always been serious weather events, which the author also stresses several times. But those who do not understand the difference between anecdotal evidence (“I remember the Worcester, MA, tornado of ‘53”) and systematic analysis of mountains of data should go to the trouble to truly understand what that means. (Under this category, please note that the author and the meteorologists quoted go to great lengths NOT to say that increased reporting of tornadoes does not necessarily mean more tornadoes. That horse, too, is dead, so please stop beating it.)
Fact: not surprisingly, industries that depend for their income on selling carbon-based fuels have been hard at work and spending very large amounts of money creating doubts about whether green-house gases can safely be ignored. This is reminiscent of the tobacco industry denying any connection between heart and lung disease and tobacco smoke. I would highly recommend that anyone actually interested in the planet seek out other sources of information. Please take a moment to think about that. The meteorologists who are trying to warn us are not stakeholders, and therefore should be considered more reliable on the whole out of the gate than those paid by a particular industry.
Fact: there is a large amount of scientific evidence that human activity may be significantly contributing to global warming. Whether one agrees with that evidence and its interpretation could be a decisive moment in your development as a scientific thinker.
It troubles me to see what amounts to anti-Al Gore boogeyman hysteria overcoming rationalism in the comments of a scientific magazine.
Finally, I would suggest that the possible outcomes of weaning ourselves off fossil fuels are attractive in any case. What would be wrong with a cleaner world using renewable instead of “one-and-done” energy sources? It makes sense with or without global warming thrown into the argument.
Again, a great article that highlights why we should all be thinking about these issues now and in the future.
sci101...fact the world is getting warmer. Correct. For the last 10,000 years or so, we have been warming up from the last Ice Age.
wsugamid uses typical New World Order misrepresentation. They describe the world as "warming up from the last Ice Age". In fact, that phrase is just as valid to describe a condition in which the world waemed then stayed at a constant level. The unspoken suggestion of that phrase is that the current condition is fully equivalent to one in which the world reached a new level of warmth and stayed there. No mention of whether there was a period after the Ice Age of steady temperature and the present being unnaturally high. No mention of whether the rate of temperature rise is anywhere near natural rates seen since the Ice Age. It is true that a large part of a liar's lies is withholding or misrepresenting the truth. New World Order shills regularly tout a similar line, that "the world warmed after the 'Little Ice Age'". That's true, it did warm, but only for a while, until it achieved stability. But, phrasing it that way suggests the warming is still taking place. Just as when they take the dodge that "the sun is causing the atmosphere to heat", while carefully avoiding admitting whether it is causing all the heating observed or only part!
And note democedes' antics. They provide a carefully edited graph showing only a certain class of tornadoes and uses that as their "proof" that tornado numbers aren't increasing. Then they challenge me to give evidence an increase is taking place. I provide a number of references to graphs showing the total number of tornadoes is increasing dramatically, and democedes says I'm not sane. Recognize this as the level of non-reliability to be expected in all democedes' claims.
Monolithic Domes...meet or exceed FEMA’s standards for providing near-absolute protection. Monolithic Domes are proven survivors of tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and fires.
Do SOMETHING to mitigate the possibility of having your home, family, life,,, blown away in another wind...
D3, nice rant. "ignore the C02"...well isnt that the whole point? and you are the POTUS? Yes, I was a research scientist and now a physician. But I do keep close track of environmental issues as it is a passion of mine. And you are also correct, politically positioned scientists will provide you with "political" data...skewed as it may seem.
You are passionate too about your position...yet provide no real arguement or correction of my C02 data. And super computers are great but the info you get out depends on the info you put in. Skewed data means skewed results.
And don't worry, I'm not hurt by the name calling. I'm also trained in boxing,grappling,and MMA(1st Dan BB Freestyle Karate). In the ring, I've been called a lot worse.
I feel so guilty about what happened in Joplin. We caused this! I caused this! How could I possibly reproduce in this world knowing that I am only adding to the problem! How can I go on breathing air knowing that each time I exhale I am doing irrevocable damage to the environment? How can I use electricity made from coal; knowing that the byproducts of it are killing the world? I’m unplugging my computer right no
@sci101 “Fact: the more energy there is in the atmosphere, the greater the chance of extreme weather events. Again, not opinion, but physics. To say otherwise is simply wrong. You have the right to be wrong, but not to claim that it’s scientifically correct.”
It is gross oversimplifications like this that make me skeptical in the first place. I think atmospheric science is a little more complicated than “more carbon = more energy”.
Personally, I am on the fence. Yes, CO2 levels are rising. Mankind’s activity is a likely cause. There will be some point where CO2 levels will cause big problems… However, the idea that we will be arriving there within the next 100 years is in doubt. The idea that there is a magic tipping point where negative effects become magnified is in doubt. Climatologists have yet to demonstrate a mastery of understanding of the Earth’s atmosphere. They know about (most) the basic processes that drive weather, however they cannot predict weather any better than the weather man can.
@sci101 “Fact: not surprisingly, industries that depend for their income on selling carbon-based fuels have been hard at work and spending very large amounts of money creating doubts about whether green-house gases can safely be ignored.”
What about the carbon market? Without the idea of manmade global warming, the entire industry will cease to exist. The carbon market has grown from 11 billion USD in 2005, to an estimated 150 billion USD in 2012. (Source: Wikipedia.) You don’t think this industry has any influence over the debate?
What about the climatologists themselves? Where does their paycheck come from? Global warming is their bread and butter. How many researchers would lose their jobs or take a pay cut if not for the global warming “crisis?” It is the chicken littles that get the big grants and the deniers that get black listed.
Fact: There are integrity issues on both sides of the debate. The petroleum industry isn’t the only group that has something to lose. Please take a moment to think about that.
@sci101 “The meteorologists who are trying to warn us are not stakeholders, and therefore should be considered more reliable on the whole out of the gate than those paid by a particular industry.”
Exactly, so why don’t you listen to them? The majority of meteorologists don’t buy into manmade global warming. ‘A study released on Monday by researchers at George Mason University and the University of Texas at Austin found that only about half of the 571 television weathercasters surveyed believed that global warming was occurring and fewer than a third believed that climate change was “caused mostly by human activities.” More than a quarter of the weathercasters in the survey agreed with the statement “Global warming is a scam,” the researchers found. ‘
Meteorologists get paid by how accurate they are. Climatologists make predictions but are never healed accountable for them. If it gets warmer, global warming is the cause. If it gets colder, it’s climate change. If weather is more severe, it’s climate change. If weather is less severe, it’s global warming. It seems that no matter what happens in the future, global warming is the cause.
Despite D13s claims, I have never seen a climate model predict anything that actually came to fruition. (please sight your source D13). So how does this global warming hypothesis actually get tested? That is one of the basic steps of the scientific method isn’t it? How about the climatologists actually have to come up with a climate model that predicts the FUTURE climate with some accuracy? Is that too much to ask? I’m not too impressed by a climate model that fits climate data from the past.
Article Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/30/science/earth/30warming.html?pagewanted=all
Study Source: http://www.climatechangecommunication.org/images/files/TV_Meteorologists_Survey_Findings_%28March_2010%29.pdf
@sci101 “Whether one agrees with that evidence and its interpretation could be a decisive moment in your development as a scientific thinker.”
So I can only be a scientific thinker if I agree with your interpretation of the evidence? I can't hang out with the cool kids?