Surprising Data on Tornado Deaths in U.S. Since 1925.

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In the weather section of the Washington Post, on June 15, 2011, there was an interesting write up of the deadly tornadoes in 2011 and how problems remain, even with the advent of radar and better warning systems since 1925.  See the article : Shocking: Tornado death rates in 2011 return to pre-1925 levels.

I just located the original NOAA briefing materials, titled Spring 2011: A season of U.S. Climate and Weather Extremes  (June 15, 2011; 14 pages). I highly recommend reading the full report.

Tornado facts and history

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Some interesting historical information about tornadoes in the U.S.  I never knew that they occur only in the U.S.  See: Despite Advances, Tornado Forecasts Show Limits. NY Times, May 31.

One factor is that, for unknown reasons, 2011 has had many more tornadoes than other recent years. Another is what the historian Thomas Grazulis describes with a single word: coincidence.

Meteorologists in those days knew the basic science about tornadoes — that they are caused by masses of warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico rising through cold, dry air moving south from Canada. The high-altitude jet stream carries strong winds that torque the warm air, making it rotate.

These two conditions — warm air in the south and fast-moving cold winds swooping down the alley between two mountain ranges (the Rockies and the Appalachians) — exist nowhere else in the world, said Jeff Masters, director of meteorology for Weather Underground, a service based in San Francisco.

For deep details, see Tom Grazulis’s own website, the Tornado Project.

HazMat Concerns Post-Tornado in Joplin

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Althought is it not often thought about in the aftermath of a disaster, the debris often contains hazardous materials.  This article describes what is likely to be found: Environmental hazards remain after Joplin tornado; Associated Press, May 31.

As residents confront a gigantic cleanup following the tornado that savaged Joplin, experts say environmental dangers could lurk amid the mountains of debris in the southwestern Missouri city and even in the water and air.

Damage from tornadoes, like floods and hurricanes, often goes beyond what is readily visible. Liquid fuels and chemicals can leak from ruptured containers and contaminate groundwater. Ruined buildings may contain asbestos. Fires can generate smoke containing soot, dioxins and other pollutants. Household, industrial and medical wastes are strewn about