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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Oklahoma City - Tornado Hot Spot?

The term "Tornado Alley" was originally coined by the media and is given to any area where conditions are likely to produce tornadoes.

This can apply to the layout of the land as well as air currents and jet stream paths along with levels of humidity and temperature in that region.

The heart of the area that fits this description the most includes the states of Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, Texas, Missouri, Mississippi and Nebraska.

The jet stream that brings cold air from Canada dips south towards these states and meets with warm air currents from the Gulf of Mexico. These meet with low pressure systems that move from west to east pulling with them strong thunderstorms and tornadoes. This area of land between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Range generally is flat and wide open, giving storms the ability to build strength and become large and destructive.

Texas actually has the most recorded tornadoes in US history with a little over 8,000 according to the National Climatic Data Center as of 2009 (Oklahoma has recorded almost 3500). However, the NOAA states that the strongest tornado ever recorded on Earth with reported 318 mile per hour winds and an estimated $1 billion in damage was on May 3, 1999 in several counties in and around Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. This fact was enough to draw major attention to Oklahoma City.

This particular tornado cut a path of destruction through some of the very same neighborhoods as the tornado that struck this past Monday afternoon, May 20, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. This recent tornado demolished the Plaza Towers Elementery School in Moore killing nine children and injuring a couple of hundred more. Another school was hit and a nearby hospital along with hundreds of homes and businesses. The total death toll for this tornado was 24. But, neither of these two Oklahoma City huge tornadoes were by any means the deadliest in history.

The deadliest tornado in US history hit parts of Indiana, Missouri and Illinois in March of 1925 killing 695 people.  In the top ten list of deadliest tornadoes in US history sits Joplin, Missouri at number seven with 162 deaths. This storm hit on May 22, 2011 and cut a path 3/4 mile wide by 22 miles long. However, the record deaths by a tornado (approximately 1300 and over 12,000 injuries) did not happen in America's Tornado Alley, but in Eastern India in the small country of Bangladesh in 1989.

In fact, if you happen to fear tornadoes and you live in Bangladesh, you might consider moving, because out of the 42 recorded deadliest tornadoes in world history (100 deaths or more), Bangladesh is in this list 24 times.  But in this list of the deadliest tornadoes in the world, you will only find the state of Oklahoma listed once and it's not for Oklahoma City, it's for Woodward, Oklahoma in 1947 with 100 deaths.

Oklahoma City has received a lot of media attention lately for tornado damage because there has been at least three devastating tornadoes in this city within the past 15 years (1999, 2011 and 2013). These storms made front page news due to their destruction. But these tornadoes had only a few fatalaties by comparison.

Twenty-four deaths is 24 more than is acceptable, but few in comparison to the 1300 deaths in Bangladesh in 1989 and the 695 in the tri-state tornado in 2011. Some tornadoes are highly destructive in property and others destructive with regard to lives. Most would agree that the loss of human life is far more devastating than any material loss.

With regard to material loss, however, some may consider that the damage done in property loss for the Oklahoma tornado far outweighs the property damage done in the Bangladesh tornadoes, because it's a poorer country and many of the homes and businesses are made from tin and mud. Much of the destruction there is also related to crops which in turn affects the economy, but is still less costly to replace than buildings and structures.

But since Oklahoma seems to be more prepared for tornadoes with stricter building codes and many people installing storm shelters, the death toll from these storms seems to, thankfully, stay at bay. So, when you consider the historical evidence, even though Oklahoma City seems to be a hot spot for big tornado news, it's not especially a hot spot for tornadoes.

Updated May 31, 2013: Maybe I spoke too soon? Another F5 Tornado hit Oklahoma City during rush hour traffic this evening slamming across Interstate 40, killing 5 people (later reports claim 9 deaths) and injuring dozens more. Several people are still reported to be missing.

This storm also dropped a few feet of rain, causing major flooding in and around Oklahoma City this Friday night. In addition, this tornado repeats its hit in parts of Moore, Oklahoma just eleven days after wiping that town out from a previous tornado.

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