by George Giles: Heat
and Austrian Economics
through the south this past week killing more than 340 people. This
toll may continue to rise as the devastated landscape is searched
by rescue squads. As of May 2 some 458 people are still unaccounted
for, let us pray that they are all students that have gone home
without notifying anyone. Some of the these Tornadoes (atmospheric
vortices) will be rated at F4, one in particular, the one that went
through Tuscaloosa and Birmingham Alabama, may ultimately be rated
at the level of F5 on the Fujita
scale, a real life monster.
unique features of the North American continent, they rarely form
elsewhere. Tornadoes form when the cold air mass out of Canada meets
with the warm most air from the Gulf of Mexico. ‘Tornado Alley’
as it is called runs along a diagonal line between central Texas
and the Great Lakes. The tornado season happens in the spring and
fall as seasons change and hot moist air from the south collides
with the cold dry air sweeping down from Canada. The sun heats the
water of the gulf warming it up and raising the humidity level which
then flows northward into the southern states. This provides half
of the necessary features that create the ’supercell’
thunderstorms which are the forebears and incubators of tornado
production. Cold northern air dives down from Canada across the
Great Plains and rushes above the warmer air from the gulf. Hot
air rises and cold air sinks as these great masses of thermal energy
collide. It is the rising of the warm air into the colder air above
that generates the wind vortices that make up tornadoes.
In recent years
thanks to the private sector miracle of Doppler
radar these weather systems can now be understood in significant
detail. Giant cumulonimbus
clouds form along the interface or front between these colliding
air masses which are at different pressures and temperatures. These
clouds can produce a wall cloud which is the tornado nursery. The
collision produces massive air vortices that are horizontal to the
ground and invisible to the naked eye, but not to the penetration
of the Doppler radar. Inside the cloud updrafts occur which brings
moist air into contact with colder dryer air and hailstones form
nucleating around dust particles that are suspended in the atmosphere.
These begin to fall under the influence of gravity. This creates
a downdraft alongside the updraft. This mass then rotates downward
towards the ground and the vortex becomes vertical and can be seen
descending from the wall cloud; the tornado forms and its short
malevolent life begins. The most visible tornadoes are the large
ones that accumulate dust and debris from the ground. Occasionally
the horizontal vortex becoming vertical can be seen during this
transition. The monster
that formed near Tuscaloosa Alabama was videotaped making this transition
thanks to some brave, daring and close videographers.
only live a few minutes because they are unstable and rapidly dissipate.
However, sometimes the conditions are so ripe for formation that
as the squall
line, along which the super-cells are formed, move these monstrous
storms can then sweep across long distances and even strengthen.
These are relatively rare events, a thousand or more tornadoes form
every year, yet only a few are long-lived, but this is exactly what
happened on Wednesday in southern Mississippi and Alabama. Only
a couple of F4’s form in a year and F5 often go years without formation.
The figure below shows the percentage of tornado type by the Fujita
scale for the period between 1950 and 1994:
of fatalities by the Fujita class of tornado can be seen below for
the period between 1950-1994:
The data shown
above shows that most deaths occur in the relatively rare F4 and
F5 vortices. Another benefit of the agrarian nature of the Great
Plains and the Midwest is that most tornadoes do not hit large cities
at all, but wreak their havoc in fields with few human occupants!
as this week’s storms were the casualties could have been much worse.
The National Weather Service (NWS) began deploying NEXRAD
radar stations around the country in the early 1990’s. These radar
systems use the Doppler
effect to determine relative velocity with respect to the radar
antenna. This correlates very closely with rotation of the air mass.
These radar systems overlap in scans thus providing complete coverage
of the continental United States. Each circle continues beyond the
circular boundary but sensitivity and accuracy decrease with distance
which account for the small pockets of white that do not show overlap.
radar station locations can be seen in the image below:
was born in Wisconsin and lived most of his life in Michigan which
seldom sees violent thunderstorms and tornadoes. I moved to south
to Huntsville Alabama in January 1989. The beauty of the south is
that even in winter it is a rare week that does not have a few warm
days. In November of 1989 a warm front pushed up out of the Gulf
of Mexico and collided with cold Canadian air above Mississippi
and Alabama. The storm warnings went off at work so I left about
3 PM to go pick up my children at pre-school and bring them home.
We had a nice small porch facing north on our home and we sat blissfully
unaware watching the rain and enjoying an after-school snack. After
dinner we started getting phone calls from concerned relatives,
were OK, how did we survive the storm? "What storm we asked?"
"The one that killed all of those people in Huntsville",
came the answer. We turned on the TV to find that a monster F4 storm
had gone just south of our house by a mile or so, and had run for
more than 100 miles before dissipating. Twenty people were killed
when it went through one of the busiest intersections in Huntsville
at rush hour.
A couple of
years later a local TV weatherman named Bob
Barron put together a computer graphics system using Geographical
Information System (GIS) data and real-time Doppler radar imagery
provided by the National Weather Service. Using this ‘storm tracker’
it was possible to identify the signature of a wind vortex from
the Doppler radar. One side of the vortex is moving towards the
radar and the other side is moving away. This is the signature of
tornadic conditions beginning and/or a tornado in progress. Over
time weather forecasters realized that something called a bow or
hook echo in
a squall line is also characteristic of the tornadic conditions
of an actual tornado. The F5 monster below is a classic hook echo,
it occurred in 1999 in Oklahoma and resulted in many fatalities.
last decade of the millennium Huntsville Alabama was the largest
city in the country with the dubious distinction of having the most
tornadoes within 25 miles. One of Huntsville’s TV stations went
so far as to purchase their own weather Doppler radar so that they
would not be dependent upon external data feeds in times of dire
need. A classic market solution if ever there was one!
television station in the south now has a storm tracking system
of some kind available to their weather man and thus their viewing
audience. Many stations provide continuous coverage of the weather
using storm tracking when the National Weather Service has issued
a tornado warning. A tornado watch is when conditions are favorable
to the formation of super-cell thunderstorms. A tornado warning
is issued when Doppler radar shows that wind vortices and or hook
echoes are forming. A tornado does not have to be seen in order
for warnings to be posted. The NWS only need observe the proper
This past week’s
death toll from the super-cells tornadoes is testimony as to how
serious this issue is in some parts of the country. When conditions
are right diligent attention needs to be paid to the weather as
many lives, including one’s own depend upon it. The
Weather Channel provides spectacular coverage of these and other
crucial weather events with experts continuously monitoring the
conditions in order to provide this essential information to their
viewers. The Weather Channel goes so far as to send meteorologists
into harm’s way when forecasts predict that these tornadic atmospheric
conditions are expected. Southerner’s, like myself, knew that Wednesday
was going to be a really bad weather day; the warm moist air had
been rushing northward from the gulf for several days before the
well-defined cold front began approaching from the plains.
Channel’s Jeff Morrow was live on the scene in Birmingham to cover
Wednesday’s events. Forecasters knew Birmingham was going to be
in the middle of these super-cell storm conditions far enough in
advance to send him and his television crew there from Atlanta.
Large tornadoes often throw debris in advance of the onrushing funnel
cloud. In this case the debris was being thrown 10 miles or more,
a grim indication of a massive tornado event. Morrow set up on a
tall ridge south of Birmingham looking north when the F4 monster
appeared on the left side of the screen. You can watch this
incredible video on YouTube.
After the Weather
Channel was displaying the information live the government issued
a "Tornado Emergency" meaning a trained a spotter had
seen the funnel cloud and that people must take cover immediately.
technologies saved thousands of lives on Wednesday. While it was
a terrible tragedy that so many lost their lives, the death toll
could have been very much higher. The combination of Geographical
Information Systems and NEXRAD weather data provided the viewing
audience with warnings sufficient to take cover.
storm tracker uses wind velocity and trained meteorologists to produce
warning down to the street level on a minute by minute basis. While
science cannot predict exactly when and where tornadoes will form
these empirical systems in the hands of trained operators can always
give a few minutes warning before one arrives. So here in the 21st
century it is possible to never be surprised by the appearance of
a killer tornado. These systems are so accurate that a tornado will
only sneak up on the unwary. TV stations all over the south were
telling viewers that Wednesday would be bad.
I have lived
in Nashville since 1999 and our local weather forecasters were saying
on Monday that bad storm conditions were setting in for Tuesday
and Wednesday evenings. Weather radios that sound a shrill alarm
that can be configured county by county and state by state which
will awaken the sleeping who can then tune in the cable TV and find
out what should be done.
In a scene
of no small irony the Emergency Broadcast System took over the Weather
Channel cable TV feed for a few minutes on Wednesday around 5 PM.
It is a plain grey background with white letters saying a Tornado
warning exists, and then it lists the counties covered. Keep in
mind this provides small to zero localized information. Some counties
in this country are 300 miles long so knowing which county the storm
is in or approaching from is not nearly accurate enough in comparison.
The cable TV channels are required by law to let this occur! The
irony is that the storm tracking systems which are giving minute
by minute predictions on a town by town, street by street basis
have to surrender to a system that is 1950’s era relic of black
and white television that provides little to no useful information.
Just what one comes to expect from our sclerotic, bureaucratic,
and centralized Federal leviathan having no accountability. This
idiocy preempts and interrupts the system that is actively and actually
saving lives. Classic governmental legerdemain if ever there was
one! All of these technologies GIS, NEXRAD, Doppler, cable TV, and
weather radios are the product of the free market economy, and as
seen in Huntsville local television stations will purchase these
expensive radar systems and operate them uninterrupted by commercials
during storm conditions. They do this so they do not have to rely
on the government and be at the mercy of unaccountable bureaucrats.
let us all say a prayer for the departed, the victims of Wednesday’s
tragedy that lost everything to a malevolent wind. Let us loudly
praise the men and women working in the free market developed the
technology that saved thousands of lives on Wednesday, and will
continue to save lives into the future by using all the tools conjured
up by the minds of free men now available to predict and monitor
these horrific events. In my 21 years in the south I have had 4
different tornadoes within a mile of my home, so needless to say
I stay tuned in!
P.S. Rep. Ron
Paul and Sen. Rand Paul please introduce a bill into Congress so
we can get laws changed so that the useless Emergency Warning System
can stop interfering with a warning system that has been proven
to work time and time again over the last two decades, and never
so vividly and wonderful as it did this past Wednesday.
Giles is an independent writer in Nashville TN. He studied atmospheric
physics under the Alabama State Climatologist.
Giles [send him mail]
is the founder of the Gonzo School of Economics, the radical branch
of Austrian Economic Theory. He was the youngest Republican ever
elected in 1972 at age 17. You could be elected at age 17 if the
office was not assumed until after age 18. It only took 3 months
of local GOP meetings to become a virulent Libertarian ever after.
2011 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in part
is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.
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