Lovely Monsters

The Wizard of Oz, Margaret Hamilton & Judy Garland, MGM (1939)
The Wizard of Oz, Margaret Hamilton & Judy Garland, MGM (1939)

Today on Museum Bites we’re talking tornadoes with a tour through photographer and storm chaser, Camille Seaman’s The Big Cloud exhibit at the Michigan State University Museum.  Thanks to years of watching Dorothy (and her little dog too!), tornadoes have been my go-to nightmare.  Seaman’s haunting photographs capture the dark, tornado-rich clouds hovering open-mouthed over vulnerable farmland.  Captivated by the fierce beauty of these supercell storms, my fight or flight response was pinging.

Here there be monsters:  Seaman describes supercells storms, as lovely monsters.  These nasty beasts can stretch 50 miles across, reach 65,000 feet into the atmosphere, and produce grapefruit-sized hail.  And if the booming thunder and driving winds weren’t enough, this swirling brew can also whip up a tornado.

Tornado, Photo by Skeeze, Pixabay-2
Tornado, Photo by Skeeze, Pixabay

High Plains Drifter:  Tornadoes have ravaged every continent (except Antarctica), and every state in the United States.  The US is home to 3/4ths of the world’s tornadoes, and the southern Plains States are so frequently plagued by twisters the region has earned the nickname, Tornado Alley.  Warm moist air from the Gulf of Mexico pushes north and collides over the Plains States with cool air from Canada, and dry air from the Rocky Mountains.  This volatile mixture contains the necessary ingredients to create Seaman’s lovely monsters.  The United States averages over 1,000 tornadoes per year, and peak season occurs between May and July.  Most tornadoes form between 4 pm and 9 pm.  But keep in mind, if weather conditions are right, tornadoes can touch down at any time and any place.  Click on this Tornado Fact vs Fiction clip created by the Weather Channel to dispel many of our tornado myths. Did you know a highway underpass is an extremely dangerous place to ride out tornado? Seriously, take a few minutes and watch this highly informative clip.

Enhanced Fujita Scale, Source FEMA
Enhanced Fujita Scale, Source FEMA

Drastic times call for drastic measures:  Meteorologists rate the severity of tornadoes using the Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale.  Based on wind speed and storm damage, the original Fujita scale was developed by meteorologist and storm researcher, Tetsuya Theodore Fujita.  In 2007, it was fine-tuned and upgraded to the Enhanced Fujita scale.  According to the National Weather Service, the most devastating EF4 and EF5 tornadoes account for 2% of all tornadoes.  Despite this fact, all tornadoes pose a risk and it is crucial that we all take appropriate action when tornadoes are on the horizon.

Tornado Watch vs Warning: Know the Difference!

tornado_watch   tornado_warning

Worst of the Worst Facts:  Despite Tornado Alley’s reputation, the world’s worst tornado did not occur in the United States.  In 1989, a devastating tornado ripped through the Manikganj district of Bangladesh.  Approximately, 1,300 people were killed, 12,000 more were injured and 80,000 were left homeless.

Tri-State Tornado damage Murphysboro, IL (1925)In 1925, the deadliest tornado in US history tore a path across southern Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana at speeds of 73 mph.  Lasting a nail-biting 3.5 hours, this mile-wide monster had wind gusts up to 300 mph.  Dubbed the Great Tri-State Tornado, this horrific storm killed 695 people, injured 2,000 more, and left thousands homeless.

Dolley Madison, by Gilbert Stuart (1804)
Dolley Madison, by Gilbert Stuart (1804)

The British Are Coming! The British Are Running!  In a strange twist of fate, a tornado touched down on August 25, 1814, interrupting the British siege on Washington, D.C.  Two days prior, first lady, Dolley Madison made her famous escape with George Washington’s portrait in hand.  The redcoats subsequently torched the White House and ransacked the capital until the tornado chased them out of town.

This wraps up our look at tornadoes. Click on Camille Seaman’s website to enjoy a slideshow of her stunning photographs and click on Seaman’s TEDTalk to learn the story behind her storm chasing.  Also, if you’d like to geek out on all things tornado, click on this link from the Storm Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Center.  Next week we’ll explore the world of magic, until then, have a great week!

Sources:
Accuweather

Britannica

Camille Seaman.com

Department of Atmospheric Sciences-University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

National Geographic

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Smithsonian Magazine

Storm Prediction Center

TED.com

Weather.com

Weather.gov

World Meteorological Organization’s World Weather & Climate Extremes Archive

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