Port Discover: The path of a tornado is one scary place to be

By Judi Stuart

The Daily Advance

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Dorothy was determined to get home after being displaced by a tornado, but there is nothing fictitious about the recent storms that have ravaged our area. The terror is very real, and unfortunately, it continues.

Psychologists say that humans are most frightened when they are not able to control their surroundings.

Tornadoes are events that strike at the heart of that fear. If we become victims, we must pick-up the pieces and carry on with a lot of help from our friends, family, and community.

We are fortunate that, comparatively speaking, the Albemarle has a low risk of seeing the most powerful storms. The United States has approximately 1,000 tornadoes touch down every year which is more than any other country. Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Nebraska are known as tornado alley because of the regularity of the storms which strike them each spring.

In 1992, Elizabeth City was struck by an F-3 storm which devastated the Edgewood area. The twister then picked up a school bus and threw it 75 yards into a field on Halstead Boulevard.

There were 44 injuries, but no deaths, in the surrounding area from that storm. As we always say, it could have been much worse. Elizabeth City has had three F-3 tornadoes in recorded history and many rated F-1 and F-2 storms.

It may seem that we are seeing more storms, and some people wonder if it is caused by global warming, climate change, or increasingly unstable atmospheric conditions. Heat and pressure drive our weather patterns, and we know that tornadoes come from thunderstorms in a wind shear environment.

These types of conditions occur east of the Rocky Mountains more than anywhere else in the world.

Storms are born when warm moist air at low levels meets with drier air aloft causing extreme instability in the atmosphere. A tornado is a rapidly spinning tube of air that goes from the ground to the cloud above it. As it moves, it picks up dirt and debris. Most tornadoes produce winds that are less than 100 miles per hour, but some can attain wind speeds of over 300 miles per hour.

The country of Bangladesh experienced the deadliest tornado ever recorded in 1989 when 1300 people died. In 1925, the Tri-State Tornado which traveled through Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana left destruction across 219 miles and killed 695 people and became the deadliest U.S. storm.

Scientists are studying the patterns of low temperatures like we saw last winter and their interaction with higher temperatures possibly caused by increased greenhouse gases. Any improvement in the ability to predict storms will result in better preparation and less loss of life and property.

Your best defense is to stay alert, have a personal plan of action, and become educated about how to protect yourself. For example, wearing some sort of helmet when you take cover is now recommended. Unlike Dorothy, we must deal with our reality without magic.

Judi Stuart is the Visitor Services Manager at Port Discover.