Just days after the deadly tornado outbreak that killed almost 30 people in Northeast Arkansas, the Missouri Bootheel and Western Tennessee, the same region is bracing for another bout of severe weather. The area will be under a moderate risk for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes on Friday, as another major weather system tracks east. This is shaping up as the most active tornado season since 1999. That year saw a number of deadly tornadoes, notably a massive F5 that roared through central Oklahoma, killing at least 36 people, many of them in the town of Moore.
The National Weather Service in Memphis has completed its preliminary assessment of Sunday's tornadoes in the Mid-South. The tornado that devastated Carutersville, Missouri and Newbern, Tennessee actually began in Northeast Arkansas (near Pocohontas), and remained on the ground for about one hour and 45 minutes, covering a distance of 110-120 miles. In terms of duration and track length, that's comparable to some of the killer storms from the 1974 "Super Outbreak" in the south and Ohio Valley-- but it pales in comparison to the Great Tri-State Tornado of 1925, which covered a 219-mile track across Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, killing 695 people.
While the Tri-State storm of 1925 and many of the long track tornados from 1974 were rated as F5s on the Fujita scale, last Sunday's deadly tornado was rated a strong F3, with top winds of 200 mph. Of course, that's no consolation for residents who lost property or loved ones in the storm. This animation from NWS Memphis doppler radar clearly shows the storm's progression across the tri-state area; look for the distinctive "hook" in the southwestern tail of the storm. Ironically--and tragically--the tornado claimed most of its victims near the end of its track, as it churned across Western Tennessee.
We need to face the fact that the population has doubled in size since the end of WWII and that millions of people are living and working where a thousand families used to live. Any natural disaster, the kinds nobody really heard about before, now leaves thousands homeless, without work, and with local government in a shambles. I have long felt that we need a national insurance type of policy whereby the government will underwrite all losses covered by insurance and demand that everyone have private insurance. It is the high cost of these policies that may well cripple the housing market. More and more I'm hearing about people who cannot afford insurance. Katrina would have been bad in any era because a metro area was involved, but the many thousands affected by tornadoes, floods, and cold waves too much to bear.
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