Why are you supposed to open the windows of your house during a tornado? Or better yet, why aren't you supposed to?

Each year, almost eight hundred tornadoes touch down in the USA and claim around 190 lives. One mid-western tornado claimed 689 lives in three hours' time on March 18, 1925.

Folks in the Midwest get more than their share of tornadoes. Most occur in a wide swath of land known as "Tornado Alley," which runs from Texas to Iowa.

People in the Midwest have been taught since childhood to open the windows and run to the basement during tornadoes. The rationale was that during a tornado a sudden drop in air pressure would cause the house to explode if it was shut up tight. Recently, however, meteorologists have realized that opening windows does not do too much to help equalize pressure, as most houses are fairly well ventilated anyway.

Houses do not really explode during a tornado as was thought. They are blown apart by its 100-mile-per-hour winds. Opening the windows actually can do more damage to your home than good. If a tornado just misses your house, the open windows can contribute to your home's destruction. The strong winds of a tornado blowing on a house can cause a pocket of low pressure on the opposite side, which tugs outward on the leeward wall. If the windows on the windward wall are open, it allows the winds to blow through the house and push on the leeward wall, helping to topple the house.

While the advice about opening your windows may have been wrong, the part about getting into the basement is still valid. The basement is the safest place to seek shelter from a tornado.

Tornadoes form when warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico becomes trapped beneath the cooler, heavier air from the Rockies. The warm air tries to rise, and the cool air tries to descend. Severe thunderstorms ensue. Occasionally, the warm air breaks through the cool air cap above and violently rushes upward, causing a tornado. Wind speeds can reach from two hundred to five hundred miles per hour, and can drive a piece of straw (weight to bend: .8 grams) through a tree trunk like a nail!

The average tornado leaves a path of destruction about one thousand feet wide and several miles long. Thankfully, they are short lived, dying out in about twenty minutes. Tornado paths vary in length from a few feet to nearly three hundred miles, but the average is about five miles. The diameter of tornadoes averages about six hundred and fifty feet, but can be anywhere from a few feet to over a mile. The average forward speed is about thirty miles per hour. Seventy-five percent of tornadoes occur from March to July. The month of May has the most, about four per day, but the most violent tornadoes usually strike in April. Tornadoes are most common between 4:00 and 6:00 PM, when the surface air is the most unstable. They are least likely to develop before dawn, when the air is most stable.

While the notion that an entire house can be picked up and carried to some far-off land, such as The Wizard of Oz, is pure fantasy, tornadoes have accomplished some pretty impressive and unusual feats. A railroad car carrying over one hundred people was once picked up and deposited some 80 feet away. Another tornado uprooted a schoolhouse and deposited it (along with the 85 students inside) 200 feet away. The house didn't survive, but all the children did. And while it has never (technically) rained cats and dogs, it has rained frogs and toads... after they had been sucked out of a pond by a tornado!

On May 3, 1999, something new came along...the most powerful tornado ever recorded was documented with winds up to 318 mph, and it tracked along the ground for over 80 miles, tearing up everything in its path, including several major metropolitan suburbs on the south side of Oklahoma City. In some places, it left a trench behind it 15 feet deep. It picked things up and threw them so high into the atmosphere that residue was found in Arkansas, Nebraska, and Iowa. It stripped grass right out of the ground and sandblasted the bark off trees.

This big bad wolf tore up a lot of houses, including mine, leveling them completely. My wife, my stepson, and I were in a closet on the first floor of the house, beneath the stairwell. When it was all over, we were sitting on TOP of a pile of wood fifteen feet high. The stairwell was twenty feet away, and the bulk of the house lay in a circle around us, radiating in all directions.

People ask me what it sounded like. It sounded like a thousand tanks rolling down our street.

People ask me what it looked like. It looked like blackness and blindness.

They ask me how long it lasted. Unfortunately, I forgot to take my stopwatch into the closet, but it seems like it was about 90 seconds. Maybe as long as three or four minutes.

They ask what it felt like. The ground shook beneath us, the noise was deafening, our windows exploded all around us, and the house folded like a pack of playing cards before being torn to toothpicks.

Miraculously, we experienced no injuries, other than cuts and bruises. Many of our neighbors weren't so fortunate.

Later, I wrote a story about it. It's called "The Wind on the Edge of My Eye," and you can read it at http://www.mshadow.com/E-llusionsArchives/ellusions23.htm, and you can see some pics at http://www.mshadow.com/FamilyAlbum/fa1.htm

It was a life changer, and had a lot to teach...

Two seated European Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA).
Designed by European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company N.V. and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH
It is used since 1981 in the German Luftwaffe (Air Force) and NATO countries like GB and Italy.

Power: 2 x 37.365 N
Max. Speed: Mach 1.3
There are two more variations, the ECR-Tornado and a recon-Tornado. The ECR (Electronic Combat and Reconnaissance) Tornado fights Command-Structures and SAM-Sites that use Radar with his High Speed Antiradiation Missiles (HARM).
All types have been used in Kosovo and in the KFOR. The recon-Tornado was used in SFOR.

Source: Official Homepage of the German Bundeswehr->Luftwaffe

My mother has always had only my best interest in mind. So when she told me to cut off my visit and get home due to approaching storms I followed her advice. "Storms are in Arkansas so you'd better get home before they get here". I guess anytime its in the 70's on January in Tennessee you can expect a little violent weather.

It was around sunset when I took off on the 30 minute drive from rural Madison county in West Tennessee heading towards Jackson. Along the way heavy storms caught up to me but I was young and immortal and didn't think about stopping...I turned up the radio to compensate for the rumble produced by the hail bouncing off the car. The storms were brief and were quickly over so I decided to take a slight detour by my mother-in-law's to see if my wife and son were there visiting. The detour took me through Bemis Tennessee which is an old cotton mill town with huge oaks hanging over the orthogonal streets.

The storms left a very calm and even pleasant evening as I swung around the last corner. Suddenly a mass of leaves blew across the road like a bucket of water spills across the floor...as though the leaves were a sheet being pulled over a bed. This event was not altogether unusual but oddly out of place somehow. Shields up.

As I drove past my MIL's I saw that my family was not there. As I turn my head away from the house and back to the road in front of me the leaves did it again. And again...more leaves each time. No longer an oddity, something bad was near. As the terror of what was about to happen gripped me, I decided to steer my Nissan Sentra off the road and against the side of a nearby steel building for protection.

Things were changing as fast as I could react...it was overwhelming in the same way that seeing the birth of my son was overwhelming. My brain and emotions were maxed out but the stimulus was still coming on strong.

At this point visibility rapidly decreased to zero. I could tell that stuff, lots and lots of stuff, was blowing all around the car. I no longer had control of the car...the wind did. I quickly lost all sense of direction.

My fate was clearly out of my own hands and I never felt so out of control. I screamed to God praying that I was still on the ground and not hundereds of feet above it. Mostly my mind was consumed with fear about leaving my son without a father. I had the whole father thing planned out and being dead was definitely not part of it.

Breifly I saw an object coming towards me from the right. I flenched at the impact. When I opened my eyes everything was calm again. Was it over? I heard a voice shouting, asking if I was OK. Was I? I looked around and noticed no pain or blood but the car had landed on its side with the passenger side against the ground. The seat belt was holding me securely in my seat despite the odd orientation. I pushed on my own door but it wouldn't budge. I swung my feet down below me and unfastened the seatbelt to land standing on the passenger door. I reclined my seat and climbed out the rear door and jumped down onto the ground.

Everything was dark and calm with a light rain falling. I still didn't know if it was over of if this was just round 1. The person inquiring about my condition was standing nearby and we ran across the street into the nearest aparment. Suddenly I was among a friendly and amazed bunch people that were preparing for a cookout when the storm brew up. Many of them saw the whole event and were amazed I had crawled out of the car. They offered drinks and an ear for which I was greatful. When everything had been calm a few minutes I walked down the street to my MIL's.

The next morning we learned that 8 people were killed by several tornados. Entire subdivisions were flattened. From the looks of the car, I had been rolled all the way over at least once. The passenger's side roof was smashed in, all of the body panels were beaten up, and all of the glass was broken. I was fine...not even sore. A few hundred feet from where I had landed a cell tower (built to withstand 250mph winds) laid twisted on the ground.

After this event I have a very unhealthy fear of driving in bad weather. Panic grips me whenever I see leaves blow across a street. My own mortality is now very real to me. I feel like a bit like Plato's Cave Man now. What happened changed me. I know whats important in life and, perhaps more importantly, I know what things are trivial.

These events are true and occured on 18 January 1999.

Tor*na"do (?), n.; pl. Tornadoes (#). [From Sp. or Pg. tornar to turn, return, L. tornare to turn, hence, a whirling wind. The Sp. & Pg. tornada is a return. See Turn.]

A violent whirling wind; specifically Meteorol., a tempest distinguished by a rapid whirling and slow progressive motion, usually accompaned with severe thunder, lightning, and torrents of rain, and commonly of short duration and small breadth; a small cyclone<-- twister -->.


© Webster 1913.

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