Stalking the Wild Tornado
by Patricia Draznin

Today we extend a warm, wet Iowa welcome to our 2007 Tornado Season, those special months from April to October that lure you outdoors and then detonate your picnic table. Which is why the National Weather Service proudly sponsors Severe Weather Awareness Week, featuring a Severe Storm Siren and the live country music of F-5 & The Hailstones.

Growing up in New England, I thought tornadoes only happened to Dorothy and Auntie Em. But no. Since moving to the Midwest, I live adjacent to Dorothy’s turf where funnel clouds toss around large objects like the state of Oklahoma. And where, when the warning comes, the safest place to hide is in the southwest corner of a basement in Phoenix.

As every meteorologist knows, the tornado was invented by Herman Fenster. His Trash-Be-Gone was a powerful spinning gizmo that inhaled outdoor debris. But one day the device spun out of control and Fenster was swallowed by his own invention. Though he was never seen again, the twister took on a life of its own, making regular unscheduled appearances worldwide. And some say whenever a twister touches down you can still hear Fenster calling, “There’s no place like home.”

Today, tornadoes are so common that meteorologists are always on high alert for thunderstorms, and whenever the Wicked Witch bicycles across the sky. Because time, tide and tornado wait for no man to find his way to a windowless closet. And you don’t want to be caught off-guard by one of these bad boys that measures up to a mile wide—not that size matters. No. On behalf of all tiny tornadoes, we report that size is no indication of wind speed, destruction, or performance satisfaction. Nor is color, which depends on the surrounding light as well as what it ate last. A green twister probably just circled the golf course while a red twister reeking of garlic probably just toured the Pizza Hut.

Unlike tropical storms that rage for days and get christened Albert, Beatrice or Clementine, tornadoes expire in as little as 30 minutes and often go unrecognized. Out of 2000 U.S. tornadoes per year, only 1000 do enough damage to get recorded, only a handful make the cover of Tornado Video Classics director’s cut, and even fewer get chased by Helen Hunt. Why? Because storm power, like a past-president, is measured by how much damage it leaves behind. According to the F scale, F-0 would be the wimpiest, most pathetic little twister that misses the trailer park entirely, F-2 meaning your house will be a lot draftier now, and F-5 meaning Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead. The F scale is now being enhanced to the EF scale to give some of the other letters a chance.

If this sounds too complicated, just remember that to fathom the power of nature you don’t have to wait for a twister to strike. No. You can build a model tornado right in your own living room. All you need is a pan of water, a hot plate, a wire whisk, and a fresh 200 mph wind. And a little more luck than Mr. Fenster had, may he fly in peace.

Copyright 2007 Patricia Draznin


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