Subject: TOURBUS -- 16 APRIL 1998 -- TORNADO!

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                    TODAY'S TOURBUS STOP:  Tornado!

Man, what a night.  As you are about to learn, the United States
averages about 1,000 tornadoes every year.  I am beginning to get the
feeling that all 1,000 of this year's tornadoes touched down within
the last couple of hours.

Before we talk about that, though, let's pay some bills.  Make sure
you stop by both of today's TOURBUS sponsors to thank them for keeping
our little bus of Internet happiness running for another week.

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And now, on with the show ...

Approximately 1,000 tornadoes hit the United States every year.  In
fact, within the last few hours at least twenty tornadoes touched
down in the American South [and no, this is _NOT_ normal].  CNN
reports that

     At least two tornadoes ripped through the heart of Nashville
     Thursday afternoon, damaging at least 300 buildings, including
     the State Capitol, and injuring more than 100 people.

     Despite a path of damage six miles long, the only reported
     fatalities were two people killed in car crashes believed to be
     related to the storm.

     [quoted from

Unfortunately, the folks living in the bedroom communities surrounding
Birmingham, Alabama, weren't so lucky.  On April 8th, three tornadoes
moved across central Alabama, killing 33 people and injuring over 200.
The largest of the three tornadoes was rated as an F5, the most
violent tornado that occurs.


Tornadoes are measured using a scale that measures the amount of
damage the tornado causes.  The scale is known as the "Fujita Tornado
Intensity Scale":

     F0 (Gale tornado)            40-72 mph
     Some damage to chimneys; breaks branches off trees; pushes over
     shallow-rooted trees; damages sign boards.

     F1 (Moderate tornado)        73-112 mph
     The lower limit is the beginning of hurricane wind speed; peels
     surface off roofs; mobile homes pushed off foundations or
     overturned; moving autos pushed off the roads; attached garages
     may be destroyed.

     F2 (Significant tornado)     113-157 mph
     Considerable damage. Roofs torn off frame houses; mobile homes
     demolished; boxcars pushed over; large trees snapped or uprooted;
     light object missiles generated.

     F3 (Severe tornado)          158-206 mph
     Roof and some walls torn off well constructed houses; trains
     overturned; most trees in forest uprooted

     F4 (Devastating tornado)     207-260 mph
     Well-constructed houses leveled; structures with weak foundations
     blown off some distance; cars thrown and large missiles

     F5 (Incredible tornado)      261-318 mph
     Strong frame houses lifted off foundations and carried
     considerable distances to disintegrate; automobile sized missiles
     fly through the air in excess of 100 meters; trees debarked;
     steel reinforced concrete structures badly damaged.

     F6 (Inconceivable tornado)   319-379 mph
     These winds are very unlikely. The small area of damage they
     might produce would probably not be recognizable along with the
     mess produced by F4 and F5 wind that would surround the F6 winds.
     Missiles, such as cars and refrigerators would do serious
     secondary damage that could not be directly identified as F6
     damage. If this level is ever achieved, evidence for it might
     only be found in some manner of ground swirl pattern, for it may
     never be identifiable through engineering studies

     [quoted from

Between 1950 and 1994, 74% of all of the tornadoes that touched down
in the United States were "weak" (F0 or F1), 25% were "strong" (F2 or
F3), and only 1% were "violent" (F4 or F5).  In fact, growing up in
Oklahoma, I remember learning in school that there were only one or
two F5 tornadoes in the United States each year.


Of the three tornadoes that touched down in Alabama on April 8th, one
was an F2, one was an F3, and one was an F5.  The National Weather
Service Office in Birmingham has issued a preliminary report on all
three of these tornadoes at

This page describes what happened during each of the three tornadoes,
shows you the path that each tornado took, and gives you pictures of
both the damage and the radar images caused by these tornadoes.  I
would _strongly_ recommend that you take a look at the path that the
F5 tornado took.  You can do this by either clicking on the F5 portion
of the map on this page, or pointing your Web browser to

This image will take a little while to load (it is 427 K!), but it
shows you the entire path of the F5 tornado from its touchdown to its
end.  Fortunately, this tornado traveled through sparsely populated
areas.  However, take a look at this image and imagine what would have
happened if this tornado had come in just a few miles to the south
(the black line on the image is the tornado's path, and downtown
Birmingham is in the upper right corner of the image, at the
intersection of Interstates 65 and 20).


Unfortunately, tornadoes aren't limited solely to the United States.
In fact, Australia has the second highest incidence of tornadoes, and
hundreds of other countries around the world experience tornadoes
every year.  So how can you protect yourself?

If you are at home when a tornado is sighted:

     * Go at once to the basement, storm cellar, or the lowest level
       of the building.

     * If there is no basement, go to an inner hallway or a smaller
       inner room without windows, such as a bathroom or closet.  Get
       away from the windows.  [When I was a kid in Oklahoma, we were
       taught to open all windows to "equalize the pressure."  It
       turns out that the only thing that this does is get your carpet
       wet.  In other words, KEEP YOUR WINDOWS CLOSED ... and STAY

     * Go to the center of the room. Stay away from corners because
       they tend to attract debris.

     * Get under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a workbench or
       heavy table or desk and hold on to it.

     * Use arms to protect head and neck.  [Remember all those movies
       where the airplane is about to crash and everyone is told to
       "assume crash positions?"  That's what you need to do.]

     * If in a mobile home, get out and find shelter elsewhere.  [It
       sounds silly, but you'll be a heck of a lot safer lying outside
       in a soggy ditch.]

All of these tips come from the United States Federal Emergency
Management Agency's Tornado fact sheet at

READ THIS WEB PAGE!  PRINT IT OUT!  This page tells you what to do
before, during, and after a tornado, as well as what you should do if
you are caught in a tornado at work or school, outdoors, or in a car.
We don't pull our little bus of Internet happiness into too many Web
sites that can save your life.  This one can.  Read it.


In most parts of the world, people depend on their local television
weather centers for tomorrow's forecast.  Most weather centers are
staffed with weatherpeople who are usually just newsreaders, people
hired to read the weather each night but who have no formal training
in meteorology.  Heck, late night talk show host (and former host of
the Academy Awards) David Letterman used to be a weatherperson.

In my part of the world, we depend on our local television weather
centers with our _lives_ (after all, we just had 20 tornadoes in the

past couple of hours).  That's why most of the local television
stations in the south -- most of the GOOD stations at least -- invest
millions of dollars in the latest high-tech weather forecasting
equipment.  To man this equipment, the stations hire the best
meteorologists in the world.  In my humble opinion, two of the best
are James Spann and Dan Satterfield.

James Spann is the chief meteorologist at ABC 33/40 in Birmingham
(actually, he's one of THREE full-time meteorologists at 33/40).  When
severe weather threatened Alabama both on April 8th and earlier
tonight, Spann went on the television (and on several Birmingham radio
stations) and stayed on the air, live, non-stop, 5 or 6 hours, no
commercials, until the danger passed.  Spann used ABC 33/40's Pinpoint
Doppler Radar to show his audience which _neighborhoods_ (and, in some
cases, which streets) were effected by the storms, giving people in
the path of the tornadoes as much as 15 or 20 minutes advance warning
before the tornadoes struck.

Spann (and the rest of the ABC 33/40 weather center) saved countless
lives over the past couple of days.  For that, I thank him.  In fact,
I figured I'd pull our bus into one of his Web pages to show my
appreciation.  If you  are interested in seeing some of Spann's
favorite Web sites, take a look at his "Favorite Links" page at

While James Spann covers central Alabama, Dan Satterfield covers north
Alabama.  Satterfield is chief meteorologist at WHNT in Huntsville,
Alabama, and is the only lead weather anchor in the Tennessee Valley
with a degree in Meteorology (he graduated from the University of
Oklahoma and was on the tornado intercept team at the National Severe
Storms Lab (the movie "Twister" was loosely based on the work done by
Satterfield and the other folks at the NSSL)).  Like Spann,
Satterfield also stayed on the air nonstop to cover both tonight's
tornadoes and the ones on April 8th.  In fact, because most of
tonight's tornadoes were located in Tennessee (and because part of
Satterfield's audience lives in southern Tennessee), most everyone in
northern Alabama and southern Tennessee turned to Satterfield for the
latest information about the storms.  [My family lives in the
Tennessee Valley, so most of my night was spent on the phone with my
family, listening to Satterfield's reports.]

I guess I had better find a way to thank Satterfield as well.
Since a number of our TOURBUS riders are either teachers or parents,
I'd highly recommend visiting Dan Satterfield's "Wild Wild Weather
Page" at

This page is an absolutely WONDERFUL interactive weather page for
kids, and it explains everything from El Nino to wind.  I particularly
recommend his "tornado" page that explains tornadoes in terms that
even I can understand.

... now if only I could convince Spann and Satterfield to put the
video of their forecasts on the Net, _everyone_ would see how lucky
we Alabamians are to have two of the best meteorologists in the
world watching out for us.  :)

Oh well.  That's it for this week.  Have a safe and happy weekend!



In light of the tornadoes that swept through the South over the past
couple of days, I'm going to again hold off from posting a Southern
Word of the day.  Instead, I want to offer my prayers and thoughts for
my fellow Southerners who have suffered from these storms.

    For info on my book "Atlas for the Information Superhighway"

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