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Questions and Comments
by Tornado Tim
Storm chasers can help. Yes, some chasers can be annoying and a problem, but that is only some.  Are problem chasers causing some to avoid working with any chaser?

I remember how sad I was when Hurricane Katrina revealed an inability of differing groups with different motives, ideals and methods to work together to help the people most in need.  It is the clearest example I can think of where the attitude that "things must be done one way" only hurts people who need help the most.

We may not like certain people, or what they do, or how they act, but I firmly believe we should still find a way to work together for the goal of saving lives and helping others. 

I have always known of the prejudice towards chasers by some. I have seen such prejudices come from some with great anger towards any chaser, though  I am glad to say that over the years I have heard mostly positive things from police officers and community leaders.  I have been thanked by many of them for my efforts, and the efforts of other chasers to aid and help in saving lives.  Yes, some have complained to me about the actions of chasers and voiced frustration about what some chasers have done. Yet over all, I have found that most people recognize the vital role storm chasers have played in storm safety and saving lives. I have also found most spotters are willing to work with chasers, even annoying chasers for the good of others.

When speaking to the Rotary Club in Hutchinson Kansas I emphasized the need for people to work together, and that we should all care about our neighbors when severe weather approaches. Don't think just about yourself, or just your family, but look out for everyone in your community.  Sitting in the audience was the Kansas State Lieutenant Governor, and I didn't hear any disagreements or complaints from him at that speech.  The kind and caring citizens for Hutchinson knew I was a storm chaser, and accepted me as such when I came to speak to them about storm safety.  That is because they know I am more than willing to do my part in helping others.  I felt welcome and appreciated by all, and can say that the local media treated us with dignity and respect concerning our contribution to storm safety, even as a chaser.

I have bragged on TV and radio shows around the world about how well spotters, chasers, and law enforcement work together in the US.  I  think there is more cooperation than not, especially in Kansas where I believe one of the best systems of working together exists, but I have witnessed first hand a lack of desire to work with a chaser in a very serious event.  Just read this story from 2002.

As much as I get discouraged when I run across factions within the safety community, I will not stop trying to find some bridge to allow mutual cooperation among chasers, spotters, and law enforcement.  I know we can find a way to work together. 
Tornado Tim

Why isn't my state in tornado alley?
I get more questions about why certain states are not in tornado alley than any other question. Tornado alley maps are all faulty to a degree, leaving out obvious dangerous tornado locations in multiple states. Some maps are based on very complicated math calculations but still fall short of being completely accurate because of the attempt to make it an alley, and not multiple alleys. When you limit tornado alley to being an alley, you will leave out other highly significant tornado regions in the US.
  In reality, the US has multiple tornado alleys. In 2004 there would be little argument that Illinois, Nebraska and Kansas were the most dangerous states for tornadoes. Colorado had many tornadoes in 2004, but none were deadly. 2004 proves again why many traditional tornado alley maps are too limited. Weather patterns change from year to year and tornado alley maps just can't represent those changes well enough.

Most tornado alley maps focus on Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and maybe parts of Nebraska. Yet, research has proven that Alabama ranks third in the nation in the number of tornado deaths since 1950. Yet it isn't considered part of tornado alley by almost all tornado alley maps. This gives you a clear indication that the methods used to calculate tornado alley may be using criteria that aren't thinking in terms of where a persons life is in the greatest danger from dying in a tornado.

Tornado Frequency from FEMA

I think today people are to educated about tornadoes to accept a map shaped like an alley. People in many areas know they live in a tornado zone that is dangerous.  What we need is more discussion about tornado data specific to states, and which counties are at higher risk than others in those states. I believe you will find not one tornado alley in the US, but many. It's time we start talking more specifics and not general areas shaped like the out dated alley that is so popular.  The best maps we could start using would be based on data shown more like the following two.


Tornado Frequency Map from NOAABoth are far more accurate in portraying tornado dangers in the US. It is obvious the US has multiple tornado alleys, not just one continuous lane, as people in Alabama, Wisconsin, Illinois and other states already know.  That's my opinion and that's the way I see it.

How many tornadoes are there each year?
No one really knows for sure how many there are in the US each year. That answer may surprise you, but it is a fact.

It is estimated that over 1,000 tornadoes occur each year in the US, but many tornadoes go undetected and unreported. It is possible the number could be twice that amount. What's the big problem? As a chaser I quickly learned that tornadoes are often over looked by those who count and record them. Part of this is because many farmers and ranchers in rural areas don't report small short lived tornadoes, especially if the damage is minimal. I talk to many of them every year and hear the same story from farmers and ranchers in every state I chase.

One year in eastern Colorado, a tornado destroyed a tractor/combine unit so severely; the damage appeared to be at least F2. No one ever researched it out, and it was never recorded. The circular path left in the field by the tornado and the crumpled up combine was clear evidence of the tornado. Other times I have received information from locals where at night they say a tornado struck their farm but the damage isn't always reported.

Even more common is a tornado shielded by rain that never hits anything, no one ever sees it,so it is not recorded. We also need to clarify when we count tornadoes that we define what a tornado is. A tornado is: A rapidly rotating column of air, spawned by a thunderstorm, in contact with the thunderstorm and the ground enough to cause a minimal amount of circular ground disturbance. Often a funnel is just feet off the ground, but never touches the ground, and never spins up any ground disturbance. We don't want to count that. Also we never record a Doppler indicated tornado unless it meets the above definition. Many Doppler indicated tornadoes never touch the ground, the rotation stays within the storm and the tornado isn't ever fully formed.

How dangerous is storm chasing?
That all depends on how close to the storms you get and how many tornadoes are possible that day. In many of the plains states, it is easy to see tornadoes from 10 or more miles away. You can be sitting in nearly sunny skies 15 miles from the tornado watching it without any danger of being hurt by it. On the other hand getting as close as you can to a tornado is never safe and it can even be deadly.

Also, remember on some days there are tornadoes dropping all around you and it might be hard to be out of danger anywhere. On those days, you may not be able to chase safely. So, if there is only one severe storm, one tornado and calm skies around you, it can be a relatively safe hobby. The question is do you know what you are dealing with when you are out there chasing. That's where experience and study are necessary. To know if you are in a life threatening situation or a safe view day. Until you know where the dangers are, which areas are safe and which ones aren’t don't go it alone. If you don't know what you are doing, it is never safe. That's the way I see it.

 

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Kansas - highest number of F5 tornadoes since 1880

Iowa - greatest number of F5 tornadoes per square mile

Alabama - highest percentage of tornadoes rated as of significant intensity

Kentucky - highest percentage of all tornadoes ranked as violent (F4 or F5)

 

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For more research I suggest you read the work by Thomas P. Grazulis, "A chronology and Analysis of Events, Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991". A book that will keep you busy for a very long time.