I just heard Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel describe the destruction in Moore, Oklahoma being as if whole houses were put into blenders. There was a report earlier of debris from Moore falling from the sky in the Tulsa area, over a hundred miles away.
It’s not that houses were pushed off of their foundations and folded up. These modern, sturdily built, brick & cinder block houses have been disintegrated. The FEMA and NWS folks don’t even know how high the winds were, since the instruments they use get max’d out and destroyed at those levels.
As of now, 51 dead in Oklahoma, including 20 children. 140+ in the hospital, half of them children. Those totals may well rise tomorrow when daylight returns and more progress can be made on figuring out who’s missing and who’s safe. Damage will be in the billions.
And the storms didn’t just hit Moore and then leave. The line of storms has marched east and now there are tornado watches from Texas and Arkansas into Missouri into Illinois, with severe thunderstorm warnings as far as Chicago. For example, there are reports of a tornado in or around Hannibal, Missouri. I love Hannibal, went there as a kid, have taken my family there as a parent. Take care, Hannibal!
I grew up in Kansas City, in the heart of “Tornado Alley”. I remember the sirens going off and my mother herding my brothers and sisters and I into the cellar while the winds howled.
I remember hot summer days when it was humid and roasting and clear as a bell when the thunderheads started marching up over the horizon, only their tops showing first when they were forty or fifty miles away, then marching towards us getting bigger and bigger until over half the sky was black as a coal mine with brilliant white thunderheads above and lightning flashing below while the rest of the sky stayed cloudless and blue.
Then it would be over us and it would get still and quiet for a few minutes. Suddenly the temperature would drop ten degrees or more. Out of nowhere the wind would pick up and be blowing a gale in just a couple of minutes. The golf-ball sized (or bigger) hail and rain would start and the sirens would come on and scare the crap out of us.
We didn’t have Doppler radar in the early 1960’s, we didn’t have any radar at all, and there wasn’t any Weather Channel, or cable, or even more than a couple of local television stations. I remember at one point there was a theory that you could get an indication of when a tornado was in your area by looking at the random snow & static on the TV when you weren’t tuned into a channel, a sort of precursor to Heather O’Rourke’s “They’re heeeere!” in “Poltergeist”. It was thought that there might be some electric component to the tornado, static charge or something lightning related, and that might make some sort of patterns in the random static. I remember more than once when my mom and little brothers and sisters would be heading to the cellar, I would be turning to the television to an “open” channel to look at the static to see if I could tell if a tornado was near.
These days we have tools for seeing these storms that are just astonishing. I was looking at how their Doppler radar was showing debris clouds as opposed to thunderstorms because it was sensitive enough to tell the difference between the radar echoes off of flying pieces of houses and trees and the radar echoes off of raindrops. We have TV, radio, sirens, the Internet, text messages, cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, a thousand times more detection and warning technology than we had fifty years ago – and it’s not enough.
Everyone wants to help tonight. To make cash donations or to donate blood or platelets, see the Red Cross’s site at redcross.org. To donate $10 (billed to your cell phone) text “REDCROSS” to 90999, it just takes a few seconds. If you don’t like the Red Cross for some reason, you can text “STORM” to 80888 to donate $10 to the Salvation Army.
Two other things I would recommend. First, before you donate to anyone you might not be 100% sure of (for this disaster or for ANY charitable donation), check them out on charitynavigator.org . Perhaps one of the saddest things about a disaster like this is how it causes the human cockroaches to crawl out from under the rocks they hide under and take advantage of those trying to do something good. Make sure that the money you donate gets to those you intend it to help.
Secondly, everybody and their cousin will be lining up to donate blood in the next day or two. It happens after every disaster, be it a tornado, the Boston Marathon bombing, an air crash, or whatever. That’s great, it’s needed, it helps — but blood and platelets have a very limited shelf life, only 42 days at most for blood, FIVE DAYS for platelets. So in a fortnight, a month, six weeks, two months, when the disaster has faded from memory and it’s no longer on the front page or even being mentioned any more, REMEMBER THEN TO DONATE BLOOD TOO! That’s when they’ll be running short of blood and platelets again, not this week. (And once you see how easy it is, why not just start donating whole blood every eight weeks or platelets every two weeks like clockwork – but that’s a rant for another day.)
Speaking of which, in the background the ad on The Weather Channel is the Geico ad about their customers being “about as happy as Dracula at a blood drive”. Coincidence? Random chance? Bad taste? Let’s go with random chance.