THE WINDS OF DESTRUCTION:TORNADO VS.TROPICAL CYCLONE

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ANGRY ATMOSPHERIC SYSTEMS AND STORMS THAT BRING TOTAL DEMOLITION

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“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person that walked in.That’s what the storm is all about.”

-Haruki Murakami

 

The storms have magical meaning, not just in different cultures and poetic  literature but also for science and scientists. They come and go but the world is never the same after. They bring chaos, blood, tears, despair, destruction and death but they also leave us in new beginning and hope that we will possible learn something, change anything and stop nothing in the future ahead us. Those atmospheric attacks are the greatest sign that we failed to understand nature and that we will never be actually on that level to link indicators with the consequences and to make changes in the meantime, before the punishment is there.

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When i was a child, I was amazed with the children’s novel “The Wizard of Oz”, written by author L.Frank Baum,  that has followed the interesting adventures of the farm girl Dorothy in the Land of Oz, where she was stuck after the tornado has picked up her and her dog Toto from Kansas.  Wow!I was 10 years old and I was dreaming to be swept away by a whirlwinds, twisters or cyclones. I think I really believed that those strong winds are the whispers of hidden magical lands where children could go and like a Peter Pan, never grow up. At the time when I was capable to understand the real  structure of the storms, I was fascinated with the strength of nature and I forgot that beautiful Land of Oz.

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But, the question is :what is a cyclone and if tornado is a cyclone or we can’t compare it with other cyclones? I witnessed the situations that many people can’t tell a difference among tornado, hurricane or a  typhoon because the storms of each of them are deadly. For people, the aggressive winds are always the same but their skeleton and their background is different and worth of understanding. Especially in the age of ignorant media and their lack of interest to define the terms they are pretending they understand.

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First of all, I would like to emphasise that according to NASA, tornadoes and hurricanes may be appear to be very similar in their general structure because the both are extremely strong horizontal winds:“…swirling around the center, strong upward motion dominating the circulation with some downward motion in the center. The tangential winds far exceed the radial inflow or the vertical motion, and can cause much damage. Hurricanes always rotate counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere (clockwise in the southern), the direction of their rotation being determined by the Earth’s rotation. This is almost always true of tornadoes too, although on rare occasions ‘anticyclonic’ tornadoes spinning in the opposite direction do occur (tornadic circulation is determined by the local winds). This is where the similarities end.” Then we come to the most obvious difference between those two, the different scales and the different impact on the environment. Tornadoes have small-scale circulations and that lead them up to 1.5 miles. We can understand a tornado as a cocktail of many thunderstorms that usually develop themselves in the high and severe wind, during spring and early summer.The negative side of this “wind association” starts when there is a clash between moist warm air from the  Mexican Gulf and the cold dry land air from the northwest. The forms of tornadoes could occur everywhere around the globe, more or less similar to those what we have  always  seen in the U.S.  On the other side, the hurricanes are supported by some kind of tornadoes, they have large-scale circulations with horizontal dimensions from 60 to well over 1000 miles in diameter. Just for understanding, tornadoes can cause the chaos on the targeted ground but they are limited in their demolition because they travel short distance and their lifetime is short, from a few seconds to a few hours ( tornadic wind speeds have been estimated at 100 to more than 300 mph) which is nothing when we take a look on the hurricanes that could travel long distances, taking energy from the water surface of warm waters or tropical oceans. The researchers said it must be above 26.5° C, or about 76° F so they could be able to form their powerful attacks. Sometimes, they last for days or weeks and the damage they make is beyond imaginable. Tornadoes come from the land, the hurricanes come from the oceans.

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The next important thing to have in mind is a fact that tornadoes are spotted all over the globe but the most affected area is US Midwest with the record of 1.200 tornadoes per year. The hurricane are mostly happening  on the North Atlantic Ocean, the Northeast Pacific Ocean or the South Pacific Ocean east of 160E, wherever it is warm water. But, based on evidence, the most affected areas are Caribbean Sea with the frequency of 10-15 per year. The good weather forecast can predict the both, but then it is always a doubt if the atmospheric signs have been read correctly.

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There are the misunderstanding among hurricane, cyclone or typhoon and that why is very significant to know location where the storm begins so we can categorize them. Generally, they present the same weather phenomenon and as it is stated in the article of National Ocean Service:” In the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific, the term ‘hurricane’ is used. The same type of disturbance in the Northwest Pacific is called a ‘typhoon’ and ‘cyclones’ occur in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean.”

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The expression tropical cyclone covers the organized system of thunderstorms that star over tropical and subtropical waters with the intention to get bigger and become stronger. When the moment of 74 miles per hour is there, we could try to define the storm as a hurricane, typhoon or cyclone. Basically, every storm that originates from warm oceans is a tropical cyclone that need to show the real power to be classified as hurricane if it is in the Atlantic or Northeast Pacific, typhoon if it is born in the Northwest Pacific or simply cyclon when comes from the South Pacific or Indian Ocean.

So, tornadoes and hurricane are totally different form of storms with some similar characteristics and many differences. But, the hurricanes share the category of other tropical cyclones:typhoons and cyclones, grounded on their location.  The tornadoes and hurricanes can sometimes happen at the same time but it is very rare to find that they fuel themselves at the same ground. Tornadoes are vertical winds and hurricanes are horizontal. Their mixture in destruction is uncommon but we shouldn’t stop chasing the possibilities to get into the structure of both of storms so they could be prevented.

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The global warming and the extreme changes in the weather system will definitely open the debated issue of indicators of so frequently hurricanes and tornadoes in recent time. It is very obvious that Earth’s lower atmosphere is becoming warmer with high level of moist that is directly related to the industrial aggravations and emission of greenhouse gases. That could cause in the long period of time the radical changes in weather modes and scientists argue about the quantity and quality of climate damage. The North America and Europe are already facing up with the climate oppositions they have never experienced before. However, it is still not confirmed if the climate changes themselves turn the tornadoes and hurricanes into the more dangerous forms or it is just a matter of natural incomes and outcomes. I find it very unprofessional to blame climate changes for all but there are cases that we are responsible for and that could be fixed if not totally eliminated.

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The mankind needs a lot of devoted studies to the area of deadly storms so we could reach the level we know what we are really dealing with. For now, those strong winds remain a kind of enigma. From Dorothy flight with tornado via lost sailors in the hurricane to the tornado chasers, the people are still unaware how majestic and powerful the nature is, even when it sends to us its own deep  breath.

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “THE WINDS OF DESTRUCTION:TORNADO VS.TROPICAL CYCLONE”

  1. Thank you, Sarah, for an excellent and informative article. Not many people on earth know the science of hurricanes, tornadoes, or alike. You have done a great job explaining to us the difference between them and what they are.
    Hurricanes, tornadoes, or any other form of wind based phenomena are just another sign of God for us to study and ponder upon. They are all subjected by God to play their role in our life. The start, end, magnitude, benefit, or destruction of such phenomenon is determined by God, and God only. Even though we can chase and study them, but as humans, we don’t have the power to prevent or direct a hurricane or tornado in a certain way, but we could try to avoid them or minimize their damage when they occur.
    I totally disagree that the global warming has any effect on hurricanes or tornadoes formation, frequency, or intensity. Hurricanes and tornadoes existed all-time before global warming, and will continue to exist as long as our planet exist.

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  2. Sarah’s elucidating article brought to mind ‘The Great Red Spot’ of planet Jupiter: this immense storm is twice the size of planet Earth. This reveals to us the overwhelming and all-consuming energy of Nature throughout the known Universe. Organisms survive storms on Earth, but may not necessarily survive massive counterparts on exoplanets (i.e. planets outside of our solar system that scientists are studying as possible resource locations and or habitable zones). Personally, I experienced and survived a cyclone in Western Australia, in 1978; which lasted for about 9 days, with speeds up to 215 km per hour (130 miles ph). It was terrifying; especially, as I was a boy then.

    The longest-lasting recorded storm on Earth was Hurricane John (31 days in length, in 1994), which had a course up through The Pacific Ocean, at a speed of 300 km per hour (180 miles ph). Landfall was minimal and there was very little damage. The Great Red Spot on Jupiter has existed for more than 350 years, and fluctuates with speeds up to 430 km per hour. Storms such as these are not uncommon within the turbulent atmospheres of the gas giants across the known Universe.

    The atmosphere of Jupiter is the largest planetary atmosphere in The Solar System. Predominantly, it is composed of molecular hydrogen and helium, in roughly solar proportions; other chemical compounds are present only in small amounts and include methane, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and H2O.

    The Great Red Spot rotates counter-clockwise, with a period of about six Earth days. Its dimensions are 25,000 – 40,000 km west to east and 12,000 – 14,000 km south to north. It is large enough to contain two or three planets the size of Earth. The cloud-tops of this storm are about 8 km above the surrounding cloud-tops.

    Though winds around the edge of the spot peak at 120 m per second (432 km per hour), currents inside it seem stagnant; with little inflow or outflow. The rotation period of the spot has decreased with time; perhaps, as a direct result of its steady reduction in size.

    It is not known exactly what causes The Great Red Spot’s reddish colour. Theories supported by laboratory experiments suppose that the crimson tint may be caused by complex organic molecules, red phosphorus, or yet another sulphur compound, but a consensus has yet to be reached… The Great Red Spot varies greatly in hue, from almost brick-red to pale salmon, or even white. In fact, the spot disappears, occasionally (i.e. very pale colour).

    As the hot gases that comprise Jupiter’s atmosphere rise from lower levels to higher levels, eddies form and converge. As cooler gas falls, the Coriolis force causes a swirling motion across a region that may be many kilometers in diameter. These eddies can last for a long time, because there is no solid surface to provide friction and because colder cloud tops above the eddy allow little energy to escape by radiation. Once formed, such eddies are free to move, merging with or affecting the behaviour of other storm systems in the atmosphere. It is theorized that this mechanism formed The Great Red Spot. According to this theory, many adjacent eddies are engulfed and merge with the spot, adding to the energy of the storm and contributing to its longevity.

    With climate change on Earth, this could be a possibility in the near future of the planet (i.e. a global storm system).

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  3. What an exhilarating topic, Sarah ! This is a very fascinating subject and, like you, I have been very interested in comparing hurricanes and tornadoes, as they directly impact the analysis and design of buildings !

    I concur with you regarding the fact that there has been a rise in the number of tornadoes in recent years. In fact, this is ratified by this CBS News statement:

    “Hurricane season encompasses the six months of summer and fall, starting June 1 and ending Nov. 30, but tornadoes can pose a danger year-round. Spring is usually considered the prime time for twisters, but don’t say that in Georgia or Florida, which had a cyclone epidemic in January. That month, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported 138 tornadoes, a sharp jump from the January average of only 35 a year for the period of 1991 to 2010.”

    Even though tornadoes occur over a much smaller radius, they reach, on average, higher wind speeds than do hurricanes !

    Thank you, Sarah, for your outstanding research and writing !

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