Albert Einstein once said, "One need only to think of the weather, in which case the prediction even for a few days ahead is impossible." Fortunately, since the early 20th century, the scientific community has made great strides in weather prediction and forecasting capabilities. The lead-time for a tornado warning currently is 13 minutes, up significantly from the 1980s, when the lead-time was less than 5 minutes.
However, even with our increased computational power, improved weather forecasting models and denser observation network, Mother Nature continues to surprise us, and inform us that it's her planet, we just live here. The latest of Mother Nature's spectacular displays of beauty and devastation was the twin EF4 tornadoes which decimated Pilger, Nebraska in mid-June. Twin or multi-vortex tornadoes are not absolutely unheard of, however, the fascinating aspect of the terrible Nebraska twins was their equivalent intensities. Both were preliminarily rated as EF4s; typically, in the case of dual tornadoes, one is dominant and more powerful than the other or one forms as the other is dissipating. To observe two large, comparably-sized tornadoes contemporaneously is highly unusual. The only other time two large wedge tornadoes were recorded was during the Palm Sunday Outbreak in Indiana in 1965.
The scene which played out in Nebraska serves as yet another reminder that although our understanding of tornadoes has improved tremendously in the last several decades, the distant past must remain in our memory and the previously unobserved is not impossible. A new publication from Swiss Re considers the impact of a tornado directly striking the heart of a major city. History demonstrates this is not a theoretical scenario; powerful tornadoes have impacted the cities of St. Louis, Dallas and Chicago. Even for all the destruction the Pilger twins caused, Harold Brooks, a senior scientist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory, acknowledged they could have been much worse, saying, "If you move that thing 30 miles and it gets into Sioux City, the death toll would probably be a lot higher."
Category: Climate/natural disasters: Disaster risk, Floods/storms, Resilience
Location: Pilger, NE, United States