Saturday 1 June 2013

At least five dead as tornadoes rip though Oklahoma.

At least five people are known to have died as a series of tornadoes tore through the US state of Oklahoma on the evening of Friday 31 May 2013. These include a mother and baby killed when one storm struck vehicles on Interstate 40 to the west of Oklahoma City. Several other motorists are still missing after this incident, where rescuers are being hampered by over a meter of floodwater. Around 50 people received hospital treatment after the incidents, with five being described as being in a serious conditions. About 86 000 people are thought to have lost power supplies.

A man stands on top of his car after flooding associated with the 31 May 2013 storms in Oklahoma. Sarah Phipps/Oklahoman.

The incident comes less than a fortnight after a massive tornado hit the city of Moore, Oklahoma killing 24 people, including 10 children, and destroying around 13 000 homes.

Tornadoes are formed by winds within large thunder storms called super cells. Supercells are large masses of warm water-laden air formed by hot weather over the sea, when they encounter winds at high altitudes the air within them begins to rotate. The air pressure will drop within these zones of rotation, causing the air within them so rise, sucking the air beneath them up into the storm, this creates a zone of rotating rising air that appears to extend downwards as it grows; when it hits the ground it is called a tornado. 

Tornadoes can occur anywhere in the world, but are most common, and most severe, in the area of the American mid-west known as 'Tornado Ally', running from Texas to Minnisota, which is fueled by moist air currents from over the warm enclosed waters of the Gulf of Mexico interacting with cool fast moving jet stream winds from the Rocky Mountains. Many climatologists are concerned that rising temperatures over the Gulf of Mexico will lead to more frequent and more severe typhoon events.

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