Saturday 25 May 2024

Four dead and at least 35 injured as Iowa town hit by tornado.

Four people have been confirmed dead and at least 35 have been injured after a tornado hit the town of Greenfield in Adair County, Iowa, on Tuesday 21 May 2024. The tornado carved a 1.6 km path through the town, damaging or destroying 153 homes, including the the town's hospital, and leaving much of the town without power. Volunteers have come from across the State of Iowa to bring emergency supplies and help with the clean-up effort.

Damage caused by a tornado that hit the town of Greenfield in Iowa on Tuesday 21 May 2024. Cody Scanlan/Des Moines Register.

The tornado is estimated to have been a four on the enhance Fujita scale (or an EF-4 tornado); such a tornado will produce sustained windspeeds of 333–418 km per hour, potentially strong enough to damage even well-built structures, with frame homes completely destroyed and cars thrown like missiles. 

Tornadoes are formed by winds within large thunderstorms 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 Minnesota, which is fuelled 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 tornado events.

Simplified diagram of the air currents that contribute to tornado formation in Tornado Alley. Dan Craggs/Wikimedia Commons/NOAA.

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