Deadliest Tornadoes is another excellent edition of PBS’ NOVA

Courtesy: PBS

Tornado season has officially ended.  But now, America is in the midst of hurricane season.  And with hurricanes comes the threat of tornadoes.  While hurricanes can do massive damage to large areas, tornadoes are just as deadly in their own way.  The 2011 tornado season was proof of that.  A total of roughly five hundred and fifty people were killed in last year’s outbreak.  The extensive damage and loss of life has led to the eternal question, can better alert systems be made?  In another of its latest episodes, PBS’ hit science program, “NOVA” examines the 2011 outbreak, and what, if anything can be done to create better alert systems.

“Deadliest Tornadoes” is the opposite of those shows that people can’t help but watch on the Weather Channel and Discovery Channel.  It takes a more serious, scientific look at the conditions that lead to tornado formation, and the systems used to try and detect their formation.  The program tells the story of what happened through footage of that day, including interviews with survivors of the storms.  Scientists and meteorologists interviewed for the program explain to viewers how tornadoes form, using amazing visual aids that will help audiences of all ages understand what really brings a tornado to life.

In understanding how tornadoes form, the program moves on to how they are detected.  This is where the question of alert systems comes in to play.  The interviews with scientists and meteorologists explain that thanks to Doppler radar technology, warning time is roughly thirteen minutes at best.  It’s also noted that right now, the National Radar System doesn’t have enough stations to cover the entire lower atmosphere.  And while improvements are needed in detection and warning systems, the program doesn’t blame that alone for the damage, injuries, and loss of life last year. 

The human factor comes in to play in those numbers, too.  It’s noted that one of the big reasons for the damage and deaths caused by tornadoes is on the part of people.  Apathy about false alarms has caused many people to not take tornado warnings seriously.  They wait until they actually see one close to them to react.  By then, it may be too late.  In connection to that late reaction time, the program also notes the construction of homes today.  Many homes are not built to withstand tornadoes.  Add in the cost of constructing “safe rooms” in homes and people are at high risk for damage to their homes and potential loss of life.  Many people simply cannot afford the cost of adding a “safe room” to their home.

In conjunction with the aforementioned issues of home construction, the high number of homes and businesses in Joplin, MO was another example of the human factor.  The damage and death toll in Joplin was much higher because it was a more highly populated region.  The massive EF-5 that hit Tuscaloosa, on the other hand, hit in much less populated areas, therefore causing much lower numbers of injuries and death.

The argument of climate patterns and change comes in to play in the show’s discussion, too.  The scientists and meteorologists interviewed for the show discuss the impact of the “La Nina” weather pattern’s role in storm intensity.  A prime example in that argument is that of the Super Outbreak of 1974.  That outbreak was tied to “La Nina” conditions, just as last year’s apparently was, too.  Climate change in a much larger scale is also discussed as a factor in seemingly intensifying storm seasons.  The scientists and meteorologists don’t go so far as to make a claim of global warming.  They only make mention that climate changes are happening. 

Lots of discussions are raised throughout the hour long course of “Deadliest Tornadoes.”  They make the program very interesting.  The cg-based visual aids used throughout the discussions add an extra level of enjoyment for audiences of all ages.  Whether younger or older, those visual aids will really help viewers to understand exactly what the speakers are talking about.  Kudos to PBS for that addition.  It’s one more piece that makes this a program that’s wonderful for use in the classroom and in the home.  It’s one that even professional meteorologists could use in their own personal discussions because of the various discussions raised on how and why tornadoes are formed, and the human role in their impact.  It’s a wonderful program for any viewer of any age or profession whether in tornado season or not.

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