This blog provides commentary on interesting geological events occurring around the world in the context of my own work. This work is, broadly, geological fluid dynamics. The events that I highlight here are those that resonate with my professional life and ideas, and my goal is to interpret them in the context of ideas I've developed in my research. The blog does not represent any particular research agenda. It is written on a personal basis and does not seek to represent the University of Illinois, where I am a professor of geology and physics. Enjoy Geology in Motion! I would be glad to be alerted to geologic events of interest to post here! I hope that this blog can provide current event materials that will make geology come alive.

Banner image is by Ludie Cochrane..

Susan Kieffer can be contacted at s1kieffer at gmail.com

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Tornado outbreaks forecast for week of April 6; lunar eclipse

Dr. Greg Forbes of the Weather Channel
reviewing large tornado outbreaks
Just because I moved out of the Midwest doesn't mean that I have lost my interest in tornadoes! So, to my friends in Illinois, I'm still thinking of you!! Forty one years ago there was a "super outbreak" of 147 tornadoes through Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and surrounding states. All told, there were 147 tornadoes recorded on April 3-4, 1974. This was exceeded only on April 26-28, 2011 when 293 tornadoes were recorded. Joplin, Missouri, was destroyed (more information on this is available in Chapter 8 of my book, The Dynamics of Disaster, shown in the left sidebar).

Now, meteorologists are warning of a severe weather outbreak, including tornados, for the midwest next week. What do meteorologists look for to predict a tornado outburst days or even a week into the future? First, they look for the jet stream to plunge to the south, bringing strong winds westerly or southwesterly winds and cold air aloft.  Second, they look for warm and humid air flowing up from the Gulf of Mexico at lower levels, pushed by southerly winds. Being less dense than the cold dry air, the warm humid air is unstable.  The required four ingredients are: warm air, cold air, moisture and winds. Low-level winds blowing with different strength at different elevations set up shearing that produces a horizontal spinning vortex, and regions where winds rise, producing updrafts, draw air flowing along the surface and its vortices in and up.  A third layer of air, hot and dry, develops between the lower warm moist air and the colder upper air. This layer acts as a cap that prevents the warm moist air from rising, allowing it to warm even further, creating a positive feedback that makes the instability even greater. As the system moves from west to east across the U.S., the lift increases, the capping dry air is removed and explosive thunderstorms can develop.
From here.

The winds circulating around a low pressure center provide a mechanisms that can spin up a normal thunderstorm into a huge rotating vortex known as a "supercell." Supercells contain strong, rotating updrafts. Because they are so big, they are usually isolated from other thunderstorms in the area, sucking up energy and moisture from miles around. Tornados seem to develop within a supercell several thousand feet above the ground. Tornados begin in the supercell as a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud extending from the base of the supercell. When the funnel cloud is half-way between the cloud base and the ground, it formally becomes a "tornado."

BTW, last night was a short total lunar eclipse, and here's a link to a time-lapse of it from USAToday. 

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