Warm humid air climbs the western slope of the Himalayas building up heat until it chimneys up over the 30,000 foot peaks and then chilled by the thin but intensely cold air above it plunges partway down the slope at incredible speed until it levels off heading east, and so the jet stream is born. It’s called that because it was the age of jet airliners made it known to the general public. Flying in the jet stream could give you a hundred mph tail wind which was boon to high altitude travel. It really should be called the B-29 stream as the bombers flying to Japan in 1944 were the first airplanes to encounter it. The Japanese had already figured it out but weren’t telling anybody, just launching fire balloons toward the United States.
All of this energy can be plotted as a very complicated equation and indeed this is a big factor in long range weather forecasting. Its path across the US determines what sort of weather we have from day to day. Running further north than usual means heavy rains in the upper Midwest and summer flooding. It can produce heavy winter snow pact in places that don’t normally get much snow. It snowed so much this winter that it ended a long time drought in California but that also changed the equation.
The extra cold air coming off this snow is now pushing the jet stream further south than normal and setting up a conflict with historically warm moist air coming up from the south. The equalizer of this clash is the thunderstorm where warm air rises and being cooled discharges millions of tons of water which creates devastating winds and lightning. When the up flow of air becomes unusually vigorous it can create a vortex we call a tornado. The energy can’t dissipate fast enough and the wind just blows in a tight circle, of course a “tight“ circle can be a mile across.
This jet stream equation involves the topography of mountains and plains, cold high pressure air masses from the north and hot wet air from the south. Over the decades these numbers have many times produced tornadoes in and around Joplin MO. This time the numbers were particularly bad producing an F4 tornado with winds just short of 200 mph that cut a ¾ mile wide path through the center of town leveling everything and wiping away 25% of the structures along a six mile corridor.
The seven story Medical Center that had served well in past storms took a direct hit this time and became a five story wreck surrounded by leveled and littered landscape with only the trunks of the largest trees protruding above ground. Ambulances arriving at the ER after the storm found that that wing of the hospital was simply gone. The death toll from this single storm exceeds anything in 65 years and is still climbing.
The misery for Joplin is not over, the one thing that made this storm so bad is that the weather front is not moving and more storms could continue for up to three days. Tomorrow is already forecasted to have the potential to repeat the same storm again.
Damage from storms and flooding in the US have already set a new record running five times a typical year and the hurricane season has yet to begin. It’s a good thing global warming is just a conspiracy among the scientific community and not really affecting the weather or we’d be in real trouble. Those equations with the extra heat and moisture don’t really mean anything. Just factor in some extra god and we’ll be alright. www.prairie2.com