Twin Tornadoes: Is it a rare phenomenon?

Twin Tornadoes: Is it a rare phenomenon?
NBC/Eric Anderson/AP
Weather Talk
Tuesday, June 17, 2014 - 4:09pm

Powerful tornadoes devastate small town in Northeast Nebraska

As you may have already seen and heard, two tornadoes with deadly force devastated a small town in Northeast Nebraska Monday afternoon.

These twin tornadoes killed one person, critically injured at least 16 more people and sent rescue crews scrambling to dig for others who might be buried under the rubble.

At least one of the tornadoes slammed into the town of Pilger, a community of about 350 people 75 miles northwest of Omaha, the National Weather Service reported.

One of the twisters that touched ground on Monday was rated an EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita Tornado Damage Scale, with winds as high as 200 miles per hour.

Emergency officials told NBC station WOWT of Omaha that the tornado tunneled down Main Street, destroying every business.

The images are just jaw dropping, and as rare as this phenomenon may seem, believe it or not, it's happened before.

Tornadoes in general are uncommon and extraordinarily complex phenomena, occurring between a few hundred to up to 2,000 times per year in the U.S., according to Senior Climate Reporter for Mashable Andrew Freedman. 

There are many things meteorologists still don’t know about tornadoes.

For example, they still don’t know exactly why some severe, rotating thunderstorms, known as supercells, produce tornadoes while other nearly identical storms do not.

But what is true and everyone should know is no two tornadoes are exactly alike.

Tornadoes form when a severe thunderstorm with a persistently rotating updraft tilts a horizontally rotating column of air upward into the vertical, beneath a persistent area of rotation known as a mesocyclone.

I know it's all very "sciency" but it's something people should be aware of, especially those who live in tornado valley zones.

There are so many different types of tornadoes that some scientists are advocating that the American Meteorological Society modify its glossary definition of the phenomenon to better incorporate the many distinct types of tornadoes recently revealed through high-tech sensors, such as Doppler radars mounted on the back of trucks.

Such “Doppler on Wheels” or DOW systems have detected a slew of tornado types since they were deployed starting in 1995, ranging from pairs of funnels that spin in opposite directions, like figure skaters at the Olympics, to so-called “satellite tornadoes” orbiting around or near a main, stronger twister.

In fact, if you look deeply enough into a tornado, you’ll find more complexity than you might have expected  with smaller swirls embedded within larger ones.

According to Greg Carbin, a meteorologist at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, the twin tornadoes that struck Pilger were unusual since we rarely see such a vivid example of a complex tornado but that  this probably happens more often than we know.

To add to Carbin's statement, longtime storm chasers have reported cases of having simultaneous, seemingly independent tornadoes.

For example, pioneering storm chaser Chuck Doswell said this is not as rare as one might initially think.

“Having two or more tornadoes in relatively close proximity is certainly far from a rare event. I've seen it many times in my chase career. It's unusual for both of them to be so large and (apparently) violent,” Doswell said in a Facebook discussion.

Either way, the event that happened in Oklahoma and Nebraska is truly a tragic one, that hopefully the town can recuperate from in a swift and painless manner.

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