A Midwest Nightmare

The sky
The sky

On Sunday November 17th, 2013, regions in the Midwest were scrambling to prepare for what was about to make their communities look like a pile of rag dolls being tossed around. A massive storm system was about to rip apart parts of Kentucky, Indiana, but mostly Illinois. Illinois was projected to get the worst of the system. The National weather service predicted a huge tornado outbreak at the beginning of the day, and they didn’t disappoint. Around 80 tornadoes were reported that day across the three states and tearing up whatever was in their paths.
Tornadoes are usually the extreme result of a very large thunderstorm called a super cell. During the storm cold air and warm air combine. The cold air drops as the warm air rises and the warm air eventually twists into a spiral and forms a funnel cloud. The sky turns into an ominous sight, and the tornado begins its path to the ground and begins its destruction. As the mesocyclone, which is known as the area of organized rotation, approaches the ground, a visible condensation funnel appears to descend from the base of the storm. As the funnel descends, the rear flank downdraft also reaches the ground. This creates a gust front that can cause damage a good distance from the tornado. The funnel cloud becomes a tornado within minutes of the Rear flank downdraft reaching the ground.
Early on, the tornado has a good source of warm, moist in-flowing air to power it, so it grows to maturity. This can be a few minutes or more than an hour. This is the most destructive phase of the tornado and can be more than 1.6 km across. The rear flank downdraft has become an area of cool surface winds and begins to wrap around the tornado, cutting off the inflow of warm air, effectively choking the tornado. When the Tornado is chocked, it begins to weaken and that is why they usually last only a few minutes.
I interviewed a friend of my uncle, who traveled to Illinois to help with the aftermath and asked him a few questions. One question I asked him is when he got there, what was it like walking around looking at what used to be a community. He said that “it was very hard for him to look at, even if it wasn’t his community.” I also asked him what the families were like. He said that “all of the families were very thankful to be alive and said that it doesn’t matter if they lost everything as long as they still had their family.” He said that most of the things the families brought with them to their shelter were pictures. One lady said that “houses can be replaced, but lives and memories can’t.”
I also interviewed one of my friends who now lives down in Florida who used to live out there. I asked him if it was uncommon to see tornadoes out there. He said “it was very common to see them.” I also asked him if the people were used to them and not as afraid out there. He said that “people out there are crazy.” Some go out and chase the tornado, and that many people are not afraid of a tornado but when it comes towards their house, they are petrified!
During this storm system, 6 people were confirmed dead. After watching numerous videos of interviews with some of the families, it was heart breaking hearing them say that they have no idea where half of their stuff is. It could be miles down the road or just completely destroyed. They even had to postpone the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens football game due to the severe weather system. I have never seen that happen in my life. As you can see these heartbreaking storms we call tornadoes can take everything you have in a split second and can ruin lives instantly.