Tornadoes, fires and floods

You know what a pot of water looks like when it has reached a rolling boil. The underside of the grey green clouds passing over us literally looked like that madly bubbling and churning water.

You know what a pot of water looks like when it has reached a rolling boil. The underside of the grey green clouds passing over us literally looked like that madly bubbling and churning water. The civil defence sirens used when the danger was eminent had already sounded. Police patrol cars slowly went through the neighbourhoods surrounding the precinct station with their sirens wailing as well.

Everyone tuned their radios to local stations to hear the latest bulletins on the path of the funnel cloud.

Moments after hearing a report the pulse-doppler radar of the National Severe Storms Forecast Centre, located back in the 1960s in downtown Kansas City, had tracked the potential tornado-generating cloud to a point literally two city blocks away from our family home, I went outside.

Looking up into those angry clouds, I decided then and there it was time to heed the warnings and head for the relative security of our basement.

This 40-some-year-old memory of a late spring evening in Kansas City, Missouri, remains vivid.

It was not unique though.

At this time of year, every year, tornado season afflicts the region stretching across the south central United States dubbed “Tornado Alley.” Draw a line from the northern panhandle of Texas, up through Oklahoma and across the state of Kansas to Kansas City and you have its heartland.

The wide area on either side of that line holds the distinctly unfortunate top ranking in sheer density of tornados, probably in the world, but certainly in the United States.

The reason for the vulnerability of this prairie landscape to tornadoes lies in the fact of the unique intersection of three wind streams there. Cold, dry air from Canada and coming down from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains collides with warm, moist air pushing north from the Caribbean and hot, dry air up from the Sonoran Desert of Mexico. This trans-boundary combination produces intense atmospheric instability and the resulting tornado-spawning violent thunderstorms.

This year, somehow, seems unique, though, because of the unusually high number of tornadoes and their severity.

The deadly tornado last Sunday that hit Joplin, Missouri, home town as I recall of Clyde Wann, the pioneer Yukon aviator and entrepreneur, was only among its latest examples and the single most deadly one so far.

The US National Weather Service gave it a F5 designation, the most powerful of twisters. The multiple vortex storm packed winds of at least 322 kilometres an hour according to them.

Some folk may attribute the tornadoes, fires and floods this year to an apocalyptic retribution for sins committed by an errant people. If so, prayer and repentance are in order.

However those of a more scientific bent may see nature and man, not a malevolent deity, as their source. One long-suggested impact of global warming sees an increase in the violence, severity and unpredictability of weather patterns. The finger of responsibility for this points square at us, and our excess carbon generating resource profligacy.

Instead of prayer, or maybe along with it, we should invoke the precautionary principle. As it states with the lack of a political or societal acceptance of the scientific consensus that our actions cause harm, the proper course of action demands that we cease the potentially dangerous or harmful activities until we do know for sure. This summer offers a great opportunity for us Yukoners to cut down on our carbon emissions. Make paddling, pedaling and pounding the pavement our practical prayer for a stable environment.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.

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