Winds also ripped through the country music mecca of Branson, Mo., damaging some of the city's famous theaters just days before the start of the busy tourist season.
The tornado that blasted Harrisburg in southern Illinois, killing six, was an EF4, the second-highest rating given to twisters based on damage. Scientists said it was 200 yards wide with winds up to 170 mph.
By midday, townspeople in the community of 9,000 were sorting through piles of debris and remembering their dead while the winds still howled around them.
As sirens blared, Derrick Washington stepped out of his motel room just long enough to see a greenish-purple sky. Then he heard the twister roar.
"Every time the tornado hit a building, you could see it exploding," he said.
At least 37 people were reported hurt, but most suffered only cuts and bruises. After the start of Branson's peak season in mid-March, up to 60,000 visitors would have been in hotels on any given day.
Just six guests were staying at J.R.'s Motor Inn, and all of them escaped injury by taking refuge in bathtubs. Engineers deemed the building a total loss after the second floor, the roof and all windows were destroyed.
Manager Lori McGauley choked back tears thinking about what might have been.
"We had 25 people booked for next week," McGauley said. "If this happened a week later, we would have lost some people."
A note to what I bolded above, because this is VERY important to know-and I've brought this up in past tornado threads...
Green thunderclouds are a sign of severe updrafts and turbulence. The reason the clouds are green is due to hail. Hail is ice that is blown up high into the thunderstorm-and these particular thunderstorms are known as supercells. They reach heights of 60,000 feet, and they can have updrafts as fast as 200 miles an hour. Basically, what happens is that the particle of water is blown up to the top of the thundercloud. It freezes, falls, and then is blown back up again with another layer of water on it. That layer freezes on top of the first layer. The cycle repeats-the ice falls, is blown back up, and another layer of water freezes onto it; it falls again. The more violent the updraft, the more this cycle repeats itself-until the hailstone is too heavy to be held up by the wind. It then falls to the earth. Basically, the bigger the hailstone, the more severe the updraft. The most violent thunderstorms can have hail the size of softballs, and even grapefruits! On rare occasions, hailstorms can kill people.
Therefore-the clouds look green because they are filled with hail. Light shining through the hail causes them to emit a green color. Severe updrafts are one sign of a possible tornadic storm.
Another ingredient are winds moving in different directions in the atmosphere. That gives these supercells a twist-so you end up having rotating thunderclouds. Tornadoes will form by the supercell's updraft points.
I'm really scared about this upcoming tornado season. Already this winter, in Texas, there have been days where the temperature has gone above 85 degrees, and now we are already starting to have the warm humid air masses coming from the Gulf. Keep in mind: the greater the contrast in air temperature and humidity between the two colliding air masses, the more severe the thunderstorms. When you add a jet stream above that acts like a bottle opener to intensify the updrafts, and winds moving in different directions in the atmosphere, you can have an army of tornadic supercell thunderstorms that can bring about death and destruction. It's already begun. And I still remember that last season, we lost several hundred people-making 2011 the second deadliest tornado season in history. The only one that was greater happened in 1925, when a tornado/series of tornadoes killed 689 people.
It looks like I might have to bump up my weather radio thread again.
Edited by Vapor Trails, 29 February 2012 - 09:24 PM.