Has there ever been a tornado in Los Angeles?

Yes, southern California, including Los Angeles, have experienced weak tornadoes on occasion. Fortunately, no deaths have yet been reported in the state as a result. On May 22, 2008, two tornadoes touched ground in Riverside County near San Diego. A tornado warning was also issued in Los Angeles that same month, causing

A TOtable Tornado Observatory (or TOTO) is placed in the path of oncoming tornadoes to measure air pressure, humidity, temperature, and other information that could prove useful to researchers. (NOAA Photo Library, NOAA Central Library; OAR/ERL/National Severe Storms Laboratory)

A TOtable Tornado Observatory (or TOTO) is placed in the path of oncoming tornadoes to measure air pressure, humidity, temperature, and other information that could prove useful to researchers. (NOAA Photo Library, NOAA Central Library; OAR/ERL/National Severe Storms Laboratory)

minor damage to homes in the suburb of Inglewood. Los Angeles County has officially seen more than 30 tornadoes since 1918.

Do tornadoes strike in countries other than the United States and Canada?

Yes, but the United States keeps the best records on tornadoes, and so it is difficult to ascertain the frequency and ferocity of twisters in foreign nations. The Canadian prairie experiences significant incidents, but one could say that these are all part and parcel of the North American conditions that are ideal for tornado formation. Other countries that have significant accounts of tornado activity include Great Britain, Italy, western France, Brazil, Argentina, Russia, Bangladesh, China, northern India, Pakistan, Japan, South Africa, and New Zealand. England experiences a tornado about once every year and a half, and Australia probably has more tornadoes than are witnessed, because many of them likely occur in the Outback, where the population is sparse.

Do tornadoes always turn counterclockwise?

As a rule of thumb, a tornado in the Northern Hemisphere will rotate counterclockwise, while those in the Southern Hemisphere twist in a clockwise rotation. But, as with any rule, there are always exceptions. Anticyclonic tornadoes (rotating clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere) have occasionally been observed. When they do, they are typically weaker twisters associated with weak storm cells or sometimes appearing as waterspouts. One of the strongest anticyclonic tornadoes was observed in 1998 near Sunnyvale, California. Even rarer—but still possible—is an event when a supercell generates both cyclonic and anticyclonic tornadoes.

What is the difference between a tornado watch and a warning?

A tornado watch means that weather conditions within the next few hours are favorable for the formation of tornadoes. When a watch is issued, it is wise to listen to radio or television reports for updates, and you should make any preparations necessary in case you need to seek immediate shelter. A tornado warning means that an actual tornado has been spotted on Doppler radar, or by an observer in your area, and you should immediately take shelter.

What should I do when a tornado approaches?

Try to get to the lowest level of the building (unless you are in a mobile home or outdoors, in which case you should seek a sturdy and safe shelter; many mobile home parks have a centrally located tornado shelter these days). Go to the center of the room and hide under a sturdy piece of furniture. Stay away from windows, hold on to the leg of a table or something else stable, and protect your head and neck with your arms. If your home has a basement, take shelter there. If not, interior bathrooms are usually the sturdiest rooms in a home, and you can protect yourself further by climbing into the bathtub.

Is it a good idea to open windows and doors so that air pressure is equalized inside a house?

There is a long-standing myth that when a tornado is near a home it lowers the air pressure outside so much that the higher, interior pressure in a house will cause it to explode. This is not true; tornadoes damage and rip apart houses simply by virtue of wind speeds and the debris they blow about. Opening doors and windows increases the possibility that flying objects will enter the home and possibly hit those hiding inside.

 
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