March 2 seems very early for the rash of deadly tornadoes that hit the Midwest and South yesterday. Having spent most of my life in the South, I know the fear inspired by the tornado sirens and feel the pain of those who lose everything in the blink of an eye. I used to comfort myself by saying that I did not know anyone who had experienced a tornado firsthand, thinking that meant that the probability of encountering one myself would be extremely low. That changed when I lived in Georgia and found myself comforting co-workers after their homes were damaged by a twister. Luckily, though, property damage was the extent of their difficulties. Still, too close for comfort.
When there are reports of tornadoes hitting several different states as there were yesterday, I find myself wanting to see a map. Where is Henryville, Indiana? And what parts of Alabama, Ohio, and Kentucky were hit? Having searched with no luck to find yesterday’s storm tracks mapped, I contacted a friend with the National Weather Service. I was told that such maps only become available after NWS survey teams complete the field verification of all potential tornado tracks, which can take several days, but that a preliminary map would be available on the Storm Prediction Center website. The site has interesting maps, like the ones below, and also a downloadable GIS shapefiles on the Severe Weather GIS page. As the nation responds to this new round of catastrophes and our sympathies turn to those in need, we can also appreciate the efforts to study and understand this destructive phenomena.