HALF of the country threatened by tornadoes and severe weather as experts warn urban sprawl means deadly twister strikes on cities will become more common
- 59million Americans are at risk of tornado touchdowns Wednesday
- Bill Hooke, director of the American Meteorological Society, says mass-casualty twisters will become more common in the coming years
- Hooke compared development in Tornado Alley to a game of ‘Battleship’
PUBLISHED: 19:56 EST, 29 May 2013 | UPDATED: 20:09 EST, 29 May 2013
Nearly half of the nation is under threat of tornadoes or severe thunderstorms this evening as more ominous weather bears down on the Heartland Wednesday and Thursday.
Oklahoma City and its suburbs – still reeling from the massive storm that flattened Moore, Oklahoma and killed 24 people last week – is in the bulls-eye once again.
The National Weather Service is predicting a 10percent chance of massive EF2 to EF5 tornadoes striking in a large swath from the Texas Panhandle to central Kansas. More than 59million Americans are at risk of tornado touchdowns tonight.
Experts warn that urban sprawl – which has concentrated tens of millions of people in the suburbs in storm-prone Tornado Alley – means deadly twister strikes in populated areas are likely to become more common.
Funnel clouds have already been reported in Nebraska.
Tornado watches, which means conditions are right for funnel clouds to form and touch down, stretch from south central Texas, through most of Oklahoma, into Kansas, Nebraska and parts of South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.
Severe thunderstorm watches are in effect for most of New York and Connecticut, as well as parts of Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
Wider storm threats cover nearly half of the continental United States – ranging from Wyoming and Colorado to Florida, most of New England and the Mid-Atlantic.
On Tuesday, Kansas and Michigan became the latest sites of severe storm damage.
In Gensese County, Michigan, four tornadoes – including two EF2s with winds up to 135 mph, tore swaths of destruction across the county.
Numerous homes were badly damaged, but no serious injuries were reported.
At least one tornado also touched down in north-central Kansas, flattening a pig farm and several other homes.
None of the storms had anywhere left anywhere near the devastation wrought by a massive twister that killed 24 people and injured another 375 when it hit the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore.
Bill Hooke, director of the American Meteorological Society, told NBC News mass-casualty twister strikes are likely to become more common in the coming years, thanks to the population growth patterns in large cities in Tornado Alley.
He said fast-growing sprawling suburbs are becoming larger and denser as people leave small towns.
He compared the chances of a twister touching down in a populated area to a game of Battleship.
‘Think of the Midwest as a blank sheet of graph paper with the towns and cities being the ships,’ he said.
‘When you keep adding people, and more urban sprawl, and farms turn into housing developments, tornadoes are much more likely to hit something.
‘With that added into the picture, you’re exchanging many smaller encounters for fewer bigger ones. You have fewer events, fewer collisions, but when they do happen (the area) will be more populated and the damage will be greater.’
For example, Cleveland County, Oklahoma – home to Moore – grew at a rate of 23percent in the last decade, nearly three times as fast as the state as a whole.
One to two decades ago, the EF5 twister might have flattened several homes, but there would not have been the development in place for it to cause $2billion in damage and injury hundreds, Hooke added.