The image of Dorothy clinging to Toto for dear life as she flees the twister that ominously snakes behind her are burned into my memory. Since childhood, I have been both awed and terrified by the power of the tornado in the classic movie, Wizard of Oz, based on Frank L. Baum’s novel. I devoured videos of storm chasers. As I poured over the information, I noticed that tornadoes seemed to become more frequent. A thought struck me: have tornadoes increased over time? Since I could not shake the nagging question I decided to do some digging.



History of the Oz Twister

I started my research with the history behind the tornado that caught my childish imagination.There was a single summer where so much of our region was affected by the tornadoes. Construction and concrete companies thrived, like my uncle’s company ended up getting a lot of business from the resulting repairs needed after the damage the tornadoes caused. Now Baum’s Twister was based on twin tornadoes that annihilated the town of Irving, Kansas, in 1879. The twins crash into the unsuspecting town caused complete and utter destruction. The Irving tornadoes were a great tragedy for the region, but they did not strike anyone as being part of an increasing trend. Rather the storm appeared to many as an unfortunate product of nature.

Rise in Outbreaks

As studies progressed from 1879, meteorologists in the United States concluded that, on average, there are about 20 days of storm outbreaks that yield tornadoes. This number has stayed consistent throughout the decades. So how come tornadoes seem to happen more than usual? One of the explanations is an increase in the amateur footage. Nowadays, an ordinary person armed with a cellphone and vehicle can become a storm chaser. As a result, instead of one official video, there are 10 or 20. Meteorologists also admit that even though the days have remained steady the number of tornadoes that appear within those days has increased over time. So instead of 10 tornadoes happening in one outbreak, there are now 15 or 20. Not only is the number increasing, but the intensity is as well. The most devastating tornadoes in recent memory have all reached F-3 and beyond.


Tornadoes Now

For example, Pilger, Nebraska, entertained two twin tornadoes in 2014. In an uncanny impersonation of the Wizard of Oz, one of the twins blew through a residential area picking up an entire house and depositing it in a field. This tornado was officially recorded as being an F-4 which is the second strongest rating on the meteorological F-scale.

Meteorologists are intrigued at the increase in sightings and intensity that contemporary tornadoes exhibit. However, they do not have any concrete or specific explanations for this phenomenon. Their working hypothesis is that somehow the production of greenhouse gases (i.e. global warming) is affecting the atmosphere which increases the number of tornadoes per outbreak. Meteorologists are confident that this is a major contributing factor.

 Whether it is on the silver screen or in my backyard, tornadoes still hold an exciting albeit terrifying fascination for me.  My only hope is that, unlike Dorothy, my house stays where it is.