As we recently warned, tornadoes can strike without warning: Now a huge tornado has hit Springfield, Massachusetts. Sacramento, California has been hit too. Why can't we forecast these terrible storms so that people can take shelter? There have been plenty of tornadoes this year, but for 60 years, 1953 was the deadliest tornado year on record. Now that record of 519 fatalities has finally been beaten by more than 520 recorded so far this year. In 1953, a Nebraska family was calmly eating supper one minute, then the next minute all 10 of them were dead. In the May 31st edition of the New York Times, Guy Gugliotta quotes one of the family's neighbors, Joy Lutz, as saying, "There was a roar like hundreds of airplanes, then an explosion." Then came a second explosion, "louder and longer than the first." Their house was flattened, but their neighbors' home had disappeared.
Tornado forecasting has improved over the years, researchers say and fatalities have declined steadily for 100 years, but many of the circumstances that were beyond science in 1953 are still beyond science today. So far, 2011 has had many more tornadoes than other recent years. Is this due to climate change? Historian Thomas Grazulis thinks it's a coincidence. In the Times, Gugliotta quotes him as saying that a tornado "could easily hit nothing but empty farmland." He quotes meteorologist Harold Brooks as saying about the tornado that hit Joplin, Mo., this month, "Move the Joplin tornado five miles to the south or to the north, and our death toll is maybe 10 or 15--not more than 100. As much as we think we have control, that's not the way the world is." Forecasting has gotten much more sophisticated, but that doesn't necessarily save lives. Gugliotta quotes Grazulis as saying, "So it's the first year of forecasting, we're going to save lives, and we have the biggest death toll in history."
In 1998, Whitley Strieber had never heard of climate change, but the Master of the Key burst into his hotel room in Toronto and told him all about it (The new, UNCENSORED edition of The Key, with a foreword that talks about how many of his statements later turned out to be true, is in bookstores NOW).