From Oklahoma through Kansas and into Missouri, a storm system of unprecedented ferocity marched through the night of May 3-4, 1999. Storms like these had not been seen since April 3-4, 1974 when more than 300 people were killed during an outbreak of at least 148 tornadoes that crossed 11 midwestern states. The 1999 storm system was unusual because more than one F-5 tornado apparently developed. On average, only one F- 5 tornado strikes the U.S. in a year. The scale, developed by Tetsuya Theodore Fujita of the University of Chicago, runs from F-1 a moderate tornado with winds up to 72 miles per hour, to F-5, with winds up to 318 mph. At least 45 people lost their lives in this deadly storm system, and thousands were left homeless.

On May 1 a highly unusual weather system spawned a killer tornado in Hunan Province, China that killed 17 people. Hailstones, some reaching four pounds in size, damaged at least 20,000 homes in the province. Tornadoes, while not unknown in China, have been extremely rare. The Hunan storm was in the F-4 range of intensity.

More extremely intense storms can be expected worldwide as global warming traps heat air close to the earth?s surface, causing stratospheric temperatures to plummet and temperature gradients between the lower and upper atmosphere to increase.

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