Terrifying and exhilarating, tornadoes are nature’s wildest storms.
Usually foreshadowed by an eerie lull, a typical tornado appears as a funnel-shaped cloud spinning amid whirling winds that can reach up to 300 mph. That’s fast. The punch a tornado packs can wreck a neighborhood in seconds. The “damage paths” a tornado carves can be over one mile wide and 50 miles long.
Unfazed, some thrill-seekers chase twisters and super-storms for the adrenaline rush liable to morph into terror as their vehicles shudder. Ready to rumble? Fasten your seatbelts and come on a lightning tour of the world’s wildest storm-chasing destinations: howling hotspots racked by hard rain and hail.
Tornado Alley: By nature, tornadoes get around and are hard to pin down. More like a monster freeway than a winding lane, Tornado Alley swallows up the vast area between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians. Across the expanse, to daredevils’ delight, tornado activity abounds. Incoming!
Picture an ominous parade of monster, mile-wide twisters and super-cell thunderstorms. The furious forces of nature merrily toss around cars and uproot trees like weeds, against a backdrop of constant lightning.
Why anyone would buy a home in the explosive zone is a mystery. Tornado Alley residents have to take out tornado insurance or risk financial ruin on top of the shock that twisters trigger.
“When we walked upstairs, we could see the stars where the roof used to be,” a resident in the city of Kaukauna, Wisconsin told CNN after a Tornado Alley twister tore the roof off his home.
Tampa Bay: If you ever go to Tampa Bay in the Sunshine State, Florida, bring your shades. You may need them because of the lightning. Tampa Bay is America’s lightning capital. Just to jazz things up, Tampa Bay also stages hurricanes and tornadoes that cause mayhem.
In April 2011, a massive storm system that rolled through the region paralyzed it for most of one day with pounding, drenching rain and furious winds. During the onslaught, power poles snapped, sending sparks flying. Tree limbs skewered a tent city’s dwellings. Dozens of homes were crushed by falling trees or had their fences flattened and mailboxes “plucked”. The rampaging winds worthy of a disaster movie even prised the top floor off a two-story home on Indian Rocks Beach. Hellish.
But after Tampa Bay’s cloudbursts come stunning sunsets. In storm-chasing, half the buzz is the breathtaking beauty that precedes and follows the fireworks that leave you quaking with adrenaline.
Guam: Stuck smack in the heart of the earth’s most active cyclone region. Guam typically takes a beating from twisters during the autumn. But you never know when a twister will strike in Guam or anywhere else. Twisters routinely buck expectation.
In December 2002, a twister named after a flower but far from delicate, Super Typhoon Pongsona, barrelled toward the Guam coast. The volatile tropical island paradise thundered and fizzed. Super Typhoon Pongsona unleashed an assault reminiscent of Guam’s Second World War past, knocking out the power supply. Some 1,300 houses were wrecked. Talk about flower power.
In a sideline, Guam also serves up bone-jarring earthquakes.
Britain: The home of lukewarm beer and the world’s most languid game, cricket, seems a strange place to look for full-throttle storms. But Britain is one of the world’s tornado capitals. Over 100 tornadoes wallop the UK every year: tons, given the island nation’s dinky size.
Rewind to the morning of Thursday December 7, 2006. The scene: Kensal Rise, London. First, just to soften everyone up, a torrential hail storm unfolded. Then, at 11 am, the sky above the sleepy suburb turned black. Just seconds later, the darkness lifted to reveal the carnage wreaked by 130 mph winds.
One witness reported that the tornado felt straight from the Wizard of Oz – sucking things in, spitting them out. The monster disturbance swallowed everything from tiles to trees.
In September this year, Britain had to face the tail-end of another meteoric monster – Hurricane Katia. Roaring across the Atlantic, Hurricane Katia brought fierce winds and torrential rain. Then, in December, weird weather chaos erupted in Scotland.
According to one British storm chaser fond of entering the eye of the storm, the UK’s wild weather epicentre is in the East Midlands. The area is the country’s lightning capital – a British answer to Tampa Bay, a hub of anarchy in the UK.