There was both shock and amazement on the part of many Restonians to hear last Friday evening that our community was under a tornado warning by the National Weather Service (NWS). These warnings occur all the time, especially in the Midwest and earlier that day across the deep South. For us the weather is relatively mild, although the winds do seem to blow harder these days, and the rains this spring seem to have brought a lot of local flooding. The amount of snow varies from winter to winter.
About 8:30 p.m. on Friday the National Weather Service found that an approaching squall line ahead of a larger storm’s cold front distorted into an S shape across Northern Virginia. Gusts along the bow were significant until the bow broke up into a rotating storm. Doppler radar revealed a counterclockwise circulation known as a mesocyclone over Reston that developed into a cyclone.
Technically the National Weather Service recorded that on Friday, April 19, there was a tornado event in Reston beginning at 8:55 p.m. estimated time with estimated maximum wind speed of 70 mph, with a maximum path width of 100 yards and a path length of 4 miles. The NWS uses the Fujita Scale to classify tornadoes into one of six categories—EF0 (weak) to EF5 (violent). The tornado in our community was rated at the lowest ranking, EF0.
For professional weather people who deal with bad weather all the time, the tornado in our community that lasted an estimated five minutes may have seemed weak. But for those who sought refuge in their basements and heard the wind whipping around their homes and saw the trees swaying in their yards the storm was anything but weak. Fortunately, no one was killed or reported hurt. Lots of trees and branches were downed and several cars were damaged with one townhouse being severely damaged. Everyone is left to wonder if we will be as lucky if the flukes of weather send their wrath on us again.
Weather refers to what happens in the atmosphere around us with rain, snow, wind, and thunderstorms as examples. For many of us weather conditions seem to have become more severe. Only scientific recordings of weather events over a long period of time will provide evidence needed to confirm or deny our hunches. All the weather events of temperature, humidity and rainfall patterns averaged over seasons, years or longer creates our climate. There is ample evidence to demonstrate that climate is changing and that human behavior especially in releasing more heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere is a leading cause. Completing the circle of what is happening in our world is that climate change is bringing about more extreme weather events.
While extreme weather, climate change and global warming may be controversial topics to some, many of us are deeply concerned. This week’s celebration of Earth Day was a global experience. Our local weather event while relatively mild reminds us that we need to be serious about the subject and serious about our response to it.