WMU News

Tornado time in Michigan

July 16, 1999

KALAMAZOO -- Hot, humid weather is a good time for backyard barbecues and trips to the beach. It's also a good time for tornadoes. Fortunately, most tornadoes are not severe, says Elen Cutrim, a WMU assistant professor of geography and authority on tornadoes.

"Normally we divide tornadoes into weak tornadoes, strong tornadoes and violent tornadoes," Cutrim says. "Most of the time you have the weak tornadoes. We are pretty lucky that 69 percent of all tornadoes are weak. They are in the neighborhood of 110 mph winds or less, and less than 5 percent of these tornadoes bring death."

Cutrim says 29 percent of tornadoes are classified as strong, like the twister that tore through Kalamazoo 19 years ago. Only 2 percent are violent tornadoes, but these very powerful storms account for 70 percent of all tornado deaths.

Myths also abound about tornadoes, Cutrim says. Those myths include the notion that certain areas, such as mountains, are safe from tornadoes, and that opening windows before a tornado hits is a good way to equalize pressure and minimize damage. Cutrim says recent studies show most tornado damage is caused by wind and debris slamming into a building, not from unequal pressure.

Media contact: Cutrim can be reached at her office at 616 387-3418, or contact Mark Schwerin in the Office of University Relations, 616 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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