Devastating Storms in Kentucky & the Midwest

Hiathan Nguyen

Last week, Kentucky endured the “deadliest tornado event [they] have ever had.”

Tornadoes are created by thunderstorms, which are made up of thunderclouds. Thunderclouds attract warm air and push down cold air—creating circular currents. Although these currents start in the clouds, they can make their way to the ground. When this deviation happens, a tornado forms. 

Kentucky borders Tornado Alley, a loosely defined group of states known for having frequent, destructive tornadoes. While Kentucky isn’t generally considered part of the Alley, it’s no stranger to tornadoes. According to The Courier-Journal (which I recommend checking out—they have some interesting tornado data), Kentucky has an average of 17 tornadoes per year. However, compared to tornadoes in Tornado Alley, tornadoes in Kentucky are usually benign. The state average for tornado deaths per year is two, while ~ 700 people die in car accidents.

Last Friday, a huge storm in Mississippi conceived over 30 tornadoes. These tornadoes migrated through Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, and Tennessee until they eventually hit Kentucky. The storm’s trajectory is what led to Kentucky being hit the hardest. While it clipped the edges of the other affected states, it entered the southwest corner of Kentucky and continued diagonally until it stopped dead center (refer to the image below for a visual).

Kentucky’s death toll is already at 70 and is expected to exceed 100 after rescue teams finish searching through the destruction. “This is the deadliest tornado event we have ever had…I’ve got towns that are gone, that are just, I mean, gone,” said Kentucky’s governor Andy Beshear. In Mayfield, one of the hardest-hit cities, nobody has been found alive in the wreckage. 

President Biden signed Kentucky’s state of emergency declaration, sending resources, the national guard, and more police to the affected cities—“I promise you, whatever is needed, the federal government is going to find a way to provide it.”

It will be years before the 230-mile path of destruction is fully cleared and rebuilt. However, the emotional damage this tragedy caused may never heal. If you’d like to help Kentuckians get back on their feet, here’s a link with info about what you can do.

Sources:

https://data.courier-journal.com/tornado-archive/kentucky/

https://scijinks.gov/tornado/

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/dec/12/kentucky-tornadoes-death-toll

Images: https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2021/12/11/tornado-path-mayfield-kentucky-deaths/

https://people.com/human-interest/kentucky-tornadoes-death-toll-tornado-storm-damage/