Daily Archives: 30 April, 2008

Tornadoes and trains

It’s as reliable as sunrise: whenever there’s a tornado outbreak, a survivor tells us it sounded like a train. That’s just what one man who made it through Monday’s tornadoes in Virginia told a reporter.

I smile ruefully when I read such comments, because I grew up next to an railroad track and have seen and heard more tornadoes than I can count.

Not one of them sounded like a train. A jet engine? Yes. A B1 bomber kicking on the afterburners? Yes. An almost whisper-like whoosh as the tornado moved across green wheatfields? Yes. A low rumble that gathers in volume and intensity as it nears? Yes.

But a train? No.

I have never had a storm chaser or weather researcher who has seen and heard tornadoes use the “train” description, either.

I honestly don’t know if the victims trot out the train analogy because their shellshocked minds are grasping for some way to describe what they’ve been through, and it’s an easy cliche to latch onto — or if it’s something else.

Perhaps there would be value in researching the sounds of tornadoes for clues. Is the sound linked to the size of the tornado, or what it’s hitting while it’s on the ground? Is there a correlation to anything at all?