- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 13, 2001

I quickly learned to respect and fear tornadoes ferocity while growing up in the Midwest. I have vivid memories of doing practice drills in school, watching warnings flash across my parents television screen, seeing the green sky associated with an impending twister and occasionally taking shelter in the basement.

Luckily, I never had a close encounter with a tornado, but about 1,000 of them hit U.S. cities every year. Since this is prime tornado season, Internet surfers might want to have a look at a Web site dedicated to these windy monstrosities and how to survive them.

The Tornado Project

Site address: www.tornadoproject.com

Creator:

The financial support for the site comes from the Tornado Project; all the content is written by Tom and Doris Grazulis. The company has been in business since the early 1970s, developing tornado-related products for those who want to know more about severe weather.

Creator quotable:

"In the beginning, we created the site as a way to keep in touch with our 15,000 or so customers and to keep them apprised of new products. As the number of people able to access the Internet grew, however, we realized it was an ideal way to provide a source of free information to the general public," says Mr. Grazulis, Tornado Projects director.

"We wanted the site to be free in another way free of the misinformation and hype so commonly found in tabloid-style news reports on TV or in print. On the Web site, we can address some of the inaccuracies and myths that still abound about tornadoes, and educate a much larger audience than just our own customers."

Word from the Webwise:

The Tornado Project has collected data from the 1950s to the present on 60,000 tornadoes that have wreaked havoc around the world.

The first and obviously most important area of the site, Tornado Safety, explains to visitors the best ways to survive an encounter with a force sometimes swirling at more than 300 mph.

Within this section, look for tips to get through this type of weather when in schools, high-rise buildings, hospitals and mobile homes and even while driving. The Red Cross also offers a list of supplies to have on hand, and the page describes signs to look for if a tornado is near.

Next, a detailed section on Storm Shelters enlightens through a series of questions that should be answered before building a commercial dwelling, a map showing tornado activity in the United States, specific links to the Federal Emergency Management Agency Web site (www.fema.gov) explaining how to protect property from winds, and a list of manufacturers.

One of the site´s major missions is assisting adults who have had their family´s history affected by a tornado and want to learn more about what a parent or grandparent experienced.

Thanks to the All Tornados Tornadoes section, visitors can track twisters that hit a particular county from 1950 to 1995. Using a clickable map or list of state links, page results include date, time, number of injured, deaths and the tornado´s Fujita Scale, or F-Scale, rating.

An explanation of the F-Scale can be found in the Fujita Scale section. This measurement, developed by Professor Tetsuya Theodore Fujita and Allen Pearson, rates the intensity of a tornado (F0 to F6) by examining the damage caused after it has passed over a man-made structure. For example, an F1, or moderate, tornado has wind speeds between 73 and 112 mph and can peel surfaces off roofs.

Other stops to view include Tornado Stories, which features the tale of the Newport family, which in 1932 lost mother, father and home to a tornado in Phillips County, Kan. The story is accompanied by photos of the devastation and an epilogue about one of the children who survived the storm: She is now 79 years old and lives in Nebraska. Also take a look at Oddities to find out whether a tornado can pluck a chicken of its feathers; Storm Chasers, which explains why someone would hunt twisters; and Tornado FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) to learn the probability of another twister killing more than 100 people.

Ease of use:

The designers use a clunky frame design, some photos and not much imagination to present information. That, however, should not dissuade visitors from entering this gold mine of information about the tornado.

I also found that the site loaded very slowly, no matter what connection speed I used. This slowness will aggravate anyone looking for immediate answers while using higher-end Internet connections such as DSL, cable modems or T1 lines.

Don´t miss: Visitors will find succinct answers to more than 50 common questions about tornados when entering the door labeled The Study, found under the Storm Cellar section. These questions range from "Where is Tornado Alley?" to "What do meteorologists see on Doppler radar?"

Family activity:

In addition to describing how to survive a tornado, the site offers complete instructions on how to create a simulated vortex. Once again, enter the Storm Cellar section and click on the Workshop door. The page explains how to make a tornado using household items such as cardboard, plastic wrap, duct tape and a hot plate. Children need to make sure Mom and Dad supervise.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

The Tornado Project gets funding from the sale of its line of videos, books, posters and T-shirts. This means Junior will get hit with a "buy" message on many of the pages. Serious students will appreciate the sites wealth of information for schoolwork while younger children will keep occupied temporarily with a word search, found under the Storm Cellar section.

Overall grade: B

Remember: The information on the Internet constantly is changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it´s accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician. Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).


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