Tornado Kills 116 People
May 24, 2011 • 11:18AM

The deadly May 22 super-tornado which flattened Joplin, Missouri, is the latest, dramatic marker of extreme weather in the Americas, reflecting planetary reactions to larger, solar and galactic activity. But beyond Joplin—where at least 116 people died during the mega-twister, the state of Missouri is part of a multi-state storm zone of the Flood of 2011, now devastating central United States, where cropland, agriculture-related transportation, and food processing is concentrated.

The Joplin supercell storm, a mile wide and six miles long, left a rubblefield. Severe storms and a tornado also hit North Minneapolis. A twister killed one man in the small Kansas town of Reading, where damage is severe; Gov. Sam Brownback has declared 16 counties as disaster areas. The current rains are set to continue. The vast storm zone extends from Arkansas all the way to the state of Ohio.

These events are only early days in the so-called annual season, for "Tornado Alley" (between the Rockies and the Appalachians)—a concept that is itself outmoded. The 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, forecast May 19 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is expected to be above average, with 12-18 named storms, of which 6-10 would form as serious hurricanes.

Two features stand out in this situation: Firstly, whatever flood control systems and emergency preparedness capacity that were in place, have been demonstrated to be crucial protections in the face of weather tumult. For example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Mississippi River and Tributaries Project (MR&T) for flood abatement, is fully in play, and working.

Secondly, President Obama is royally oblivious. His administration is doing a dance of disaster-aid-as-usual, and commiseration, when extreme weather and devastation require an extreme shift to sanity. Moreover, the threat of Pacific Rim earthquakes and volcanic eruptions remains unabated.

Obama made only a token stop-over in the Mississippi flood zone May 16, by jetting into Memphis, then rushing back to Washington for a basketball party. He spent barely a half-hour with Memphis flood victims, emergency workers and officials; then, in a speech, Obama's message to disaster victims was, you're on your own. He praised "communities in Memphis and all across the South, who have have banded together to deal with flood waters and to help each other in the aftermath of terrible tornadoes."

The agriculture damage toll continues to grow. The same storm system giving rise to the Joplin tornado, also brought hail, winds and torrential rains to a huge area of cropland in Missouri and Iowa yesterday. Livestock buildings were damaged. Still more large areas of already-sown plants will have to be planted, or planted to another crop, or abandoned, because the sowing time has passed.

In response to this disaster, agro-commodity speculation in Chicago is going off the charts. Corn futures went up last week over a $1 a bushel (from the $6.60 range to $7.80), a one-week increase of over 15%.

In Kansas today, Governor Brownback is meeting with emergency officials to weigh what can be done. Besides yesterday's storm damage, scorching drought has already ruined a huge part of the Winter wheat crop here, as well as in Texas and Oklahoma