Disasters: Up the Alley

To meteorologists at the Severe Local Storms Forecasting Center in Kansas City, Mo., the signs were ominous. A turbulent low-pressure system was building up in eastern Kansas, creating the conditions that breed tornadoes. Out went the first of a series of warnings. But to thousands of citizens living in "Tornado Alley," a vast band of land extending about 400 miles on each side of a line from Fort Worth to Detroit, the warnings were old stuff, and therefore to be ignored.

Then the tornadoes came. In two days, 45 twisters tore through the...

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