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Hi, Matt: I’ve never heard of there being tornados in England or Greece or anywhere else except the United States. Is this true? Why would it be true? I can’t figure out why they would only appear in Iowa and Texas and not in New York City or London. — Broadband, via email

December 7, 2006, must have been a busy news day in the U.S., since we didn’t hear anything about the tornado that hit northwest London, injured six, and smooshed more than 100 buildings. The U.S.’s Tornado Alley might be world famous, but every state has had at least one recorded tornado, including Alaska. And Europe, from Finland to Italy, has had them too. Ditto Russia and Australia. Theoretically, a tornado can appear anywhere on the globe as long as the right temperature, humidity, and wind conditions exist. The central Midwest just happens to be in a spot where differing weather fronts are most likely to smash into each other and produce a circulating storm big enough to create tornadoes. NOAA says we have about 1000 tornadoes a year in the U.S.

London isn’t the only city that’s been hit. The Tornado Alley cities of St. Louis and Oklahoma City are also targets. But it does seem that cities are hit less frequently than, say, rural trailer parks and housing developments, and that’s for a couple of reasons. When we say “city,” we’re mostly thinking of the downtown core, full of tall buildings and the trendiest bars. This makes up only a tiny dot within the whole tornado area. Low odds a tornado will hit any particular speck of land. And there’s also a chance that the heat radiated off big buildings in every city center or the jagged outline of the buildings might disrupt a small tornado and deflect it. But that’s just a science-guy guess.

Our Tornado Alley stretches from the eastern Rockies to Texas to the Dakotas, and east to the Appalachian Mountains. All those places that people came from before they moved to San Diego.

Matt: Used to be when we had old-fashioned coffee shops, regular coffee was in pots with brown handles and decaf in pots with orange handles. I guess there are still a few around. Anyway, why orange for decaf? — Anonymous, via email

Before the invention of the barista, the suave color orange was the color for decaf. Not an arbitrary choice by coffeepot makers. A merchandising brainstorm from the coffee moguls, natch. Remember Sanka? Since the 1920s, the quintessential decaf product. To stand out on the market shelf, Sanka’s label was orange. Then some bright bulb in the sales force came up with the idea of giving coffeeshop owners new orange handles for their Sanka pots so waitresses wouldn’t mistakenly pour a high-voltage cup of java for a low-voltage customer. The idea worked so well that today we identify orange handles with any decaf product, and it’s lost its Sanka connection. Not many marketing ideas work too well, but this is one of them that did.

Additional Aspirin Headaches

Why, why am I always the target of wise guys? Oh, okay, Matt. You can dish it out but you can’t take it? Well, um, maybe. So, anyway, Dr. Jimmy (that’s Ph.D. type) was compelled to fill what he saw as crucial gaps in last week’s aspirin answer:

Yo, Matt: [Y]ou neglected to mention that it was the good chemists at Bayer who put the acetyl in acetylsalicylic acid, thus creating Bayer Aspirin. Further, “Aspirin” was (and in parts of the world, I believe, still is) a Bayer trademark, although in English it’s entered common use…in a class with kleenex and jello. [T]his is some important information! After all, as Seekers After Truth know, there is no knowledge greater than that which can win you a bar bet now and again.

Finally, Yr Hmble & Ob’t Srv’t offers a bit of technical clarification, edit[ing] your own words. “Seems that aspirin loves to bind to a particular protein, an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (or COX). COX drives a key step in the biochemical pathway that leads to the production of chemicals called prostaglandins; block COX, and you block prostaglandin manufacture. Prostaglandins… send signals to nerves, which the brain interprets as ‘Ouch!’ and they can induce inflammation, which leads to localized infiltration and activation of white blood cells. Block the production of prostaglandins, and pain and swelling are diminished.”

Showoff. Just a showoff.

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Josh Board Dec. 7, 2009 @ 2:04 a.m.

Of course there are tornados in England. They're just on the opposite side of the road when they roll (er, spin) into town.


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