Rescuers work at the site of the overturned ship in the Jianli section of the Yangtze River, central China's Hubei Province, June 3, 2015. (Photo: Xinhua/Cheng Min)
U.S. weather experts back Chinese meteorologists' analysis that a level-12 tornado might have overturned the cruise ship carrying more than 400 people on Yangtze River, an article from Foreign Policy said on Tuesday.[Special coverage]
By quoting several U.S. weather experts, the author elaborated the difficulty in tornado prediction, the common occurrence of rotating thunderstorms on Yangtze River, which might be contrary to the perception of China's general public, and the possibility of a cyclone toppling a large boat.
"Tornadoes can indeed spin up with little to no notice," Christopher Strong, a meteorologist with the U.S. National Weather Service, was quoted by Foreign Policy as saying.
While a capable weather bureau can help provide early warnings, that is not possible in all cases, Strong said.
The article also pointed out that even though tornadoes are rare in China - much less frequent than in the U.S. - they do occur.
Thunderstorms are actually common on the Yangtze River, especially during the rainy season, including supercell thunderstorms that make almost all the strong tornadoes and very large hail, a senior research scientist with the National Severe Storms Laboratory told Foreign Policy.
Harold Brooks said that the available data, though limited, strongly suggests that the environment was "favorable" for tornadoes on Monday.
The article also used a previous U.S. incident as an example to illustrate the possibility that a tornado can overturn a large boat. A dinner theater showboat capsized on a Kansas lake in 1978 after it was hit by a tornado too small to be detected on radar, with 15 of the 59 passengers killed. The owner of the boat later said the crew had had less than two minutes to react.
Chinese meteorologists on Tuesday had confirmed that a sudden, strong and violent storm did occur at a section of China's Yangtze River where a cruise ship carrying 456 people sank on Monday night.
The tornado-like wind, measuring more than 12 on the Beaufort scale, lasted about 15 to 20 minutes and centered on the Yangtze River when the ship was struck and capsized at around 9:28 p.m. (1328 GMT) Monday near Jianli, Hubei Province, experts with the China Meteorological Administration said.
As of 8 a.m. (0000 GMT) Thursday, 14 people had been rescued, with the death toll climbing to 65.