Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:45 PM GMT on April 17, 2011
In a stunning display of violence, dozens of tornadoes rampaged through North Carolina and Virginia on Saturday, killing at least 25 people, injuring at least 130, and damaging or destroying at least 450 homes and businesses. Hardest hit in yesterday's outbreak was the the town of Askewville in northeast North Carolina, where a violent tornado that was likely at least an EF-3 ripped homes off their foundations and killed eleven people. Also hard-hit was the Raleigh area, where a mile-wide EF-3 tornado with 140 - 150 mph winds roared through the downtown region, killing five people. The 22 deaths in North Carolina made yesterday's outbreak the deadliest day for tornadoes in the state since 1984, when the infamous March 28 tornado outbreak killed 57 people and injured 1248.
Figure 1. Viewer-uploaded photo sent to WRAL of the Raleigh tornado shortly before it leveled a Lowes store in Sanford, NC.
Figure 2. Radar reflectivity loop of the Raleigh, North Carolina tornado at 3:59pm EDT as the twister passed through downtown. Note the classic hook-shaped echo of the parent mesocyclone in the rotating severe thunderstorms that spawned the tornado.
Figure 3. Doppler radar velocity image of the Raleigh, North Carolina tornado at 3:59pm EDT.
NOAA's Storm Prediction Center logged 105 tornado reports on Saturday, 113 on Friday, and 23 on Thursday, bringing the 3-day total to 241 twisters. These preliminary tornado reports are typically an over-count of about 15%, so the 3-day April 14 - 16 2011 tornado outbreak likely will end up with 200 - 210 confirmed tornadoes. This is a huge number of tornadoes; an average April typically has just 150 tornadoes across the entire U.S.
On Thursday, the first day of this remarkable outbreak, 23 tornadoes and numerous deadly severe thunderstorms tore through Oklahoma and Arkansas, killing at least nine people. An EF-3 tornado hit the small town of Tushka, Oklahoma, population 350, ripping off the roof of the local high school and destroying dozens of buildings in Tushka. Two people were killed and 25 injured. The tornado moved over farmland and dissipated a short time later, but the squall line that spawned the tornado moved into Arkansas Thursday night, spawning severe thunderstorm winds that killed seven more people. The outbreak ramped up significantly on Friday, with 113 tornado reports. The deadliest tornado of the day an EF-3 twister that hit Prattville, Alabama at 10:55pm CDT, killing three people in a mobile home, and injuring four others. One of the most damaging tornadoes occurred just west of Jackson, Mississippi, when an EF-3 tornado touched down just south of I-20, crossed the expressway, flipping cars and semis, then plowed through the town of Clinton. At least nine people were injured in Clinton, and Malaco Records, one of the top Blues/Gospel/Soul labels in the country, was destroyed by the tornado.
Figure 4. Satellite image from 21:40 UTC (5:40pm EDT) April 16, 2011, showing the strong low pressure system that brought yesterday's severe weather outbreak. Image credit: NASA/GSFC.
WRAL has an impressive time lapse animation from a skycam on a tall skyscraper in Raleigh showing what at the time was believed to be a rain-wrapped Raleigh tornado moving through downtown, but was actually just a thunderstorm downdraft.
Wikipedia has a nice summary of the tornado outbreak.
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