Tornadoes, floods, and fires continue to pound U.S.

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:13 PM GMT on April 27, 2011

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The nation's unprecedented April tornado-fest continued full force last night, with NOAA's Storm Prediction Center logging 57 tornado reports, 295 cases of damaging thunderstorm winds, and 254 reports of large hail. The 2-day tornado count from this latest huge April tornado outbreak is already 102. With another "high risk" forecast for tornadoes today, the tornado total for this week's outbreak may rival the April 14 - 16 tornado outbreak (155 confirmed tornadoes) as the greatest April tornado outbreak in history. It is unprecedented to have two such massive tornado outbreaks occur so close together, and the April preliminary tornado count of 654 is truly stunning. Even adjusting this number downwards 15% (the typical over-count in preliminary tornado reports) yields a probable April tornado total of 550. This easily crushes the previous April tornado record of 267, set in 1974. An average April has "only" 163 tornadoes, so we are already 300% over average for the month, and may approach 400% after today's outbreak. According to a list of tornado outbreaks maintained by Wikipedia, only two other tornado outbreaks have had as many as 150 twisters--the May 2004 outbreak (385), and the May 2003 outbreak (401). One positive note--there has only been one violent EF-4 or stronger tornado this year, despite the fact we've already had about 2/3 of the 1200 tornadoes one typically gets for the entire year. Over the past 20 years, we've averaged 7 violent EF-4 or EF-5 tornadoes per year, so we should have had 4 or 5 of these most dangerous of tornadoes so far this year.


Figure 1. Satellite image of last night's storm at 8pm EDT April 26, 2011. Image credit: NASA/GSFC.

Fortunately, no one was killed in last night's tornado frenzy, but four twisters caused injuries, with 7 injuries in Hesterman, Mississippi, and 3 in Beekman, Louisiana. Over 100 homes were damaged when a tornado struck Edom, Texas, approximately 75 miles East of Dallas. One woman was injured when her mobile home was destroyed. The only killer tornado of the current outbreak occurred on Monday night at 7:30 pm CDT when a 1/2 mile-wide EF-2 tornado struck the small town of Vilonia, Arkansas. Four people died in the town, where 50 - 80 buildings were destroyed. Tornado warnings were issued 30 minutes before the storm hit, contributing to the relatively low loss of life.


Figure 2. Storm chaser video of a tornado yesterday in Ben Wheeler, Texas.

Another very dangerous tornado outbreak expected today
The busiest April in history for tornadoes continues full-force today, as NOAA's Storm Prediction Center has issued their highest level of severe weather potential, a "High Risk" forecast, for Northern Alabama, Southern Tennessee, and adjoining portions of Georgia and Mississippi. This is the second day in a row, and third time this year, that SPC has issued a "High Risk" forecast. The devastating North Carolina tornado outbreak of April 16, which generated 52 confirmed tornadoes that killed 24 people in North Carolina and 2 people in Virginia, was the other "high risk" day. Numerous tornado warnings have already been issued in Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Ohio, and Alabama this morning, but today's main action is expected to erupt late this afternoon as the cold front from a low pressure system currently over Arkansas moves eastwards over the "high risk" area. Strong daytime heating in a very moist, unstable airmass will allow a tremendous amount of energy to build up ahead of the front. The arrival of the cold front will force the warm, moist air upwards, allowing the pent-up energy to burst out and fuel supercell thunderstorms.

Related post: Are tornadoes getting stronger and more frequent?


Figure 3. Severe weather threat for Wednesday, April 27, 2011.

Unprecedented flooding predicted on Ohio River
This week's storm system, in combination with heavy rains earlier this month, have pushed the Ohio River and Mississippi River to near-record levels near their confluence. The Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois is expected to crest at 60.5 feet on May 1. This would exceed 100-year flood stage, and be the highest flood in history, besting the 59.5' mark of 1937. Heavy rains of 10 - 15 inches have inundated the region over the past few days, and one levee breach at Black River levee near Poplar Bluff, Missouri, has resulted in the evacuation of over 500 homes. Poplar Bluff has received 15.45" of rain since Friday morning. The greatest rain gauge-measured precipitation from the storm occurred in Springdale, Arkansas, where 19.70" inches has fallen since Friday morning.


Figure 4. The latest River Flood Outlook from NOAA shows major flooding is occurring over many of the nation's major rivers.

Extraordinary intentional levee breach of Mississippi River halted by lawsuit
In a sign of just how extreme this flooding situation is, yesterday the Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for flood control efforts on the Mississippi River, announced plans to intentionally destroy a levee protecting the west bank of the Mississippi River in Southwest Missouri. The destruction of the levee is intended to relieve pressure on the levees at Cairo, Illinois, at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Cairo is currently under a voluntary evacuation order. The levee to be destroyed, located at Birds Point, is called a "fuse-plug" levee, and was designed to be destroyed in the event of a record flood. The levee protects 132,000 acres of prime farmland along the New Madrid Spillway, which is designed to take 550,000 cubic feet per second of water flow out of the Mississippi and redirect it down a 3 - 10 mile wide, 36 - 56 mile long path along the west side of the Mississippi. An 11-mile long section of the levee upstream at Birds Point, and 5-mile long stretch at the downstream end, are set two feet lower than the surrounding levees and filled with holes to accommodate dynamite. These levees will be destroyed if the Army Corps has its way, but a lawsuit by the state of Missouri is currently blocking the way. The Army Corps has now agreed to wait until Saturday to decide whether or not to blow the levee. The Army Corps' website has an unofficial damage estimate of $100 million for destroying the levees and flooding the New Madrid Spillway. At least 100 people live in the spillway and have been evacuated, and it would likely take many years for the farms to recover after flooding. The levees have been blown and the spillway opened only once before, back during the record flood of 1937.

Midwest deluge enhanced by near-record Gulf of Mexico sea surface temperatures
The deluge of rain that caused this flood found its genesis in a flow of warm, humid air coming from the Gulf of Mexico. Sea surface temperatures (SSTs )in the Gulf of Mexico are currently close to 1 °C above average. Only two Aprils since the 1800s (2002 and 1991) have had April SSTs more than 1 °C above average, so current SSTs are among the highest on record. These warm ocean temperatures helped set record high air temperatures in many locations in Texas yesterday, including Galveston (84°F, a tie with 1898), Del Rio (104°F, old record 103° in 1984), San Angelo (97°F, old record 96° in 1994). Record highs were also set on Monday in Baton Rouge and Shreveport in Louisiana, and in Austin, Mineral Wells, and Cotulla la Salle in Texas. Since this week's storm brought plenty of cloud cover that kept temperatures from setting record highs in many locations, a more telling statistic of how warm this air mass was is the huge number of record high minimum temperature records that were set over the past two days. For example, the minimum temperature reached only 79°F in Brownsville, TX Monday morning, beating the previous record high minimum of 77°F set in 2006. In Texas, Austin, Houston, Port Arthur, Cotulla la Salle, Victoria, College Station, Victoria, Corpus Christi, McAllen, and Brownsville all set record high minimums on Monday, as did New Orleans, Lafayette, Monroe, Shreveport, and Alexandria in Louisiana, as well as Jackson and Tupelo in Mississippi. Since record amounts of water vapor can evaporate into air heated to record warm levels, it is not a surprise that incredible rains and unprecedented floods are resulting from this month's near-record warm SSTs in the Gulf of Mexico.


Figure 5. Departure of sea surface temperature from average for April 25, 2001. Image credit: NOAA/NESDIS.

Fierce winds fan Texas, New Mexico fires
Fierce winds fanned raging fires across eastern New Mexico and Western Texas yesterday, thanks to a powerful flow of air feeding into the Midwestern storm system. Temperatures in the upper 80s and low 90s combined with humidities less than 10% combined to make yesterday a nightmare fire day for firefighters attempting to control the worst springtime fires in the history of the region. At 3:53 pm MDT yesterday in Carlsbad, New Mexico, the temperature was 87°F, winds were 38 mph gusting to 46, and the humidity was 8%--a perfect storm for extreme fire weather. In Fort Stockton, Texas near the huge Rock House fire, the temperature was 91°F, winds were 35 mph gusting to 44, visibility was reduced to 5 miles due to haze and smoke, and the humidity was 5% at 5:53pm CDT. According to the Interagency Fire Center, wildfires in 2011 have already burned nearly 2.3 million acres in the U.S. This is the greatest acreage on record so early in the year, and is more area than burned all of last year. The largest U.S. acreage to burn since 1960 was the 9.9 million acres that burned in 2007, so we area already 25% of the way to the all-time record fire year--with summer still more than a month away. The fire weather forecast for today is better then yesterday, with winds not expected to blow nearly as strong.


Figure 6. Major wildfires and smoke plumes as visualized using our wundermap with the "fire" layer turned on.

For those who want to lend a helping hand to those impacted by the widespread destruction this month's severe weather has brought, stop by the portlight.org blog.

Jeff Masters

Rare Sight (Freakofnature1)
I haven't seen a storm like this in quite some time. Still no rain in Seguin, Tx. Pic taken in Seguin storm near Martindale.
Rare Sight
Mississippi @ Burlington (BURGuy)
Seating along the shore
Mississippi @ Burlington
Base of Anvil Cloud 4/26/11 (HuskerMama)
Taken within minutes after the storm cell had passed directly overhead.
Base of Anvil Cloud 4/26/11
Southern Lightning (WeatherRose)
This is a shot of a lightning strike associated with some severe storms moving through this evening in Southaven, MS.
Southern Lightning

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TWC Breaking
Tornado reported NW of Jasper, GA. Same supercell that devastated parts of Tuscaloosa, Birmingham. Survived since ern. MS
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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128668
Former Tuscaloosa tornado supercell looks headed for eastern part of the Georgia-North Carolina border region. Elevation there is about a kilometre.
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127 tornado reports now and still counting.
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Storms are becoming more linear in nature...Hopefully this will lead to the decline in tornadic storms. It should at least mean that the storms that are tornadic won't be as strong. A squall line can be wicked too, but I'd much rather have a squall line than a supercell.
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Quoting RastaSteve:


Yep, your right. I misunderstood. They made it seem that there is mass casualties there. This was per Law Enforcement.

"Casualties" don't necessary mean "fatalities"; a casualty can be an injured person, too.
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Strong indication of tornado just SE of Marion, AL in southern Perry County.
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ABC 33/40 Birmingham/Tuscaloosa's Live Television Feed

According to them, 15 people have died in Tuscaloosa, at least 40 have died in the entire state of Alabama.

I really hope the University of Alabama didn't get affected.
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Quoting emcf30:
Death toll up to atleast 40 now in AL


Just from today or combined?
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Downtown Jasper, GA is getting hammered right now by the same monster that came all the way across Alabama.



Also, Catoosa County, GA sheriffs just reported on the radio that the Food Lion in Ringold is destroyed.
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Quoting RastaSteve:


No need for this CRAP right now as we have massive amounts of casualties coming to light.

Quoting cat5hurricane:

You can go anytime...

Planning for a Warmer World / Semester Summary
sorry cat and Steve, but this isn't your blog and I didn't post anything against the rules.

I know nobody likes the gw debate on here, but do keep in mind I was responding to someone else's post. I didn't bring up the gw topic.

Funny how you target me though
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Quoting FLdewey:
Steve - easy with the BOLD brother.

There is no request for semi trucks to hold bodies... a mass casualty trailer is for rescue too. You're getting a touch carried away.


He only repeated what TWC stated. Yes its for rescue equip and supplies.
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Death toll up to atleast 40 now in AL
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1937
TWC Breaking
Tornado reported in NW Cherokee Co., GA (power flashes). TAKE COVER in Jasper, Amicalola Falls S.P

TWC Breaking
Possible tornado near Tri Cities Airport in east Tennessee.
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Quoting txag91met:
Please don't blame this tornado outbreak on AGW...3 months ago the GOM sea surface temperatures were running well below normal...this has nothing to do with AGW. Jet stream is just extremely strong because of the strong temperature gradient from North to South (thermal wind).

GOM warmed up quickly because of the record warm spring most likely caused by the strong La Nina.




Lets not start that crap. Now is not the time. As always there is and will be a time for that later. Thanks
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1937
Quoting flsky:
Is the WC located in Atlanta?


Yessir
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Quoting flsky:
Is the WC located in Atlanta?


TWC yes
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Quoting RastaSteve:
Semi trucks are being requested to haul all the dead bodies in Catoosa County, GA on the TN/GA border. Guys we maybe looking at 100's dead so far today. Worst outbreak in history right now. OMG!!
the dead you can no longer help nor they can no longer help themselves it is the living that we need to help for they can also help themselves

god will have mercy for all those that perish this dark night
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Is this a debris ball in eastern Alabama?
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Quoting RastaSteve:
Semi trucks are being requested to haul all the dead bodies in Catoosa County, GA on the TN/GA border. Guys we maybe looking at 100's dead so far today. Worst outbreak in history right now. OMG!!


Think you may have misunderstood that if you heard that on TWC. They have made a official request for Mass Casualty Trailers. This would be for the field triage and treatment of multiple patients also known as a MCI. However, base on these storms tonight we more than likely will have multiple fatalities in this area as well as others
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939. flsky
Is the WC located in Atlanta?
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Quoting RastaSteve:
Tuscaloosa is confirming 32 dead just in that city per TWC


Their website is reporting 32 dead but it doesn't specify it's Tuscaloosa alone. Unfortunate nonetheless.
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My God...It just keeps going...
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Live broadcast
ABC 33/40 Main


Webcam chat at Ustream
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Live audio feed Catoosa County Sheriff, Fire and EMS

I just started listening, so not sure how much you will hear.
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Quoting txag91met:
Please don't blame this tornado outbreak on AGW...3 months ago the GOM sea surface temperatures were running well below normal...this has nothing to do with AGW. Jet stream is just extremely strong because of the strong temperature gradient from North to South (thermal wind).

GOM warmed up quickly because of the record warm spring most likely caused by the strong La Nina.



No single weather event can ever be contributed directly to global warming. Only climate events can be directly contributed to gw (ex: arctic sea ice loss).

Why? Because gw is a gradual global trend of warming over a 30 year or longer period of time. Therefore gw can only influence the severity of storms or weather events. It cant cause them or be directly/solely responsible.
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I come back and I see it hasn't stopped…

SEVERE WEATHER STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE BIRMINGHAM AL
841 PM CDT WED APR 27 2011

ALC017-081-123-280215-
/O.CON.KBMX.TO.W.0133.000000T0000Z-110428T0215Z/
LEE AL-TALLAPOOSA AL-CHAMBERS AL-
841 PM CDT WED APR 27 2011

...A TORNADO WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR CHAMBERS...SOUTHERN
TALLAPOOSA AND NORTHWESTERN LEE COUNTIES UNTIL 915 PM CDT…

...TORNADO EMERGENCY CONTINUES FOR LAKE MARTIN AND DADEVILLE...

AT 837 PM CDT...EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT REPORTED A TORNADO. THIS
TORNADO WAS LOCATED NEAR STILL WATERS RESORT...OR 9 MILES SOUTHWEST
OF DADEVILLE...MOVING NORTHEAST AT 50 MPH.

LOCATIONS IMPACTED INCLUDE...
DADEVILLE...CAMP HILL...LAFAYETTE...LANETT...VALLEY...WAVERLY...
RIDGE GROVE...WEST CHAMBERS...STURKIE AND OAK BOWERY.

THIS INCLUDES...
INTERSTATE 85 EXIT NUMBERS 70 THROUGH 79...

TO REPORT SEVERE WEATHER...CALL 1-800-856-0758.

LAT...LON 3275 8513 3270 8549 3268 8579 3269 8590
3271 8591 3275 8589 3276 8592 3282 8593
3308 8522 3283 8516 3279 8512
TIME...MOT...LOC 0141Z 245DEG 43KT 3277 8583

$$

17!
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Quoting AussieStorm:
Still STRONG indication of tornado in N Bartow County, GA. Pine Log, Jasper may be in the path of this


Tornado currently near Alexander City, AL headed toward Hogansville, GA.
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TWC Breaking
TAKE SHELTER in northern Cleburne Co., AL headed into Polk, Haralson Counties, GA, including Cedartown

Damaged homes, downed trees, powerlines in Bartow Co. , GA.

TWC Breaking
#Tornado reported 9 miles SW of Dadeville, AL moving northeast! Tornado EMERGENCY!
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good to c u opsman27N82W

The Big CONUS Pic shows the System

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128668
This is just crazy. In less than half an hour:

SVR T-STORM WARNING PEACHTREE CITY GA - KFFC 941 PM EDT WED APR 27 2011
TORNADO WARNING BALTIMORE MD/WASHINGTON DC - KLWX 940 PM EDT WED APR 27 2011
TORNADO WARNING MORRISTOWN TN - KMRX 940 PM EDT WED APR 27 2011
SVR T-STORM WARNING BINGHAMTON NY - KBGM 940 PM EDT WED APR 27 2011
SVR T-STORM WARNING MORRISTOWN TN - KMRX 937 PM EDT WED APR 27 2011
TORNADO WARNING PEACHTREE CITY GA - KFFC 931 PM EDT WED APR 27 2011
SVR T-STORM WARNING CHARLESTON WV - KRLX 930 PM EDT WED APR 27 2011
TORNADO WARNING MORRISTOWN TN - KMRX 926 PM EDT WED APR 27 2011
TORNADO WARNING PEACHTREE CITY GA - KFFC 926 PM EDT WED APR 27 2011
TORNADO WARNING HUNTSVILLE AL - KHUN 826 PM CDT WED APR 27 2011
TORNADO WARNING HUNTSVILLE AL - KHUN 824 PM CDT WED APR 27 2011
TORNADO WARNING NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE - KAKQ 924 PM EDT WED APR 27 2011
TORNADO WARNING BALTIMORE MD/WASHINGTON DC - KLWX 924 PM EDT WED APR 27 2011
FLASH FLOOD WARNING HUNTSVILLE AL - KHUN 822 PM CDT WED APR 27 2011
TORNADO WARNING BIRMINGHAM AL - KBMX 821 PM CDT WED APR 27 2011
TORNADO WARNING BIRMINGHAM AL - KBMX 820 PM CDT WED APR 27 2011
TORNADO WARNING PEACHTREE CITY GA - KFFC 918 PM EDT WED APR 27 2011
TORNADO WARNING BIRMINGHAM AL - KBMX 818 PM CDT WED APR 27 2011
TORNADO WARNING MORRISTOWN TN - KMRX 918 PM EDT WED APR 27 2011
SVR T-STORM WARNING JACKSON KY - KJKL 917 PM EDT WED APR 27 2011
TORNADO WARNING BIRMINGHAM AL - KBMX 817 PM CDT WED APR 27 2011
TORNADO WARNING MORRISTOWN TN - KMRX 917 PM EDT WED APR 27 2011
SVR T-STORM WARNING MORRISTOWN TN - KMRX 915 PM EDT WED APR 27 2011
TORNADO WARNING NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE - KAKQ 915 PM EDT WED APR 27 2011
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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