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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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
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Had my wife call her Aunt and Uncle that live in the Atlanta Metro Area. They were getting ready for bed and were unaware of the storms. They won't be going to sleep anytime soon now!
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TWC reporting Catoosa County, GA Fire and EMS requesting a mass casualty trailer from Chattanooga for multiple fatalities.
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That one looks like it's headed for the SC border...

Amazing....
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Quoting Patrap:
Night is the enemy behind the Tornadoes tonight.

The Longest night for thousands,,the last sadly for some unfortunately.

The Dawn will bring terrible sadness and scenes. Fireman,friends,neighbors,workers,.nurses,stranger s,...Americans will come together as they do in calamity.



and Flags will Show that..

Expect to see a lotta Flags.



..by the Dawns early Light


Amen friend, glad to see your words here. Good to watch you as well "Press."
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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.





Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52150
Quoting presslord:
I know NW Georgia very well...worked for the Congressman from that area...so...How is it that that mountainous terrain there isn't diminishing some of this?


CBS news said this wedge tornado is strong; mountains not expected to weaken it as would happen to weaker tornadoes.
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Quoting NHCaddict:
Where else in the world has tornadoes like this?


No where
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52150
Where else in the world has tornadoes like this?

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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125455
Still STRONG indication of tornado in N Bartow County, GA. Pine Log, Jasper may be in the path of this
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I don't think anybody is going down that AGW road right now.
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Quoting RandomText:
894:

Believe it or not, that is the Tuscaloosa/Birmingham tornado.

We've been keeping an eye on that cell all the way, and it's definitely the same system.

You are indeed correct
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
Quoting presslord:
I know NW Georgia very well...worked for the Congressman from that area...so...How is it that that mountainous terrain there isn't diminishing some of this?

Its not influenced from the ground up,,,, it's from the atmosphere down to the ground. Size also has a lot to do to it too.
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Listening to a feed of the Center Point, AL Fire and EMS- dispatch only in contact with one unit and that unit trying to pick its way through debris and not getting very far.
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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.



Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Night is the enemy behind the Tornadoes tonight.

The Longest night for thousands,,the last sadly for some unfortunately.

The Dawn will bring terrible sadness and scenes. Fireman,friends,neighbors,workers,.nurses,stranger s,...Americans will come together as they do in calamity.



and Flags will Show that..

Expect to see a lotta Flags.



..by the Dawns early Light
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125455
Quoting cat5hurricane:
Take a look at that hook from that cell just west of Ball Ground, GA. Wow.



I believe that's the Tuscaloosa and Birmingham tornado.
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I know NW Georgia very well...worked for the Congressman from that area...so...How is it that that mountainous terrain there isn't diminishing some of this?
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52150
TWC Breaking
Damaged cars, tossed semis at Exit 348 on I-75 near Ringgold, GA from tornado.
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Quoting Himawari:

Good. God. Please let it end soon...for the sake of all of the people hurt and who could be hurt.


I agree, have had many recurring dreams about a multiple tornado event since I went through one when I was very young. This past two weeks has been...disheartening.
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52150
From University of Alabama
While no structural damage has been reported on the UA campus, power outages are widespread. Areas of the community where many of our off-campus students live have been impacted.

The Student Recreation Center is available to students whose off-campus residences are damaged. Counseling services will also be available.

Because of the power outages, Lakeside Dining is the only dining facility open on campus. Lines will be long, so please be patient.

Please stay away from community areas that have experienced damage. If you must travel in Tuscaloosa, please be extremely careful. Obey all commands of law enforcement.
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Quoting pipelines:
Oh My God.......... text from my friend in Pleasant Grove, Al. "Help! Our house is gone! People are trapped and I don't know what to do!"

That's horrifying. I hope he's alright and the Emergency Management get there soon to help.
Member Since: August 9, 2009 Posts: 10 Comments: 4498
Now up to 118 tornado reports. 443 total. I wonder how many severe weather reports the SPC has seen this month, the number must be ridiculous.

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Quoting JeffMasters:


Judging by the April 14 - 16 outbreak, the preliminary reports are probably a factor of 2 overcount.

A rare night of incredible atmospheric violence. I feel for the poor people in the South!

Jeff Masters
ya its a terrible mess a break coming soon
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52150
TWC Breaking
Atlanta Dr Greg Forbes says most dangerous wave of storms about 2 hrs out
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Man downtown Cullman. Alot of it leveled. WOW. How may towns have been severely damaged or destroyed.
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
Thunderstorm with a radar indicated tornado heading for downtown DC. It looks to be about 1:20 away.
Member Since: February 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 140
Morristown, TN area Tornado Warning extended into southwestern Virginia.
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Quoting aquak9:
Go in peace.

Donate blood.
I donated yesterday. Fainted afterwards, but fine now.
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882. IKE

Quoting pipelines:
Oh My God.......... text from my friend in Pleasant Grove, Al. "Help! Our house is gone! People are trapped and I don't know what to do!"
Jesus.
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Oh My God.......... text from my friend in Pleasant Grove, Al. "Help! Our house is gone! People are trapped and I don't know what to do!"
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Go in peace.

Donate blood.
Member Since: August 13, 2005 Posts: 163 Comments: 25485
The Lines going Linear now and energy is being focused again in the Supercells..

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125455
TWC Breaking
Emergency Mgr.: Mt. Gilead community of Calhoun Co., AL is "completely impassablem even on foot."
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Quoting AussieStorm:

Still going, Still on the ground.

-sigh- I'm beginning to think it'll never go away...
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Quoting Himawari:
Has that Tuscaloosa monster gone away yet? I have a feeling it hasn't.


Nope, Kingston Ga now
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
Quoting Himawari:
Has that Tuscaloosa monster gone away yet? I have a feeling it hasn't.

Still going, Still on the ground.
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Has that Tuscaloosa monster gone away yet? I have a feeling it hasn't.
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About JeffMasters

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.