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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Has that Tuscaloosa monster gone away yet? I have a feeling it hasn't.
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Hmmm... got some friends in the SW GA area. I see they are now putting in warnings from Montgomery NE... kinda scary all round...
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thank you for being here with us, Dr. Masters.
Member Since: August 13, 2005 Posts: 165 Comments: 25842
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127807
Tornado reported west of Taylorsville, GA moving eas
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Straight line winds may be Georgia's biggest concerns. Hard to sustain such a long track, tornadic environment for that long.

Still a dangerous situation, however.

A few discrete cells may persist. Much energy is being channeled north of there.
Member Since: July 23, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 12414
NWS SRV on GoogleEarth 7:57 pm cdt, Atlanta radar.

NE AL and NW GA.

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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127807
Well I recall someone on here said the outbreak back on New Year's was a sign that the south would see a blockbuster tornado year. I didn't believe them. Very foolish of me.

2011's been crazy, first too much snow, now too many tornadoes. I'm hoping hurricane season DOES NOT follow the pattern, especially with the return of those insidious 2005 names.
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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127807
I'm not a weather expert. I'd like to know what is causing such violent storms in this area?! Is it a cold front?
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Here's as-it-happened video from a different TV station as the tornado went through Tuscaloosa. This camera was south of the twister looking toward downtown:

Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13508
Report of a credit union and several homes "leveled" in Rainsville, AL.

Tornado just N of Cleveland, TN right now with damage
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SPC Expanding High risk area to include Atlanta Metro area
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
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


Definitely, Dr. Masters.

We share your concerns.
Member Since: July 23, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 12414




SPC AC 280050

DAY 1 CONVECTIVE OUTLOOK
NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
0750 PM CDT WED APR 27 2011

VALID 280100Z - 281200Z

...THERE IS A HIGH RISK OF SVR TSTMS OVER ECNTRL/NERN AL...SERN TN
AND NWRN GA...

...THERE IS A MDT RISK OF SVR TSTMS FROM ERN KY SWD INTO CNTRL AL...

...THERE IS A SLGT RISK OF SVR TSTMS OVER MUCH OF THE ERN U.S. ASIDE
FROM NEW ENGLAND AND PENINSULAR FL...

...A HISTORICAL AND DANGEROUS OUTBREAK OF SEVERE THUNDERSTORM AND
TORNADOES CONTINUES ACROSS PARTS OF THE TN VALLEY AND SRN STATES...

CHANGES TO PREVIOUS OUTLOOK INCLUDE:

1/ EXTEND HIGH RISK TO INCLUDE MORE OF NWRN GA
2/ ADD HIGHER TORNADO PROBABILITIES IN MID-ATLANTIC
3/ REDUCE MDT RISK SWD FROM THE OH VLY
4/ TRIM WRN EDGE OF SVR RISKS IN TANDEM WITH FROPA

1. SVRL TORNADIC SUPERCELLS CONTINUE ENE FROM ECNTRL MS AND CNTRL AL
INTO ERN TN AT MID-EVENING. FAVORED ZONE OF ADDITIONAL SUPERCELL
DEVELOPMENT MAY OCCUR ALONG LOW-LEVEL CONFLUENCE ACROSS SWRN-CNTRL
AL THROUGH LATE EVENING. THIS WILL BE AMID THE MOST VOLATILE
COMBINATION OF EFFECTIVE SRH AND INSTABILITY AND THERE WILL BE A
DANGEROUS STRONG-VIOLENT TORNADO RISK SPREADING ENE THROUGH
CNTRL/NERN AL INTO NWRN AL AND SERN TN THROUGH THE EVENING HOURS.
AS A RESULT...THE HIGH RISK HAS BEEN EXPANDED EWD TO INCLUDE METRO
ATLANTA. PLEASE REFER TO LATEST MESOSCALE DISCUSSIONS /SWOMCD/ AND
WATCHES FOR UP-TO-THE-MINUTE METEOROLOGICAL DETAILS.

2. A LEAD MID-LEVEL WAVE CONTINUES TO MOVE NEWD INTO THE
MID-ATLANTIC REGION. INCREASING ASCENT...LOW-LEVEL CONFLUENCE ALONG
THE FOOTHILLS...MLCAPE TO 1500 J PER KG AND 300+ 0-1KM SRH GAVE RISE
TO SUPERCELLS WITH ISOLD TORNADOES EARLY THIS EVENING. THERE WILL
BE A RISK OF BRIEF TORNADOES THROUGH MID-EVENING...ESPECIALLY FROM
CNTRL/NRN VA THROUGH DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA INTO CNTRL MD.
OTHERWISE...DMGG WIND GUSTS AND LARGE HAIL WILL BE LIKELY...BEFORE
STORMS WEAKEN WITH LOSS OF INSOLATION.

3. ALTHOUGH THERE WILL STILL BE A THREAT FOR ISOLD TORNADOES...DMGG
WINDS AND HAIL FROM THE OH RVR NWD TOWARD THE LOWER GREAT LAKES INTO
LATE EVENING...HIGHEST PROBABILITIES OF SUSTAINED SVR WEATHER WILL
REMAIN FROM KY COALFIELDS SWD. CONSIDERABLE CLOUDS AND RAIN HAVE
MITIGATED STRONG DESTABILIZATION TODAY PER 00Z ILN SOUNDING.
THEREFORE...MDT RISK/PROBABILITIES HAVE BEEN SHIFTED SWD.

..RACY.. 04/28/2011
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 46 Comments: 11666
Quoting AussieStorm:
Tornadic storm in NW GA is the same one that produced tornadoes in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham


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

Quoting aquak9:


is he ok?
Yeah...he's okay.
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851. JeffMasters (Admin)
Quoting TomTaylor:
115 reports and counting


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
If they confirm that Tuscaloosa (now Rome) tornado as more or less continuous, it's officially longer than the Tri-State Tornado now.
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Tornadic storm in NW GA is the same one that produced tornadoes in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham

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Reports about 10 minutes ago: NWS office in Birmingham shut down; operations switched to Mobile, AL.
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Some of the concerns are going to have to shift to flooding and flash-flooding issues for the areas who have had training storms.
Member Since: July 23, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 12414
Quoting IKE:
My son in Knoxville,TN. has bad damage to his car from hail the size of golf balls to tennis ball size.


is he ok?
Member Since: August 13, 2005 Posts: 165 Comments: 25842
But wait, there's more.....



MESOSCALE DISCUSSION 0642
NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
0755 PM CDT WED APR 27 2011

AREAS AFFECTED...MUCH OF AL AND NORTHWEST/WEST-CENTRAL GA

CONCERNING...TORNADO WATCH 235...

VALID 280055Z - 280200Z

THE SEVERE WEATHER THREAT FOR TORNADO WATCH 235 CONTINUES.

PARTICULARLY DANGEROUS SITUATION /PDS/ TORNADO WATCH 235 CONTINUES
UNTIL 03Z...WITH A CONTINUED HIGH-END RISK FOR STRONG/PERHAPS
VIOLENT TORNADOES ESPECIALLY ACROSS A LARGE PART OF
EAST-CENTRAL/SOUTH-CENTRAL AL INTO NORTHWEST GA. GIVEN A SCHEDULED
03Z EXPIRATION OF TORNADO WATCH 235...EARLY INDICATIONS ARE THAT A
REPLACEMENT TORNADO WATCH WILL LIKELY BE NEEDED. THIS REMAINS A
POTENTIALLY LIFE-THREATENING SCENARIO.

NOT SURPRISING GIVEN A NUMBER OF DESTRUCTIVE TORNADOES SINCE THIS
AFTERNOON...THE 00Z OBSERVED BIRMINGHAM RAOB SAMPLED A CLASSIC
STRONG TORNADO ENVIRONMENT/PARAMETER SPACE...HIGHLIGHTED BY HIGH
BOUNDARY LAYER MOISTURE CONTENT AND VERY STRONG 0-1 KM SRH OF 450
M2/S2 VIA A LONG CURVING HODOGRAPH WITHIN THE LOWEST 1-2 KM. WITH
TIME...OBSERVATIONAL TRENDS/SHORT TERM GUIDANCE SUGGEST THE
STRONGEST 1-2 KM FLOW WILL CONTINUE TO SHIFT EAST-NORTHEASTWARD
ACROSS EASTERN AL INTO NORTHERN GA/THE SOUTHERN APPALACHIANS
VICINITY. THERMODYNAMICALLY...THE BOUNDARY LAYER WILL BE VERY SLOW
TO DECOUPLE AFTER DARK GIVEN THE HIGH MOISTURE CONTENT...AMID LOWER
70S F SURFACE DEWPOINTS AND 16 G/KM MEAN MIXING RATIO PER THE 00Z
BIRMINGHAM RAOB.

OF NOTE...ONGOING TORNADIC SUPERCELLS ASIDE...SHORT TERM
OBSERVATIONAL TRENDS IMPLY THAT ADDITIONAL STORMS/SUPERCELLS ARE
LIKELY TO CONTINUE TO DEVELOP/INCREASE IN THE SHORT-TERM ACROSS
SOUTH-CENTRAL/EAST-CENTRAL AL AMID A ZONE OF SHARPENING LOW LEVEL
CONFLUENCE.
THIS WOULD INCLUDE THE VICINITY OF MONTGOMERY AND NEARBY
I-65/I-85 GENERAL VICINITIES. ACCORDINGLY...SUSTAINED/RELATIVELY
DISCRETE TORNADIC SUPERCELLS...WITH CONTINUED STRONG/PERHAPS VIOLENT
TORNADO POTENTIAL...ARE LIKELY TO PERSIST WITHIN A WSW-ENE ORIENTED
BROAD CORRIDOR ACROSS A LARGE PART OF CENTRAL/PORTIONS OF SOUTHERN
AL INTO NORTHWEST/WEST-CENTRAL GA THIS EVENING.

..GUYER.. 04/28/2011


ATTN...WFO...FFC...BMX...HUN...MOB...
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 46 Comments: 11666
841. IKE
My son in Knoxville,TN. has bad damage to his car from hail the size of golf balls to tennis ball size.
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Tornado warning for Knoxville metro. Possible tornado south metro, near McGhee Tyson Airport
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Quoting srada:


Thanks! I appreciate it..will be a long night for a lot of folks..GOD Be With Them!


:)


All who have been and will be affected have our fervent prayers.
Member Since: July 23, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 12414
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835. IKE
Tuscaloosa tornado.....


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What we got in Texas is NOTHING compared to what these people in Alabama are going through. I'm happy we dodged the bullet but sad for all the people dealing with this situation now...
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832. srada
Quoting PSLFLCaneVet:


Best wishes for them, Srada.


Thanks! I appreciate it..will be a long night for a lot of folks..GOD Be With Them!
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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127807
115 reports and counting
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State wide Alabama, 362,000 without power
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3 tornado warnings and 2 severe thunderstorm warnings on these VA cells. Amidst the tragedies in MS/AL, these are flying under the "radar".

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Quoting srada:


Best wishes for them, Srada.
Member Since: July 23, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 12414
Quoting Ameister12:
Amazing tornado footage of the Tuscaloosa tornado.
Link
jesus
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NWS Mobile is taking over NWS Birmingham's dutys because they are taking shelter!!!
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 46 Comments: 11666

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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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