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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Birmingham
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15932
000
FXUS64 KBMX 272336
AFDBMX

AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE BIRMINGHAM AL
636 PM CDT WED APR 27 2011

...SIGNIFICANT SEVERE WEATHER OUTBREAK ONGOING...

.UPDATE...AVIATION DISCUSSION.

.DISCUSSION...

A VERY DANGEROUS SITUATION IS CURRENTLY UNFOLDING ACROSS CENTRAL
ALABAMA...AND SUPERCELLS HAVE ERUPTED ACROSS THE NORTHERN AND
WESTERN SECTIONS OF THE CWA THIS AFTERNOON. A FEW TORNADOES HAVE
ALREADY TOUCHED DOWN...AND REPORTS OF MAJOR DAMAGE ARE STARTING TO
COME IN. THE 18Z SPECIAL SOUNDING THAT WAS PERFORMED PRESENTS A
DESTRUCTIVE SETUP...WITH 2700J/KG OF CAPE...EXTREMELY STEEP LAPSE
RATES...AND DRY AIR ALOFT. 0-3 KM HELICITY VALUES ARE ALMOST 700.
THE PARAMETERS WILL ONLY WORSEN AS WE GO THROUGHOUT THE REST OF
THE AFTERNOON AND EVENING. THE TIME FRAME FOR THE WORST SEVERE
WEATHER WILL PERSIST THROUGH THE EARLY AFTERNOON HOURS FOR
NORTHWEST SECTIONS OF THE STATE...ROUGHLY FROM 2PM TO
8PM...CENTRAL PORTIONS OF THE STATE...INCLUDING THE BIRMINGHAM
METRO AREA...FROM 4PM TO 10PM...AND THE SOUTHEAST SECTIONS FROM
6PM TO 2AM. I CANNOT STRESS HOW SERIOUS THIS SITUATION IS. DO
WHATEVER YOU CAN TO PROTECT YOUR LIFE AND PROPERTY NOW...YOUR LIFE
MAY DEPEND ON IT! ALL WEATHER WILL CLEAR THE AREA AFTER 6Z
TONIGHT...SO THE CLEANUP PROCESS CAN BEGIN.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting AussieStorm:
Birmingham Tornado.






Utterly speechless


Terrible...

Large tornado heading near Talladega, AL. Anniston residents should be ready to take cover.
Member Since: July 23, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 12414
Let's not forget that Tuscaloosa was hit by an EF3 just 12 days ago.
Member Since: August 9, 2009 Posts: 10 Comments: 4898
Tuscaloosa Tornado.






Utterly speechless
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15932
Tornado Watches from Jackson, MS to Syracuse, NY. Truly amazing.

Member Since: August 28, 2008 Posts: 79 Comments: 3447
765. beell
Don't ever recall seeing a 100 knot mid-level jet max in the spring before.

Crazy.

With AL/TN/NW GA/KY all falling under the entrance region-at the least.

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Northwest GA next.

Member Since: March 8, 2011 Posts: 1 Comments: 794
Quoting 1900hurricane:

The April 3rd 1974 Super-Outbreak, the outbreak that some are comparing this current outbreak to, recorded six F5 tornadoes in one day, as well as a record of 148 in a single day.

To put that in perspective, it has been a timespan of 11 years for us to record our last six F/EF 5s, which were Jarrel, Birmingham, Nashville, Oklahoma City/Moore, Greensburg, and Parkersburg.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Large Damaging Tornado just west of Piedmont,Ala.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 420 Comments: 127512
ABC 33/40 - Mark Kelly with Jefferson County EMA saying "numerous fatalities" in Pleasant Grove area.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Hmmm... anybody else having blog loading problems tonight? It took me ages to get that one message quoted and posted....
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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 420 Comments: 127512
next major metro area. Atlanta ETA 2 hrs. if they hold together
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
Quoting Chicklit:
That is awful. Why was he camping with his daughter when these storms were forecast ahead of time?
Sounds like they were already out by the time the warnings for the Covington area were upgraded. I'm also thinking about the 100% chance of rain we had earlier this week which turned out to be.... no rain whatsoever. In this father's position? Maybe I would have left, just to be on the safe side. Maybe I would have stayed. I don't think he actively placed his daughter in that danger; IMO the fact that he protected her with his life suggests that if he had been concerned about their safety he wouldn't have been there. However, as Pat says, life happens.

I feel really sorry for the little girl. She's going to have some real grief and guilt issues for a long time. It sounds like she was really looking forward to the camping trip and probably pushed for it. I hope she doesn't feel she "did her daddy in" for the rest of her life.... either way she lost her a good daddy last night, and I wouldn't wish that on any child.

Think I'll go give my own pa a hug....

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting CothranRoss:
Has there ever been an outbreak with more than one F/EF-5 tornado?

The April 3rd 1974 Super-Outbreak, the outbreak that some are comparing this current outbreak to, recorded six F5 tornadoes in one day, as well as a record of 148 in a single day.
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751. Ameister12
12:21 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
How many tornado emergencies has there been today? At least a dozen?
Member Since: August 9, 2009 Posts: 10 Comments: 4898
750. Patrap
12:19 AM GMT on April 28, 2011


portlight.org wunderblog





Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 420 Comments: 127512
749. Himawari
12:18 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
I have a sort of off topic question: is East Texas (where I live is about 60 miles away from the Louisiana state line) officially in Tornado Alley, or outside of it? I was just curious...
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 30
748. StAugustineFL
12:18 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
Birmingham tornado

Member Since: March 8, 2011 Posts: 1 Comments: 794
747. wxgeek723
12:18 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
Quoting CothranRoss:
Has there ever been an outbreak with more than one F/EF-5 tornado?


Sure has.
Super Outbreak produced six F5 tornadoes.
Member Since: August 28, 2008 Posts: 79 Comments: 3447
746. SavannahStorm
12:18 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
The Red Cross Blood Bank in Tuscaloosa is on 15th St. near McFarland Blvd across from University Mall where much of the damage has been reported. This could be a bad situation if they don't have enough stock for this emergency.
Member Since: September 22, 2005 Posts: 18 Comments: 2309
745. Ameister12
12:16 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
Quoting CothranRoss:
Has there ever been an outbreak with more than one F/EF-5 tornado?

Yes. Super Outbreak of April 1974 had 6 F5 tornadoes. There were also two F5 tornadoes in Hesston and Goessel, Kansas on March 13, 1990.
Member Since: August 9, 2009 Posts: 10 Comments: 4898
744. Neapolitan
12:16 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
This is the path of the 12/16/2000 F4 that skirted the southern edge of Tuscaloosa. It's a bit eerie how close the path parallels this afternoon's monster:

C lick for larger image:

Appropriate tropical weather-related image.

And to anyone who watched the tornado come into Tuscaloosa this afternoon, this video of the 2000 storm will seem uncomfortably familiar:

Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13455
743. emcf30
12:14 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
Quoting AllyBama:


yes I am..thank you.


Glad to hear your good. Had not seen you on here and was worried
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
742. caneswatch
12:14 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
Praying for the folks that have/will be affected by this terrible storm up in Alabama. Stay strong folks.
Member Since: October 8, 2008 Posts: 14 Comments: 4553
741. AussieStorm
12:14 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
Quoting AllyBama:
Please pray for my state...just getting home from work to see the news...:(

You don't just have my thought and prayers, you have my tears. I have seen photo's that are ripping at my heart. ;-(
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15932
740. Phatkhat
12:14 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
My heartfelt sympathy and empathy to the people of Alabama. As a survivor of the infamous Super Tuesday Tornado of Arkansas (EF4, 123 miles), I can definitely relate. I wish I could help a lot more, but am definitely sending Portlight or the Red Cross a contribution. I know how it feels to look at the wreckage of what was your home just 10 minutes before.
Member Since: May 23, 2004 Posts: 0 Comments: 26
739. breald
12:14 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
Damn, another tornado warning popping up in PA. Crazy weather happening.
Member Since: May 28, 2008 Posts: 38 Comments: 5303
738. Ameister12
12:13 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
Tornadic storms are now heading towards Georgia and Atlanta area.
Member Since: August 9, 2009 Posts: 10 Comments: 4898
737. AllyBama
12:13 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
You have my thoughts and prayers from Texas. We had a bad outbreak here in the east part of the state where I live yesterday.

thank you Himawari...we are clear down here in Mobile..prayers for your state too.
Member Since: August 3, 2006 Posts: 132 Comments: 20635
735. AllyBama
12:10 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
Quoting emcf30:


You are blessed you have a home to go to Bama


yes I am..thank you.
Member Since: August 3, 2006 Posts: 132 Comments: 20635
734. CothranRoss
12:10 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
Has there ever been an outbreak with more than one F/EF-5 tornado?
Member Since: April 16, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 112
733. Patrap
12:10 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 420 Comments: 127512
732. sunlinepr
12:09 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9690
731. Himawari
12:09 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
Quoting AllyBama:
Please pray for my state...just getting home from work to see the news...:(

You have my thoughts and prayers from Texas. We had a bad outbreak here in the east part of the state where I live yesterday.
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 30
730. AstroHurricane001
12:08 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
Mesocyclonic cell P8 in Alabama getting lost on Shelby County radar as storm passes over cone of invisibility. Possible merger into nearby tornadic signature storm. Tuscaloosa tornado currently in the vicinity of Gadsden (19:04 CDT).
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2835
729. emcf30
12:08 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
Quoting AllyBama:
Please pray for my state...just getting home from work to see the news...:(


You are blessed you have a home to go to Bama
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
728. breald
12:08 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
A tornado waning in UPState NY.
Member Since: May 28, 2008 Posts: 38 Comments: 5303
727. Patrap
12:07 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 420 Comments: 127512
726. PSLFLCaneVet
12:07 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
Quoting AllyBama:
Please pray for my state...just getting home from work to see the news...:(


Done, and continuing...
Member Since: July 23, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 12414
724. PSLFLCaneVet
12:06 AM GMT on April 28, 2011


Spotters tracking a large and extremely dangerous tornado heading through Shelby County, AL
Member Since: July 23, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 12414
723. emcf30
12:06 AM GMT on April 28, 2011
Quoting Himawari:
They don't issue Tornado Emergencies lightly, right? These must be some powerful twisters then...>_<


This is one the the worst tornado outbreaks you will see. These are some of the most powerfull. I believe with what I am seeing EF4 min.
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933

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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.