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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173. flsky
Quoting RitaEvac:


Soon as you say this, Yellowstone BLOWS to your north

No, no, no!! Don't say that!!
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Quoting jeffs713:
Changing the topic to fire weather....

Currently in Houston, it is 91, winds are 5-10 mph out of the NW (gusting to 20 and expected to pick up later), and humidity is a whopping 12%. It doesn't feel hot, but that low humidity and low 90s temp is just going to make the fire situation MUCH worse.


You want hot well I got it for you 96 with a 70 degree dewpoint at 2:30pm here on the northside of Orlando. Anytime you think it's hot in Texas then just take a trip to FL as we have humidity to boot and 90 to 95 degree temps for 7 months out of the year.
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171. Skyepony (Mod)
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Quoting MrMixon:


Well, it's a beautiful day along the Colorado Front Range today. Mid-50's with light winds and scattered clouds. No natural disasters to speak of at the moment...

But "normal" weather makes for dry reading... :)


Soon as you say this, Yellowstone BLOWS to your north
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169. flsky
Quoting MrMixon:


Well, it's a beautiful day along the Colorado Front Range today. Mid-50's with light winds and scattered clouds. No natural disasters to speak of at the moment...

But "normal" weather makes for dry reading... :)

Thanks for that brief respite....
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Quoting flsky:

I have to say it's getting PAINFUL reading this blog. It's just been BAD news day-after-day. Like driving past a car accident and not being able to look away....


Well, it's a beautiful day along the Colorado Front Range today. Mid-50's with light winds and scattered clouds. No natural disasters to speak of at the moment...

But "normal" weather makes for dry reading... :)
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167. flsky
Quoting aquak9:


TO YOUR DISMAY

No kidding!
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Jeff, I went to lunch and the temp on dash showing 95 out there...
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165. flsky
Quoting Chicklit:
Tornadoes, floods, fires, beetles...
anybody spot locusts yet?

I have to say it's getting PAINFUL reading this blog. It's just been BAD news day-after-day. Like driving past a car accident and not being able to look away....
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Probably a tornado heading toward Tupelo, MISS. People there better get ready to take cover as it looks like we have a few tornadoes on the ground right now.
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Changing the topic to fire weather....

Currently in Houston, it is 91, winds are 5-10 mph out of the NW (gusting to 20 and expected to pick up later), and humidity is a whopping 12%. It doesn't feel hot, but that low humidity and low 90s temp is just going to make the fire situation MUCH worse.
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PURE ENERGY waitin to be tapped and released
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holy crapola.
4 tornado signatures with that line now.
Link
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We got some big problems on the horizon, just wait'll a big one takes full advantage of that Gulf when it taps it pure full potential. Gas is cheap right now.
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Quoting KeysieLife:

SW corner, in Durango. Beautiful area in the Animas range. Extreme change going from 70 in FL to a night where it got down to -14 in Durango. Yikes!


Durango is such a great place. It lies right at the edge of the high Rockies and the desert southwest. You can take off in any direction from Durango and experience hours of beautiful scenery with minimal urbanization. Weather too hot? Head north to the mountains. Weather too cold? Head south to the sun-drenched canyons and mesas.

Yes, I occasionally search the job listings for Durango... :)
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
storm init commences soonQuoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
storm init commences soon


Heck, the first round never stopped
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1956
The options are according to NWS:
If in Mobile homes or vehicles... evacuate them and get inside a sturdy shelter. If no shelter is available... lie flat in the nearest ditch or other low spot and cover your head with your hands.

Sorry, it's if in mobile homes or vehicles and it's actually option #2.

Nastiness headed toward Chattanooga, East Ridge now.
Link
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Nearing $113 a barrel


WTI Crude Oil
$112.98
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Quoting Chicklit:


Yeah, you don't want to be one of those people who as last resort are hunkering down in a ditch with their hands on their heads. (This is Option #3.)


I am curious what you'd suggest people do to prevent having to use your Option 3.
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Quoting flsky:
Sorry, what is "TYD?"



TO YOUR DISMAY
Member Since: August 13, 2005 Posts: 175 Comments: 26487
Statement as of 1:18 PM CDT on April 27, 2011
... A Tornado Warning remains in effect until 145 PM CDT for
northeastern DeKalb and east central Jackson counties...

At 118 PM CDT... National Weather Service Doppler radar continued to indicate a tornado. This tornado was located near Fabius... or about 10 miles southwest of Bridgeport... moving east at 50 mph.Other locations in the warning include but are not limited to Flat Rock and Higdon.

Precautionary/preparedness actions...

If in Mobile homes or vehicles... evacuate them and get inside a sturdy shelter. If no shelter is available... lie flat in the nearest ditch or other low spot and cover your head with your hands.

A Tornado Watch remains in effect until 200 PM CDT Wednesday afternoon for northern Alabama and central Tennessee.

Lat... Lon 3470 8590 3484 8593 3494 8560 3474 8555
time... Mot... loc 1818z 258deg 43kt 3482 8577


Kdw

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Interesting blog DRM. Just in my little corner of TX we've had 1 tornado at least. Damaging storm winds blew a tree down trapping people in their home. Another tree toppled a power line causing one of our forest fires.We have a coastal flood warning from the persistent south wind. We have had those record highs and record high lows. And though we got a little rain the other night we're still in an amazing drought. The Neches river is so far down some towns may have to start rationing water. And last but not least there's this...

Disaster preparedness seminars held in Port Arthur Link

I thought it was kind of telling that they said this

There is not necessarily anything new to announce however officials say that this is the time of the year that we need to be aware of our vulnerability to all types of disasters.


We've had our share of tropical disasters in the recent past and you'd think most people around here would have a plan in place by now. Unfortunately that never seems to be the case. :(
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I did a little bit of digging and I determined that the last time a tornado probablity greater than 30% was issued was back on April 7th of 2006, when they had a 60% up on their 2000Z Convective Outlook!



As you can see, that was quite an outbreak:



It even had a High risk up for the Day 2 Outlook!





The thing that concerns me is that we have gone through several major outbreaks since then. Outbreaks that included Greensburg, Super Tuesday, Parkersburg, Yazoo City, and the Norman and Moore Tornadoes, along with several others, and the probabilities have not been that high. The SPC must really see something crazy going on today!
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Gulf is smoked covered
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149. flsky
Sorry, what is "TYD?"

Quoting Neapolitan:

No, that's not what he said; I believe you may have misread the comment, though I could be mistaken.

Anyway, enough of that; there are far more important and interesting things to talk about. Such as this: a comparison of the past seven years preliminary severe storm reports for the first four months of the year from the SPC. It's clear that even if things change substantially, the first four months of 2011 will go down as "historical" and "unprecedented".

Appropriate tropical weather-related image.
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 176 Comments: 55517
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 176 Comments: 55517
Quoting MrMixon:


Yeah, it's not too uncommon here in Colorado to get a few claps of thunder during our more intense snow showers. I'll hear thunder maybe 1-3 times per year during a snow shower. It's one of my favorite weather phenoms...

As with your example, it generally occurs during our "warm" snows (when temps are hovering around freezing).

Never seen a snow-nado... well, I've seen plenty of little snow-wrapped whirlwinds form around buildings and such, but nothing tall enough to earn that title. Cool!

EDIT: Where were you in Colorado?

SW corner, in Durango. Beautiful area in the Animas range. Extreme change going from 70 in FL to a night where it got down to -14 in Durango. Yikes!
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I feel like I need a calculator...
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Quoting KeysieLife:


Was in Colorado this winter and witnessed a very strange weather occurance: thunder, lightning, and snowing at the same time. It was not hail. The temp outside was around 28-36F. Wind was whipping and I saw what I like to call a snow-nado. More like a dust-devil made of snow, but a very big one!


Yeah, it's not too uncommon here in Colorado to get a few claps of thunder during our more intense snow showers. I'll hear thunder maybe 1-3 times per year during a snow shower. It's one of my favorite weather phenoms...

As with your example, it generally occurs during our "warm" snows (when temps are hovering around freezing).

Never seen a snow-nado... well, I've seen plenty of little snow-wrapped whirlwinds form around buildings and such, but nothing tall enough to earn that title. Cool!

EDIT: Where were you in Colorado?
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storm init commences soon
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 176 Comments: 55517
Quoting SeALWx:
No, he said they are rejecting up to 63%. Masters chimed in on this too. As usual, you try to discount anyone's opinion that doesn't match your own.

No, that's not what he said; I believe you may have misread the comment, though I could be mistaken.

Anyway, enough of that; there are far more important and interesting things to talk about. Such as this: a comparison of the past seven years preliminary severe storm reports for the first four months of the year from the SPC. It's clear that even if things change substantially, the first four months of 2011 will go down as "historical" and "unprecedented".

Appropriate tropical weather-related image.

[Note: edited at 2:27 EDT for those slower individuals confused by my earlier misspelling of 'TYD'.]
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13725
Quoting jeffs713:

So to define "Tornado Alley", throw a dart between the Rockies and the Appalachians, and you are close.


Was in Colorado this winter and witnessed a very strange weather occurance: thunder, lightning, and snowing at the same time. It was not hail. The temp outside was around 28-36F. Wind was whipping and I saw what I like to call a snow-nado. More like a dust-devil made of snow, but a very big one!
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Good afternoon.
Hot and sunny and still here, with cicadas screeching in the bush around.
They call the rain, you know....

I was watching the tornado video featured above by Dr. Masters.
Seems to me that I very rarely see a storm video that is worth watching.
These storm chasers do a good job in getting to the action, but once they are there, their vids are more often than not, pretty bad.

They should spend a little time with their cameras, and try to get some better video by holding the shots longer, keeping the camera still (use a 'steady-cam' if they need to).

I understand that in the adrenalin of the moment, it is not easy to get the shots that you are looking for, but with a little more planning and a cooler head, the vids would be fantastic.

JMHO
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time to finish this up
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 176 Comments: 55517
Quoting Patrap:
On "Levee's and The Big Muddy.

The Mississippi River
and Tributaries Project
Thanks. If I have thought I would have said "Pat what ya got"

I knew before I asked that levies are a 2 edged sword. Didn't mean to set it swinging, just wondered what it would have looked like 500 years ago before anyone had tampered with the river. Been a lot of land under water.
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Quoting jeffs713:

So to define "Tornado Alley", throw a dart between the Rockies and the Appalachians, and you are close.


Bingo. And if your dart hits Florida you still get credit...
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I used to think tornado alley was the upper midwest. I had heard a lot of talk from my relatives about tornadoes around Toledo. Now I know it is anywhere that has a flat landscape along with convergence zones. But I believe that the deforestation(sp?) of America has caused the "alley" to expand to a boulevard now. I am trying to recall where I had seen a map of tornado activity and the clearing of forests and how they related. But since I am getting up there close to Grothar's age, let's just say it is a lost cause to try and remember.
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133. beell
Quoting JeffMasters:


I used the confirmed tornado count from the Wikipedia page on the outbreak, for the one single day the NC tornadoes hit. The confirmed count will likely continue to rise. It will be interesting to see what the new adjustment factor needs to be to convert preliminary counts to confirmed counts. Somewhere between 15% and 63%, it seems!

Jeff Masters


Thank you for your time-and-a great answer, Doc!
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Quoting MrMixon:


Yeah, my wife was asking me about that last night. A search for "tornado alley" yields some surprisingly varied results:












So to define "Tornado Alley", throw a dart between the Rockies and the Appalachians, and you are close.
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131. srada
Hello Everyone!

NC might have a possible round two come this time tomorrow..If this month turns out to be a record breaking month, then we need to start looking at storm shelters for trailer parks and houses..the midwest has them but in the south, not too many..will save a lot of lives than to sit in a dwelling where it could easily be ripped apart in seconds..

Link
Member Since: August 17, 2006 Posts: 1 Comments: 774
Quoting jeffs713:
I'm finding it interesting that many of the reports are coming from outside the normal "Tornado Alley", and focused largely on the SE.


Yeah, my wife was asking me about that last night. A search for "tornado alley" yields some surprisingly varied results:











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Building in a flood plain is like pitching your tent below the high tide mark. Eventually you will be inundated. But everybody likes a water view, soooo...
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Im the last person who Likes the River being Pent up,,as our wetlands have suffered more from it than any place along the River,,but its a necessary thing or the Population centers and cities along her wouldnt survive a decade with the River flowing as wide in spring as some States borders,...so we learn to live along her,,and with her.
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Quoting MississippiWx:
Damage being reported in Huntsville, AL. Possible tornado and people trapped in homes. The bad thing is that these aren't the storms that give Huntsville a high risk today and a 45% (!!!) chance at significant tornadoes!

Have a feeling the 45% will come down a bit later this afternoon. The inclement weather at the moment was exactly forecasted for this time of the day and thus may act to prevent the atmosphere from becoming as unstable than initially thought later this evening.
Quoting Patrap:
Lawdy,,thank goodness we dont have Bloggers for Civil Engineers,,,

LoL

Pat, don't get me wrong, the levees serve a purpose. But we have become too reliant on them. They should protect "islands" of land, not entire riverbanks. The lower Mississippi valley is fairly well done (with the exception of the areas past NOLA and St. Bernard Parish). Spillways are a decent solution, but slapping levees up and down the entire length of the river is not a good solution.
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Damage being reported in Huntsville, AL. Possible tornado and people trapped in homes. The bad thing is that these aren't the storms that give Huntsville a high risk today and a 45% (!!!) chance at significant tornadoes!
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Quoting RandomText:
I agree with Jeffs.

I tend to think that river levees cause more catastrophic flooding than they prevent.

People could build in more reasonable locations.

When a river floods without a level, it comes up slowly and spreads rather shallowly over a large areas.

When it is in a levee and the levee breaks, all hell breaks loose and it pours into somebody's back yard at a high velocity and demolishes the area.
One other item to mention... the flooding is why the valley is so fertile. Take away the flooding, and the nutrients get drained from the soil. (which requires more fertilizers, causing more cyclical growth patterns, which causes more erosion, etc.)
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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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