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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Quoting SouthDadeFish:
I don't understand what you're saying? I'm suggesting keeping building codes as they currently are, not increase spending. I was saying the probability to get hit by a tornado is relatively low.

What is the cost of an average tornado season in the US? (asuming that saving lives is not the priority and not taking it in consideration)
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1272. flsky
Quoting Chicklit:

That is the first undular bore I have ever seen.
I hope your friends and property in NC remain safe and intact through these storms.

I've never heard of this before. I think I saw one of these formations off of Ponce Inlet, FL last year. Very odd looking. I have a picture somewhere.
Member Since: October 24, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 2005
1271. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting Chicklit:

You too, Korintheman. I always appreciate your comments during cane season which according to someone here today is 34 days away.
33 days now chicklit
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Quoting RandomText:


That is low level moisture being pulled in by the storms to the north.

The stuff is showing up on radar, but most of it is not falling as rain. It is the fuel that is feeding the storm, in this case it just happens to be moving over Florida.


You can go back over the past few days looking at shortwave and RGB satellite, as well as Brownsvill, TX radar, and see the same thing happened pretty much during all of the outbreaks.

It's just a lot of moist, energetic air at low levels being pulled into the front to feed the tornados.

cool job tracking the storms today RandomText.
goodnight.
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11348
Quoting KoritheMan:

Recall Congress' recent plan to curb a significant amount of funding from various NWS programs for the duration of the fiscal year.
My point is, it's not as if they deliberately don't care about saving lives. Sure a large part of it is money, but they had to make cuts somewhere. I strongly disagree with cuts to NOAA and NWS, but they are cutting many other things as well. It's not a perfect system by any means, but the only thing people can really do is be prepared for the worst.
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Quoting KoritheMan:

NHC 18z surface analysis depicts a surface trough in the vicinity:



Thanks...
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Quoting KoritheMan:

Words to live by. Good to see you, btw.

You too, Korintheman. I always appreciate your comments during cane season which according to someone here today is 34 days away.
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11348
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Quoting TomTaylor:
We have a 14 trillion dollar debt right now...any bills that suggest spending will get immediately shot down. Changing the building codes, and then implementing the changes would require plenty of spending.

So your idea, while a good one, won't be happening any time soon.
I don't understand what you're saying? I'm suggesting keeping building codes as they currently are, not increase spending. I was saying the probability to get hit by a tornado is relatively low.
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Quoting sunlinepr:
Is there something here?

NHC 18z surface analysis depicts a surface trough in the vicinity:


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Quoting IFuSAYso:


Its nearly an election year.

That's a strange thing to say.
Anyway, goodnight all. Rough day.
Am sure Dr. Masters will have it all summed up for us sometime tomorrow; unfortunately, it will not be as easy for the folks in the paths of these storms.
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11348

Quoting Chicklit:

Just proves it's never too late to try to improve yourself.
Words to live by. Good to see you, btw.
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1261. 7080734
Quoting Chicklit:

That area was hit hard today, more than once.

Oh god...
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Quoting 7080734:
Anyone have any info about the southern Chattanooga area in Tennessee? I have a really good friend down there...

That area was hit hard today, more than once.
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11348
Is there something here?



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Quoting AllyBama:


sure hope so because they are going to need it!..hopefully the government has funded FEMA for these diasters..


Its nearly an election year.
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Quoting RandomText:


That is low level moisture being pulled in by the storms to the north.

The stuff is showing up on radar, but most of it is not falling as rain. It is the fuel that is feeding the storm, in this case it just happens to be moving over Florida.


You can go back over the past few days looking at shortwave and RGB satellite, as well as Brownsvill, TX radar, and see the same thing happened pretty much during all of the outbreaks.

It's just a lot of moist, energetic air at low levels being pulled into the front to feed the tornados.
Yeah, but why is it visible on radar if it's not actually condensed moisture?
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1256. 7080734
Anyone have any info about the southern Chattanooga area in Tennessee? I have a really good friend down there...
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Quoting IFuSAYso:
FEMA emergency declaration. Link

Most likely individual assistance will be declared after damage assessments.


sure hope so because they are going to need it!..hopefully the government has funded FEMA for these diasters..
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Quoting KoritheMan:

You're forgetting that our government's top priority isn't saving lives; it's money. In short, no it won't.

Government's top priority should be public safety, i.e., saing lives.
Business's top priority is making and saving money.
The problem is when government becomes more concerned about business interests than public interests.
Just learned I have another A in grad school for public administration: public budgeting this time.
Just proves it's never too late to try to improve yourself.
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11348
Wunderground needs a delete comment feature, I accidentally quoted myself and edited my post within the quote, d'oh!
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Severe storm here weakened, I'm sure it was nothing at all like what's happening in the south. I saw the tornado video on the weather channel taken in Tuscaloosa.. they must have been within a few hundred feet! My heart goes out to the thousands affected.. Good night.
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BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
TORNADO WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE GREENVILLE-SPARTANBURG SC
1221 AM EDT THU APR 28 2011

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN GREENVILLE-SPARTANBURG HAS ISSUED A

* TORNADO WARNING FOR...
HABERSHAM COUNTY IN NORTHEAST GEORGIA...
THIS INCLUDES THE CITY OF CLARKESVILLE...
SOUTHERN RABUN COUNTY IN NORTHEAST GEORGIA...
NORTHWESTERN STEPHENS COUNTY IN NORTHEAST GEORGIA...
THIS INCLUDES THE CITY OF TOCCOA...
CENTRAL OCONEE COUNTY IN UPSTATE SOUTH CAROLINA...
THIS INCLUDES THE CITY OF WALHALLA...
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FEMA emergency declaration. Link

Most likely individual assistance will be declared after damage assessments.
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Quoting SouthDadeFish:
I disagree. I find it hard to believe that the government doesn't want to save lives. The question is, will enforcing a new building code be cost effective? I mean, whats the probability for a single house in the middle of Alabama to be hit by two tornadoes within a fifty year span? I'm guessing very low.

On the other hand, hurricanes are much larger and have a higher return rate, therefore it is cost effective to have stricter building codes along the coast.
We have a 14 trillion dollar debt right now...any bills that suggest spending will get immediately shot down. Changing the building codes, and then implementing the changes would require plenty of spending.

So your idea, while a good one, won't be happening any time soon.
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Quoting Skyepony:
Interesting stuff on the CIMSS blog. Undular bore in the GOM & that thing~ we didn't know what, come out of the Bahamas 4-23.

That is the first undular bore I have ever seen.
I hope your friends and property in NC remain safe and intact through these storms.
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11348
Who can explain what's causing the radar return over the entire st of fl. Check tampa radar...
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Two debris balls in the tornadic cells south of Atlanta.
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Quoting wunderkidcayman:
Hey guys how are all of you I had the most quietest birthday in a long lime
Happy birthday! I'm doing fine. Can't say the same for a lot of folks, though. :/
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Hey guys how are all of you I had the most quietest birthday in a long lime
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Quoting SouthDadeFish:
 I find it hard to believe that the government doesn't want to save lives.
Recall Congress' recent plan to curb a significant amount of funding from various NWS programs for the duration of the fiscal year.
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Tornado heading toward Hampton, Georgia..........TAKE COVER NOW
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It looks like to me, the Tuscaloosa damage is within the EF 4 range. I guess there could be other parts that haven't been reached yet that could have saw EF 5 conditions. Regardless, the tornado outbreak over the last 3 days will never be forgotten, and is arguably the worst since 1974.
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1238. bassis
Any chances those storms in Atalanta hold together to hit Charlotte area of NC?
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Quoting CyclonicVoyage:


Had to stop listening to that, too tough..


these people are so impressive...the professionalism is is inspirational
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1236. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
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Quoting KoritheMan:

You're forgetting that our government's top priority isn't saving lives; it's money. In short, no it won't.
I disagree. I find it hard to believe that the government doesn't want to save lives. The question is, will enforcing a new building code be cost effective? I mean, whats the probability for a single house in the middle of Alabama to be hit by two tornadoes within a fifty year span? I'm guessing very low.

On the other hand, hurricanes are much larger and have a higher return rate, therefore it is cost effective to have stricter building codes along the coast.
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OMG so visible.
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Quoting presslord:
multiple entrapments and multiple injuries....at just one location...


Had to stop listening to that, too tough..
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Quoting sunlinepr:
Will this tornado outbrake force a change in the construction codes in the US?

Sure, that will save lives...
You're forgetting that our government's top priority isn't saving lives; it's money. In short, no it won't.
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1231. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting winter123:
About to get a severe thunderstorm here, would not be surprised if we lose power.


Can you tell me how to find that radar keeperofthegate?
i can give u the link its a tricky site took me over 4 years to figure it all out still learning

Link
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1230. scott39
At least 40 dead in Al. Mobile is sending a search and rescue team. I pray the morning does not bring more bad news . This is a day I will never forget in my home state of Alabama. Thank you to organizations like Portlight. God Bless to everyone who helps these families in thier time of need and sorrow.
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Reports now indicate 402,000 homes and businesses in Alabama, w/o power...:(


Oops, forgot I was on my wife's laptop. PSLFLCaneVet...:)


G'night folks. Prayers for all those affected.
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About to get a severe thunderstorm here, would not be surprised if we lose power.


Can you tell me how to find that radar keeperofthegate?
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1226. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
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Quoting hydrus:
A lot of rain with the next front..CMC..Link

Quoting KoritheMan:


SAT. 4-30/...IT APPEARS THAT A LACK OF RICHER LOW-LEVEL MOISTURE --
STILL CONFINED TO AREAS FARTHER S -- MAY PRECLUDE SUBSTANTIAL SEVERE
THREAT FROM MO NWD. MORE FAVORABLE SEVERE WEATHER ENVIRONMENT WILL
THREAT WILL SHIFT EWD DAY 5 /SUN. 5-1/ -- WITH GREATEST POTENTIAL
LIKELY TO RESIDE SOMEWHERE FROM THE TN VALLEY REGION SWWD INTO THE
LOWER MS VALLEY. HOWEVER...SOMEWHAT WEAKER WIND FIELD OVER SRN
PORTIONS OF THE REGION WHERE GREATER MOISTURE/INSTABILITY IS LIKELY
BUT LESS FAVORABLE THERMODYNAMICS FARTHER N WHERE THE MORE FAVORABLE
KINEMATIC CONDITIONS SHOULD RESIDE PRECLUDE FORECAST OF A HIGHER-END
THREAT AREA ATTM.

WITH THE FRONT PROGGED TO CONTINUE EWD DAY 6...CONVECTIVE POTENTIAL
SHOULD LIKEWISE SHIFT INTO THE ERN QUARTER OF THE COUNTRY. ,/em>


Thanks both of you.
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Quoting hydrus:
Doesn't look good
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multiple entrapments and multiple injuries....at just one location...
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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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