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 hydrus:
Amen and amen.


Dittos!
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1071. hydrus
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
weakening flag on



take these evil visions from my sight
Amen and amen.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 19515
West Virginia's joining the party:

BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
TORNADO WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE CHARLESTON WV
1034 PM EDT WED APR 27 2011

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN CHARLESTON HAS ISSUED A

* TORNADO WARNING FOR...
EASTERN FAYETTE COUNTY IN WEST VIRGINIA...
THIS INCLUDES THE CITIES OF...FAYETTEVILLE...BABCOCK STATE PARK...
NICHOLAS COUNTY IN WEST VIRGINIA...
THIS INCLUDES THE CITIES OF...SUMMERSVILLE...RICHWOOD...
WEST CENTRAL POCAHONTAS COUNTY IN WEST VIRGINIA...
WEBSTER COUNTY IN WEST VIRGINIA...
THIS INCLUDES THE CITY OF WEBSTER SPRINGS...
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Hello all, I am so deeply saddened tonight as the reports keep coming in and the tornadoes continue. In all my many years, I have never seen an outbreak like this one. I feel so fortunate that all my immediate family here in Ms.is safe. Damages were minor for us, a few downed trees, power outages and such.
I watched(on radar) the small storm come over the Ms River from La into Claiborne Cty, Ms. This is the direction from which we usually get our worse storms. This thunderstorm grew rapidly and moved NE into Hinds and Rankin Cty (where I live). In south Rankin, it turned tornatic and grew stronger as it moved on across 4 more counties into Alabama, where it became super and moved into Tuscaloosa,Birmingham,Gadsden, then to Ga, and on and on... I am just in shock at the longevity of such a monster of a storm......
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
weakening flag on



take these evil visions from my sight


Was noticing quantity decreasing from earlier in the evening. Just a break or not, whewwww, this is nuts.
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Quoting TomTaylor:

Thanks, my 21st is coming up soon in about 4 yrs from now ;)

Read #937...he quoted my post so I'm pretty sure he was talking to me
LOL, r u expecting interest on the 6pack over the 4yr period??? lol

And seriously. I went back and looked. It was the original poster steve responded to, same as me. I thought it was out of left field, the anti-AGM post, I mean. But nothing serious in the long term, expecially on a night like tonight.... Just amazing the damage one tornado can do... much less bunches like we've seen today...

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I have family in Greenville, SC...
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Quoting RandomText:
Greensville, SC radar is picking up the cyclonic hook signature from the tri-state tornado, soon to be quad-state tornado.

It's in a bad spot and Atlanta and Tennessee radars can't really get the signature.


Luckily that cell is in a very remote and sparsely populated area right now, however the next populated areas in the approximate path are Clayton, GA and Highlands, NC.
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1062. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
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Quoting wxgeek723:
From Wikipedia:

"The Super Outbreak is the largest tornado outbreak on record for a single 24-hour period. From April 3 to April 4, 1974, there were 148 tornadoes confirmed in 13 US states, including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and New York; and the Canadian province of Ontario. It extensively damaged approximately 900 square miles (2,330 square kilometers) along a total combined path length of 2,600 miles (4,160 km), with over 300 dead.

The Super Outbreak of tornadoes of 3–4 April 1974 remains the most outstanding severe convective weather episode of record in the continental United States. The outbreak far surpassed previous and succeeding events in severity, longevity and extent."

Do you guys think this outbreak is challeging the Super Outbreak?



No I don't think so. I think we'd be lucky to see 148 storm reports. And that's storm reports. The tornado outbreak earlier in April over NC had 150+ reports, but only about 60-70 actual tornadoes.

Nonetheless, this will still go down in history as a significant/historic event.
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1059. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
weakening flag on



take these evil visions from my sight
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Quoting cat5hurricane:

Not out of the realm of possibility that it slices through a sliver of SC before heading to NC making 5 states; that being it maintains it's intensity during that.

The Tuscaloosa tornado is still going? Or is this another tornado? Somebody fill me in plz
Quoting RastaSteve:


Sorry TomTaylor for snapping earlier. I'm just amazed about what's happening right now. Again sorry.
It's all good. Cat5 is right, we do have a blog for that stuff anyway.
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ABC 33/40 Birmingham/Tuscaloosa: 13 people in Walker Co., AL have died.
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1054. 7080734
Possibly.
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From Wikipedia:

"The Super Outbreak is the largest tornado outbreak on record for a single 24-hour period. From April 3 to April 4, 1974, there were 148 tornadoes confirmed in 13 US states, including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and New York; and the Canadian province of Ontario. It extensively damaged approximately 900 square miles (2,330 square kilometers) along a total combined path length of 2,600 miles (4,160 km), with over 300 dead.

The Super Outbreak of tornadoes of 3–4 April 1974 remains the most outstanding severe convective weather episode of record in the continental United States. The outbreak far surpassed previous and succeeding events in severity, longevity and extent."

Do you guys think this outbreak is challeging the Super Outbreak?

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Quoting KoritheMan:


Can I get a link, please?



Catoosa County Sheriff, Fire, and EMS


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Quoting sunlinepr:
Storms kill 54 around South, including 40 in Ala.
3 mins ago

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The mayor of an Alabama city hit hard by a tornado says at least 15 people have died there, bringing the death toll from severe weather to 54 around the South.

In all, 40 people died in Wednesday's storms in Alabama.

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox says sections of the city have been destroyed and its infrastructure has been decimated.

Also on Wednesday, storms killed 11 in Mississippi, two in Georgia and one in Tennessee.


Radio Reference link for Tuscaloosa police and fire "offline" last I checked. Go figure. Many other family, friends and business contacts of mine in today's path. Some have responded to me and some have not...Scary.
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.
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Quoting SavannahStorm:
Hearing some gruesome stuff coming from that Catoosa County scanner stream, dunno if I can listen to much more...


Can I get a link, please?
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P5 is the cell that went through Marion CO a bit ago, still active.

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10:25 PM EDT on April 27, 2011
... A Tornado Warning remains in effect until 1045 PM EDT for northwestern Cherokee and Bartow counties...

At 1021 PM EDT... Weather Service Doppler radar continued to indicate a severe thunderstorm with extremely strong rotation. A tornado is likely on the ground north of Euharlee... moving northeast at 50 mph. Cassville is in the path of this tornado. Take cover now!Other locations in the warning include but are not limited to Cartersville... Emerson... Cassville... Red Top Mountain State Park... white... Little River Landing... Pine Log... Sutallee... bridgemill...
Funkhouser and Lake Arrowhead.

Precautionary/preparedness actions...

This is an extremely dangerous and life threatening situation. This storm is capable of producing strong to violent tornadoes. If you are in the path of this tornado... take cover immediately!

If you see wind damage... large hail or significant flooding... wait until after the storm has passed... and then call the National Weather Service toll free at 1 8 6 6 7 6 3 4 4 6 6.

A Tornado Watch remains in effect until 200 am EDT Thursday morning for northern Georgia.


Lat... Lon 3422 8503 3424 8503 3425 8501 3427 8502
3438 8485 3440 8474 3441 8473 3441 8461
3419 8448 3408 8486 3409 8505 3421 8505
time... Mot... loc 0225z 232deg 44kt 3421 8489


Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11047
Hearing some gruesome stuff coming from that Catoosa County scanner stream, dunno if I can listen to much more...
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Man, the Huntsville area has had a rough day. On the storm reports page from SPC, you can't see any white on the map. It's solid red from all the tornado reports and the reports are from several different tornadic storms.

Up to 130 now with a lot more to go...

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Storms kill 54 around South, including 40 in Ala.
3 mins ago

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The mayor of an Alabama city hit hard by a tornado says at least 15 people have died there, bringing the death toll from severe weather to 54 around the South.

In all, 40 people died in Wednesday's storms in Alabama.

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox says sections of the city have been destroyed and its infrastructure has been decimated.

Also on Wednesday, storms killed 11 in Mississippi, two in Georgia and one in Tennessee.
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Quoting RastaSteve:
3 story Hotel collapse in Rome GA with mulitple fatalities.
Last thing you want to hear. Truly tragic
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Quoting cat5hurricane:

My apologies Tom. I owe you a 6 pack.
Thanks, my 21st is coming up soon in about 4 yrs from now ;)


Quoting BahaHurican:
Rasta's post was to the original blogger. Lots of other pple have replied. I'm not sure what cat5 was getting at; seemed out of left field to me.

But then there's a lot of weird debris around tonight... :(

Read #937...he quoted my post so I'm pretty sure he was talking to me
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Quoting RastaSteve:
TWC is asking people in Atlanta to sleep in a basement if they have one as tornadoes are about to come into Atlanta.


TWC Breaking
Take cover near Cartersville, GA! STRONG indication of #tornado headed toward the area in 10-15 min!
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1037. Patrap
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125560
1035. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
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Quoting MississippiWx:
Guys, say what you want about TWC (I normally bash them), but their coverage of this outbreak has been incredible. They have done a fantastic job. Kudos to Dr. Greg Forbes...Gotta give credit where credit is due.

Yes, glad to see they pre empted the canned forecasts for real weather. By the way, I don't think anyone alive today has seen tornadic activity of this scope happen before.
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11047
Via Twitter: Tornado tracks a few blocks from the University of Alabama. Also, the university has cancelled classes and suspended normal operations tomorrow.
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1030. fredmc
All week long along the Mississippi Gulfcoast the wind has been blowing a steady 30 mph. The result is sand all over highway 90 which runs parallel with the beach. While driving to work I had to slow down about 40 times due to the road disappearing under the sand. In some spots, especially in front of Edgewater Mall, Biloxi, the sand had to be at least a foot high. I saw a SUV stuck in the sand, it had to be towed out. Then some brain surgeon tried to go across a sand bar on the highway, he fish-tailed for about 30 feet and almost crashed. This is about the worse I've seen, the road crews are out day and night scooping up sand. For anyone in my area I strongly recommend using Pass Road or I10 instead for east/west travel. Additionally, please slow down, it's too easy to flip your vehicle when you transition from road to sand. Any cars that are low to the ground, such as sports cars, forget driving HW 90. It's already bad enough, even with me driving a Ranger XLT with 4 wheel drive. So attempting the route in gocart size cars just won't make it.
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Hackelburg, AL. Marion County:

"Utter devastation"
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Quad-State Tornado?
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TWC Breaking
Extensive damage reported in Dadeville, AL. "Direct hit", per emerg. manager.
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1026. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
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Quoting presslord:
My mother and Father...in the Buckhead area of Atlanta...say local TV is seriously down playing and under reporting...

That would be a first.
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11047
Guys, say what you want about TWC (I normally bash them), but their coverage of this outbreak has been incredible. They have done a fantastic job. Kudos to Dr. Greg Forbes...Gotta give credit where credit is due.
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About JeffMasters

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

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