Massive tornado outbreak kills 202; 100-year flood coming on Mississippi River

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:49 PM GMT on April 28, 2011

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A stunning tornado outbreak of incredible violence has left at least 202 dead across the Eastern U.S.; injuries probably number over a thousand, with 600 injured in the town of Tuscaloosa alone. The tornadoes carved huge swaths of damage, completely flattening large sections of many towns, and damage from the storms is likely to be the greatest in history for any tornado outbreak. Hardest hit was Alabama, with at least 149 dead; at least 36 were killed in neighboring Mississippi. NOAA's Storm Prediction Center logged 160 preliminary reports of tornadoes between 8am EDT yesterday and 8am EDT today. At least 11 of these tornadoes were killer tornadoes; deaths occurred in six states. Damage from some of these storms appeared to be at least EF-4, and it is likely that there were multiple violent EF-4 or EF-5 tornadoes. The death toll makes the April 27 - 28 outbreak the third deadliest tornado outbreak of the past 50 years, behind the April 3 - 4, 1974 Super Outbreak (315 killed) and the 1965 Palm Sunday tornado outbreak (256 killed.)


Figure 1. Damage in Birmingham, Alabama from last night's tornado. Image posted to twitter.


Figure 2. Damage in Tuscaloosa, Alabama from last night's tornado. Image posted to twitter, photographer unknown.


Figure 3. Radar reflectivity image of the Tuscaloosa, Alabama tornado.

The 3-day total of preliminary tornado reports from this outbreak is 278, close to the 323 preliminary tornado reports logged during the massive April 14 - 16 tornado outbreak. That outbreak has 155 confirmed tornadoes so far, making it the largest April tornado outbreak on record. It is unprecedented to have two such massive tornado outbreaks occur so close together. 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).


Figure 4. Satellite image of last night's storm at 8:15pm EDT April 27, 2011. Image credit: NASA/GSFC.

Tornado outbreak winding down today
Tornado warnings continue to be issued this morning along the cold front now pushing towards the Atlantic coast, and a tornado was reported at 7:35am EDT in McBee, South Carolina. NOAA's Storm Prediction Center has placed a large swath of the coast, from Florida to Vermont, in their "Slight Risk" region for severe weather. The high instability and high wind shear that triggered so many killer tornadoes yesterday is gone, and we should see only a few weak tornadoes today. No severe storms are predicted for Friday. Saturday has a slight risk of severe weather over Oklahoma and Texas.


Figure 5. Severe weather threat for Thursday, April 28, 2011.


Figure 6. Remarkable video of the tornado that hit Tuscaloosa, Alabama yesterday. Fast forward to minute four to see the worst of the storm.


Figure 8. Tornado near Empire, Alabama, moving rapidly down a hill.

Unprecedented flooding predicted on Ohio and Mississippi Rivers
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 9. The latest River Flood Outlook from NOAA shows major flooding is occurring over many of the nation's major rivers.

Record 100+ year flood expected on Mississippi River
Snow melt from this winter's record snow pack across the Upper Mississippi River has formed a pulse of flood waters that is moving downstream on the Mississippi, and is currently located in Iowa. When this floodwater pulse moves south of Cairo, Illinois over the next two weeks, it will join with the record water flow coming out of the Ohio River, and create the highest flood heights ever recorded on the Mississippi, according to the latest forecasts from the National Weather Service. Along a 400-mile stretch of the Mississippi, from Cairo to Natchez, Mississippi the Mississippi is expected to experience the highest flood heights since records began 100 or more years ago, at 5 of the 10 gauges on the river along this stretch. The records are predicted to begin to fall on May 3 at New Madrid, and progress downstream to Natchez by May 20. Areas that are not protected by levees can expect extensive damage from the flooding, and it is possible that the Army Corps of Engineers will have to intentionally dynamite a levee at Birds Point and New Madrid, Missouri to protect the town of Cairo from flooding.

The Mississippi River at New Madrid, MO, about 40 miles downstream of the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, is currently at 44', the 3rd highest flood in history. The river is predicted to crest on Tuesday very near the all-time record height of 48 feet. The NWS warns that at this height, "Large amounts of property damage can be expected. Evacuation of many homes and businesses becomes necessary." Previous record heights at this location:

(1) 48.00 ft on 02/03/1937
(2) 44.60 ft on 04/09/1913
(3) 43.60 ft on 04/04/1975
(4) 43.50 ft on 02/16/1950
(5) 42.94 ft on 03/17/1997

The timing of the floods crests will depend upon a complex mix a factors, including how much rain falls over the next month, the possible influence of southerly winds holding up the floodwater pulses, the potential opening of flood control structures and reduction of flows from flood control reservoirs, and potential levee failures (no levee has failed on the Lower Mississippi south of the Ohio River junction since 1950, however.) The Mississippi River is expected to crest at 17 feet at New Orleans on May 22, three feet below the top of the levees. This would likely require opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway 28 miles upstream from New Orleans, to relieve pressure on the city's levees. Opening the spillway drains 250,000 cubic feet per second of flow into Lake Pontchartrain.

Helping out tornado victims
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.

Related post: Are tornadoes getting stronger and more frequent? The answer is--we don't know.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting hydrus:
I was wondering what the economy was going to do back in the early 90,s. Hugo and then the Loma-Prieta earthquake, Hurricanes Bob and Andrew. The 93 Flood and blizzard...Those events alone affected the economy..Hard to imagine what might happen next.


I'm talking about those major events this year if they happen. not spread out over those 3 years
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Maybe we'll be fine
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Quoting RitaEvac:
Don't want to sound like bad news all the time, but this country is on the brink of a Depression...

2 major events away,

1. Major Massive earthquake on West coast
2. Multiple major hurricanes on CONUS

Gas will be at a point where we wont be going anywhere... USA Depression

Government in debt, FEMA exhausted
I was wondering what the economy was going to do back in the early 90,s. Hugo and then the Loma-Prieta earthquake, Hurricanes Bob and Andrew. The 93 Flood and blizzard...Those events alone affected the economy..Hard to imagine what might happen next.
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Quoting jasonweatherman2010:
my god!! look at this picture!!
That's just unreal. I don't even know how to react to that.
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Quoting flsky:
Just got this from FEMA
Link


Thank You! You too Jeff713!
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Quoting ILwthrfan:


I can't think of what it would do to this country (which is already on its knees economically) if we were to get a major landfalling hurricane on major population. It would more than likely send this country to a point in which it can not recover from.

Anyone have any links or info on donating money or goods to those effected from yesterday's event, especially with respect to Tuscaloosa? It would be greatly apprieciated.
www.portlight.org
Member Since: August 3, 2008 Posts: 16 Comments: 5792
245. flsky
Donate to the Red Cross. Other necessary donations will become clear soon.
Member Since: October 24, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1733
Quoting ILwthrfan:


I can't think of what it would do to this country (which is already on its knees economically) if we were to get a major landfalling hurricane on major population. It would more than likely send this country to a point in which it can not recover from.

Anyone have any links or info on donating money or goods to those effected from yesterday's event, especially with respect to Tuscaloosa? It would be greatly apprieciated.
Go to recommended links on the right of your screen...Portlight is the best..
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My thoughts and prayers are with all the family's in the southeast. Its so sad seeing peoples lives literally destroyed within a matter of seconds. Hopefully will all this sun and heating in the Tampabay area we wont have a sever weather outbreak.
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FEMA is utterly irrelevant to disaster preparedness and response utterly...local officials...LOCAL Red Cross chapters...and a number of small relief organizations ( many of which are faith based)..provide the only meaningful impact
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Quoting ILwthrfan:


I can't think of what it would do to this country (which is already on its knees economically) if we were to get a major landfalling hurricane on a major population this hurricane season. It would more than likely send this country to a point in which it can not recover from.

Anyone have any links or info on donating money or goods to those effected from yesterday's event, especially with respect to Tuscaloosa? It would be greatly apprieciated.


See post 222
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240. flsky
Just got this from FEMA
Link
Member Since: October 24, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1733
Quoting RitaEvac:
One major Cane on the CONUS and think their done


I can't think of what it would do to this country (which is already on its knees economically) if we were to get a major landfalling hurricane on a major population this hurricane season. It would more than likely send this country to a point in which it can not recover from.

Anyone have any links or info on donating money or goods to those effected from yesterday's event, especially with respect to Tuscaloosa? It would be greatly apprieciated.
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Quoting breald:


That is a pretty old plant which has had some radiation leakage in the past. I hope this is kept under control.


TVA spokeswoman Barbara Martocci told CNN no radiation was released as a result of the shutdown, and the plant is currently in a safe shutdown mode.

Deja Vu?
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What amazed me last night was that the tornadoes were in areas, I think, would be counterproductive to their system. I always thought that there could not be a tornado in mountain regions such as West Virginia. That earlier posting of the Parkersburg tornado as well as last night has shown me that my thinking is flawed. Maybe in the initial formation, but after that, it doesn't matter where you are in the country. So the next time I see a waterspout, instead of admiring it, I am going to RUN!
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Quoting RitaEvac:
"We've lost two water tanks on the east side of the city, which is crippling the water supply," he said. "We're facing an overwhelming situation in which we are short of men, materials and equipment." But he said Bentley has been "outstanding" in mobilizing resources.

"We've lost our environmental services," he said. "We've lost police precincts. We've lost fire stations. So our own infrastructure itself, which would deal with these issues, has been crippled. It's just compounding the situation."

Nuke plant out of power in Alabama


The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it was monitoring the Browns Ferry nuclear power plant near Athens in north Alabama, about 32 miles west of Huntsville, after it lost offsite power Wednesday night due to the storms. The three units at the plant shut down automatically when power was lost, it said.

"One of the plant's diesel generators was out of service for maintenance, but the other seven started to power the units' emergency loads," the commission said. "Plant operators and Tennessee Valley Authority line crews are working to restore offsite power to all three units." The Tennessee Valley Authority operates the plant.



That is a pretty old plant which has had some radiation leakage in the past. I hope this is kept under control.
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235. Jax82
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Quoting jasonweatherman2010:
my god!! look at this picture!!
damage looks similiar to andrew maybe a step worse kind of surprised central florida does not have a tornado watch
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232. flsky
The pres has already declared AL a federal disaster area and FEMA already has people on the ground.
Member Since: October 24, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1733
Quoting NHCaddict:
Hmm, just houses in "Tornado Alley" need new building codes? I don't think Winter Garden and Kissimmee, FL are in Tornado Alley yet 40+ people died here in 1998.

And are Mississippi and Alabama in Tornado Alley?

Surviving a direct hit of a tornado is a chance-y thing, no matter how your house is built...


I just thought about Tornado Alley, thinking that maybe insurance is higher in those areas than in other; is it so?
Are construction codes different or more demanding also?
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Quoting jasonweatherman2010:
my god!! look at this picture!!


You look at that picture and you wonder how anyone caught in that area when it hit could still possible be alive? All that debris with 200+ mph wind.
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too many of these disasters recently but got to keep positive. taking a vacation to costa rica next wk if there is a tidal wave down there kiss this character a bye bye. the place we are staying is very vulnerable remember japan seemed as if the valleys took the worst of it.
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nevermind
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Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by the Tornadoes...truly awful...

Send some of the Mississippi flood water to Texas...we need it!!!
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Quoting winter123:


That movie is what got me interested in tornados and storms in general. Back then, you needed a dedicated truck with a massive camera and massive radar device on the roof. Now you just whip out your smartphone with 8 megapixel camera, open the radar on mobile browser, and take HD videos. The ratio of good videos to tornados was probably higher than ever. Hopefully these people who weren't really planning on filming tornados didn't go out of their way for them.

Well maybe shame was too harsh since I like that movie too and it illustrates the destructive force these Tornadoes have even enough to pick up a fuel tanker & toss it around like a toy truck or even taking a house & ripping it off its foundation. It's one thing to be a part of a movie as exciting as it sounds & looks, but another to live it through reality & survive to tell the tale.
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Don't want to sound like bad news all the time, but this country is on the brink of a Depression...

2 major events away,

1. Major Massive earthquake on West coast
2. Multiple major hurricanes on CONUS

Gas will be at a point where we wont be going anywhere... USA Depression

Government in debt, FEMA exhausted
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Quoting asgolfr999:
Seems to me that the more access they gain, the worst becomes the news.

While that is only to be expected, these numbers are getting to be horrible. Just horrible.
The bodies of some will not be found for weeks or even months with tornadoes of this magnitude. Some maybe never.
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One major Cane on the CONUS and think their done
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FEMA on the brink
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Afternoon all. I have a few minutes before my next mtg....... how're things looking wx-wise for NC and FL?
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 20734
FEMA better get on the ball

FEMA is responding to a number of disasters nationwide, including wildfires in Texas and flooding in several states, including some Southern ones also hit by storms. But, Fugate said, the agency has "to be prepared for concurrent multiple disasters occurring in this country."

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Seems to me that the more access they gain, the worst becomes the news.

While that is only to be expected, these numbers are getting to be horrible. Just horrible.
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Quoting CalebDancemastah:
My prayers go out to the victims & all who were affected by these storms. I was out all day yesterday, so I didn't know it was this bad, but after seeing that Tuscaloosa video it puts the movie Twister to shame.


That movie is what got me interested in tornados and storms in general. Back then, you needed a dedicated truck with a massive camera and massive radar device on the roof. Now you just whip out your smartphone with 8 megapixel camera, open the radar on mobile browser, and take HD videos. The ratio of good videos to tornados was probably higher than ever. Hopefully these people who weren't really planning on filming tornados didn't go out of their way for them.
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Quoting HurricaneDevo:


I agree 100%, I called an aunt south of Atlanta last night, and she said not to worry, as the TV said the storms would not be bad in the valleys. She did not even know there were tornado warnings. This morning, she said I was right, and there was damage just a few miles from her house.
Sometimes you just have to take a chance if you have distasteful alternatives, or no alternatives. If I had been in those neighborhoods last night, I would have been sleeping in the basement or the bathroom. But a family of 2 can't all fit into the bathtub. It is like the year Hurricane Andrew was bearing down on So. Florida. All of South Florida was evacuating, causing major traffic jams on the roads. They told the Keys to evacuate. I didn't and I talked some people out of going north, because of all the forgoing factors and the fact that they would be heading into the storm. You can believe I prayed like crazy that I was correct. I was scared as were my friends. Hindsight is 20/20 and I am glad I stayed home. Otherwise I would have been sheltering in the Holiday Inn at Cutler Ridge, which got all it's windows blown out. What is that saying, your choice is "the devil or the deep blue sea".
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208. Jax82
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"We've lost two water tanks on the east side of the city, which is crippling the water supply," he said. "We're facing an overwhelming situation in which we are short of men, materials and equipment." But he said Bentley has been "outstanding" in mobilizing resources.

"We've lost our environmental services," he said. "We've lost police precincts. We've lost fire stations. So our own infrastructure itself, which would deal with these issues, has been crippled. It's just compounding the situation."

Nuke plant out of power in Alabama


The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it was monitoring the Browns Ferry nuclear power plant near Athens in north Alabama, about 32 miles west of Huntsville, after it lost offsite power Wednesday night due to the storms. The three units at the plant shut down automatically when power was lost, it said.

"One of the plant's diesel generators was out of service for maintenance, but the other seven started to power the units' emergency loads," the commission said. "Plant operators and Tennessee Valley Authority line crews are working to restore offsite power to all three units." The Tennessee Valley Authority operates the plant.

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Quoting winter123:
The only good part of this outbreak is that it kept newscasters busy so we don't have to hear about the royal wedding as much. I could care less what happens in Britain, unless it's Dr. Who


You can relax, I feel certain the feeling is mutual
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Quoting SQUAWK:


You have WUmail
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The only good part of this outbreak is that it kept newscasters busy so we don't have to hear about the royal wedding as much. I could care less what happens in Britain, unless it's Dr. Who
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My prayers go out to the victims & all who were affected by these storms. I was out all day yesterday, so I didn't know it was this bad, but after seeing that Tuscaloosa video it puts the movie Twister to shame.
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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.