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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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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Fatalities by state

Alabama: 162

Tennessee: 33

Mississippi: 32

Georgia: 14

Arkansas: 11

Virginia: 11
Total: 263

Plus one that was just added from Ky that the news article did not have added
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Quoting DaytonaBeachWatcher:


i see envy there :-D


That may be the problem right there.
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"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.

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.



"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."

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Quoting FLdewey:

What kills me watching all of these interviews on CNN is that 90% of people interviewed act surprised that it happened WITH NO WARNING. Are you frigging kidding me? I've know about this outbreak for 2 bleepity bleepin weeks. Moreover over the past 3 days the media has actually done a pretty good job pushing the danger that was coming. My wife, who really isn't into weather, even mentioned to her facebook friends in that area the day BEFORE yesterday to be prepared because she had read a story on Yahoo about the storms.

In one interview the gentleman admitted hearing the tornado sirens, but he figured it was "just another thunderstorm"

WHAT THE FRENCH TOAST!!? You just can't fix that. A lot of people don't even look at the weather unless they're on the way to the beach. you can't make people wear their seatbelt, and you certainly can't make them heed a warning. If I'm watching a tornado LIVE tear through a neighborhood and I can hear the sirens and hear the weather alerts in the background it makes me furious when the affected people go on the news the next day and act surprised. It's a senseless loss of life.

Now I'm all irritated... dangit I hate this.


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.
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Quoting RandomText:


No, they are stupid because there is no rational reason for anyone to care or to follow these people around like they do.

They are just another person, and they eat and shit and die the same as anyone else. They are no more important than anyone else.


i see envy there :-D
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Quoting FLWeatherFreak91:
What do you mean you don't see any storms? There is a line of moderate thunderstorms approaching lake city, and as he said, there are storms popping up along both seabreezes also...
Exactly. I went to the Jax radar and the storms are starting to look mean. Looks like something heading into Lake City. Be careful everyone. Heads Up!
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Quoting BobinTampa:
Do homes in Alabama and Georgia typically have basements? I know it's impossible in Florida but I wasn't sure about up there.

Is a safe room safer than a basement in a tornado?


Yes! If constructed correctly! An 18inch 6x6 block room reinforced with steel rods and having its own inside foundation would withstand most EF-3 and 4 but, hard to say if anything above ground could take a EF-5!!!!
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS

NEW: Three more deaths reported in Tennessee

NEW: The death toll is at least 250 people in six states

More than 980 people treated at hospitals
President Obama will travel to Alabama on Friday
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Quoting RandomText:


No, they are stupid because there is no rational reason for anyone to care or to follow these people around like they do.

They are just another person, and they eat and shit and die the same as anyone else. They are no more important than anyone else.


And once again, because you didn't get it first time out. YOU see no rational reason. You see them as no more important, so YOU have the right to be offensive to those that do.

That's known as Americanism #2

Just drop it. There's no reason to be rude just because you don't get it.

But allow others to feel how they feel and act how they want to.

That's democracy.

That's americanism # 3

Isn't it?
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250 confirmed dead now
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Quoting palmbaywhoo:
I don't see any storms?

What do you mean you don't see any storms? There is a line of moderate thunderstorms approaching lake city, and as he said, there are storms popping up along both seabreezes also...
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Don't need a safer, more expensive house. EF-4 or 5 is going to demolish it anyway. Nope, I just pay attention to the weather an if it looks like it is going to get really nasty - I am in the truck and getting out of Dodge. The house can fend for itself. I even have a notebook I carry in the truck that has RADAR so I know where to - and not to - go.
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188. Jax82
Yep they are startin to Pop Rasta.

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Enjoy your Wucation...
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I don't see any storms?
Quoting RastaSteve:
Huge thunderstorm west of lake City, FL and it just keeps growing. Gotta feeling it's going to a rough afternoon/evening here in E C FL. Storms also popping on the West Coast seabreeze. Look at the lift index below! WOW! Guys thunderstorms are about to explode across C and N FL soon!

http://www.srh.noaa.gov/images/rtimages/mlb/adas/ convective_parms.gif

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Quoting asgolfr999:


You have Obama. We have the Queen and the rest of the Royal family.

Do ya see why there might be a loyalty difference?

Just sayin....... :-)

NICE
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Quoting jeffs713:

One issue with this is the fact that some states (*cough* Texas) have builders that push cheap homes that barely meet building standards, where every expense imaginable is spared. $5k can easily put a home out of reach for someone whom is barely credit-worthy. While a safe room would undoubtedly save countless lives (And why any future house that I build will have one, even before today's discussion), asking builders to add them, and home buyers to request them, is somewhat idealistic.


You're right. This was tried in the Oklahoma area after the Moore/Ok City tornado ended and before recontruction began. It did not gain traction as the home builders strongly opposed it---but doesn't mean it can't be tried again. One thing that people did take advantage of was a FEMA shelter rebate that was offered back then.
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Quoting MississippiWx:
Let's put it this way, guys. If you value your life and the life of your family, you'd most likely consider adding a basement or "safe room" to a new house you are building. Whether it should be mandatory is another subject. I could see either side to that argument. Ultimately, living in a free country as we do, I do not think your insurance company or government should make you build a certain room in your own house. It should be recommended, but eventually left to the home owner to decide.

That's exactly right.
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Quoting BobinTampa:
Do homes in Alabama and Georgia typically have basements? I know it's impossible in Florida but I wasn't sure about up there.

Is a safe room safer than a basement in a tornado?


Not many people in the South have basements at all.

As far as safe rooms go, it depends on how much money you want to spend on one. If you put a steel structure above ground, reinforced by concrete, maybe it's just as safe as being underground. However, being underground is typically going to be the safest bet regardless.
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180. srada
Tornado on the ground in Bladen County and One on the ground in Duplin County (NC)..Bladen County lost 4 people to the storm that hit earlier in April..its getting bad around here.
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Quoting BobinTampa:
Do homes in Alabama and Georgia typically have basements? I know it's impossible in Florida but I wasn't sure about up there.

Is a safe room safer than a basement in a tornado?


Nope. Most injured or killed in a tornado are from flying debris, not structure collapse. Basement or storm shelter would be preferred to anywhere above ground. If sheltering above ground, just put as many walls as you can between you and the wind outside.
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Quoting asgolfr999:


You have Obama. We have the Queen and the rest of the Royal family.

Do ya see why there might be a loyalty difference?

Just sayin....... :-)

lmao
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Huge thunderstorm west of lake City, FL and it just keeps growing. Gotta feeling it's going to a rough afternoon/evening here in E C FL. Storms also popping on the West Coast seabreeze. Look at the lift index below! WOW! Guys thunderstorms are about to explode across C and N FL soon!

http://www.srh.noaa.gov/images/rtimages/mlb/adas/ convective_parms.gif
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Quoting SQUAWK:

LOL. Hello friend. You have been missed.

Hahaha... well thanks - I'm a little bit early but I'm glad to be back.

I need to get the garage fridge stocked with hurricane "supplies" soon... start running some drills.
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Quoting RandomText:


Yeah, thank God.

I get so sick of hearing about celebrities and royalty.

People are so stupid for treating these people like they are gods or something.


"All eyes will be on the royal wedding..."

No, actually, I couldn't give a rat's ass, except it disgusts me people are dumb enough to worship some celebrities and tin cup monarchs.


So people who think differently and do things differently are dumb and stupid because YOU don't understand.

That's what we call an Americanism
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Let's put it this way, guys. If you value your life and the life of your family, you'd most likely consider adding a basement or "safe room" to a new house you are building. Whether it should be mandatory is another subject. I could see either side to that argument. Ultimately, living in a free country as we do, I do not think your insurance company or government should make you build a certain room in your own house. It should be recommended, but eventually left to the home owner to decide.
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Do homes in Alabama and Georgia typically have basements? I know it's impossible in Florida but I wasn't sure about up there.

Is a safe room safer than a basement in a tornado?
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Quoting IKE:
Here's some good news.....by tomorrow at this time The Royal Wedding will be over.

Camping out a day in advance to see a married couple come by?

Yawn.


You have Obama. We have the Queen and the rest of the Royal family.

Do ya see why there might be a loyalty difference?

Just sayin....... :-)
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Quoting FLdewey:
SQUIZAWK!

(Went for an urban feel today)

LOL. Hello friend. You have been missed.
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Quoting IKE:
Here's some good news.....by tomorrow at this time The Royal Wedding will be over.

Camping out a day in advance to see a married couple come by?

Yawn.


Yeah, thank God.

I get so sick of hearing about celebrities and royalty.

People are so stupid for treating these people like they are gods or something.


"All eyes will be on the royal wedding..."

No, actually, I couldn't give a rat's ass, except it disgusts me people are dumb enough to worship some celebrities and tin cup monarchs.
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Quoting TampaSpin:
Most on here probably knows little about the construction of a home! The Added expense in a new home to put a safe house room 6x6 is truly less than $5000 during a new home construction. So, should this be a part of new Code standard, YES IT SHOULD and really is no reason why anyone building a new home would not want a safe house as the added protection is minimal in price at the cost of human life!

One issue with this is the fact that some states (*cough* Texas) have builders that push cheap homes that barely meet building standards, where every expense imaginable is spared. $5k can easily put a home out of reach for someone whom is barely credit-worthy. While a safe room would undoubtedly save countless lives (And why any future house that I build will have one, even before today's discussion), asking builders to add them, and home buyers to request them, is somewhat idealistic.
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Barge traffic moves along the channel of the flooding Mississippi River just north of where the Ohio River joins the Mississippi near Cairo, Ill. on Tuesday, April 26, 2011. The Army Corps of Engineers postponed its decision on a proposal to blow a huge hole in the Birds Point levee in southeast Missouri, just downriver of the confluence. The idea was hatched as a desperate bid to reduce the amount of water moving down the Mississippi. The channel of the Mississippi river is marked by the lines of tree that would normal mark the banks of the river. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, David Carson) EDWARDSVILLE INTELLIGENCER OUT; THE ALTON TELEGRAPH OUT / David Carson/AP
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Quoting jeffs713:
Oh, also about all the news reports with people saying "there was no warning"... The news media apparently makes a concerted effort to find the most ignorant person around, and put them in the spotlight as the "random person on the street".

Now that's a great point.
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Quoting sunlinepr:
How about in order to acquire insurance, to make it compulsory that every house in the tornado Alley area, should have a sheltered room?
Something like a reinforced concrete small room 6X6, and 4 feet tall, in the middle area of every house, {ground level} with a top sliding door, where the family can get into? That would resist a big tornado.... at least could save lives...
That is a slippery slope to be going down. Anytime you make anything compulsory, prices go up and the poor suffer. Why would they want to do that anyway, the insurance company that insures your home does not pay you death benefits, do they?
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Quoting clwstmchasr:


I saw one guy who said there was no warning. After be pushed by the reporter he back tracked and said he did hear a siren but figured it was a typical small tornado or strong wind so he did not take it seriously.

I guess it's no different than any other disaster. Heck half of the people they pull out of flooded homes act surprised.

Maybe they're not surprised that it happened, maybe it's just surprise that it happened to them.
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Oh, also about all the news reports with people saying "there was no warning"... The news media apparently makes a concerted effort to find the most ignorant person around, and put them in the spotlight as the "random person on the street".
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Quoting palmbaywhoo:
Really hard to take you serious....



Does that mean you are not smart enough?
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This next system gets a shot of energy from the gulf...Link
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Quoting palmbaywhoo:
Really hard to take you serious....



Then don't... but I tell you what if you make a donation to the Red Cross I'll tell you a joke.

Have you ever seen "Catch me if you can?"

Knock knock...
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Quoting atmoaggie:
Yes it would.

But, what about code that stipulates that one interior room be constructed with studs on center, say, 3 inches, or less, apart, rather than the current 16 inches?

Most of us are limited to a windowless, interior room for shelter in severe weather. Why not just introduce code that says that all new construction will spend a couple of extra hours and ~$100 in lumber on a more reinforced "escape room". That would be relatively cheap and easy and I *think* would increase odds of surviving in that room for an EF3, EF4.

I agree. I'm lucky in that I have a small closet under the stairs in my home that is reinforced (2x6 studs on 6 inch centers). Its used as storage right now, but can be emptied out in about 15 seconds, and also happens to be where my wife and I store our emergency kit.

Designating a protected room as a "storm shelter" of sorts is an EXCELLENT idea. Whether its a bedroom, closet, cellar, or reinforced interior hallway, something is better than nothing. That said, if you get an EF4 or EF5, there isn't much that can be done, but a protected room will likely save countless lives in less significant tornadoes.
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Quoting IKE:
Here's some good news.....by tomorrow at this time The Royal Wedding will be over.

Camping out a day in advance to see a married couple come by?

Yawn.

No thanks. I'd rather use my spare time to follow to Charlie Sheen stuff.
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Most on here probably knows little about the construction of a home! The Added expense in a new home to put a safe house room 6x6 is truly less than $5000 during a new home construction. So, should this be a part of new Code standard, YES IT SHOULD and really is no reason why anyone building a new home would not want a safe house as the added protection is minimal in price at the cost of human life!
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The different 'alleys' in the United States identified for tornadic activity

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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...

So is a head-on collision, but you do what is reasonable in cost, and most effective, to make the auto safer in such a scenario in order to up your chances of surviving it.

And, no, I don't think anyone really thinks such improvements should be limited to tornado alley.
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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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