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 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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151. 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.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
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...

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Quoting Jax82:


at work, off st augustine rd, at home, jax beach.


thanks- I'm stuck at St.V's
Member Since: August 13, 2005 Posts: 163 Comments: 25474
Really hard to take you serious....

Quoting FLdewey:
Put it on my tab!

If you'd like to donate to the American Red Cross relief effort you can instantly donate $10 by texting REDCROSS to 90999.

If you'd rather you can visit www.redcross.org to donate, or if you're old fashioned you can call 1-800-RED-CROSS.

If you're in the affected areas don't be shy - find your nearest shelter and lend a hand.

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146. srada
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 saw that dewey..unfortunately a lot of people are not interested in weather as we are or dont pay attention to warnings as they should..its a non factor until it happens to them..Im glad some people did heed warnings..they actually let schools out at 12 yesterday due to the threats..
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145. Jax82
Quoting aquak9:
hey jax82- what side of town you located?


at work, off st augustine rd, at home, jax beach.
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 1261
Quoting jeffs713:
Not realistic or enforceable. It would mean a 7x7 footprint taken out of each house, along with a significant expense added. Also, you can't ensure that people will use it for a shelter - they could use it as a storage space. And finally, what do you do about the millions of existing houses, apartments, mobile homes, and condos?

Its an idea that has merit based on an idealistic standard, but realistically, implementation would be nigh-impossible.
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.
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Quoting xcool:
i have family member in Alabama


Have you been able to contact them to see if they are safe?
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Quoting jeffs713:
Not realistic or enforceable. It would mean a 7x7 footprint taken out of each house, along with a significant expense added. Also, you can't ensure that people will use it for a shelter - they could use it as a storage space. And finally, what do you do about the millions of existing houses, apartments, mobile homes, and condos?

Its an idea that has merit based on an idealistic standard, but realistically, implementation would be nigh-impossible.


Well, that would be for new construction. Anyhow, what you say is true.... but after living such an experience, I would dedicate a room in my house for sheltering my family...
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Quoting cat5hurricane:

And for folks who live in apartments and ones who live in subsidenced highrises or section 8 housing? What do you suggest?



I have heard some very crazy stuff about the structure of homes and what needs to happen. Most new homes and structures are built very sound, but you can't do much to improve what is already standing. If an EF4 or EF5 hits the best of structures, not much would be left of those either.
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137. xcool
i have family member in Alabama
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hey jax82- what side of town you located?
Member Since: August 13, 2005 Posts: 163 Comments: 25474
134. Jax82
There are 2 tornado warnings, 1 west of lake city, FL and one North of there. And we're not even in a Tornado watch area, just a severe thunderstorm watch area. Wouldnt you think the NWS would extend the tornado watch southward considering there are Tornado warnings? Looks like Jax may get some severe weather today if the line holds up.
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 1261
Quoting sunlinepr:
How about in order to acquire insurance, to make it compulsory that every house 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...
Not realistic or enforceable. It would mean a 7x7 footprint taken out of each house, along with a significant expense added. Also, you can't ensure that people will use it for a shelter - they could use it as a storage space. And finally, what do you do about the millions of existing houses, apartments, mobile homes, and condos?

Its an idea that has merit based on an idealistic standard, but realistically, implementation would be nigh-impossible.
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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...
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52095
129. IKE
From CNN...Death toll in Alabama storms increases to 162, officials say, raising storm total to 247 people dead in six states.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
1115 AM CDT THU APR 28 2011

VALID 281630Z - 291200Z

...THERE IS A SLGT RISK OF SVR TSTMS ALONG MUCH OF THE EASTERN SEABOARD FROM NORTH FL INTO WESTERN NEW ENGLAND...

...EASTERN STATES...
A POWERFUL MID/UPPER LEVEL JET CONTINUES TO ROTATE THROUGH UPPER TROUGH OVER THE EASTERN STATES INTO NEW ENGLAND. MEANWHILE...THE PRIMARY COLD FRONT AND ASSOCIATED LINE OF CONVECTION EXTENDS FROM
EASTERN NY/PA SOUTHWARD ALONG THE ATLANTIC COAST STATES. SPORADIC DAMAGING WIND EVENTS ARE LIKELY TO OCCUR ALONG THIS LINE THROUGH THE DAY UNTIL STORMS MOVE OFFSHORE THIS AFTERNOON.

ONE AREA OF PARTICULAR INTEREST IS OVER SOUTHEAST VA/NORTHEAST NC.
MODELS SUGGEST SIGNIFICANT AIR MASS DESTABILIZATION IS EXPECTED BY LATE AFTERNOON...WITH WEAK SURFACE CYCLOGENESIS FORECAST. THIS AREA
MAY SEE RE-DEVELOPMENT OF SEVERE STORMS LATER TODAY WITH AN ENHANCED RISK OF TORNADOES POSSIBLE.

FARTHER NORTH...COOL ONSHORE FLOW IS EXPECTED TO WEAKEN THE CONVECTION AS IT MOVES INTO SOUTHERN NEW ENGLAND...LIMITING THE EASTWARD EXTENT OF SEVERE RISK.

...MID MS AND LOWER OH VALLEYS...
STRONG DAYTIME HEATING IS OCCURRING OVER PORTIONS OF MO/IL/IN/KY/OH...WHERE POCKET OF COLD MID LEVEL TEMPERATURES WILL AFFECT LATER TODAY. STEEP LOW/MID LEVEL LAPSE RATES AND STRONG MID/LOWER TROPOSPHERIC WINDS WILL SUPPORT A MARGINAL RISK OF DAMAGING WINDS AND HAIL IN THE STRONGEST STORMS LATER TODAY. AT
THIS TIME...IT APPEARS THREAT WILL BE LIMITED AND LOW SEVERE PROBABILITIES ARE SUFFICIENT.

..HART/GARNER.. 04/28/2011
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Local news is saying up to 158 dead in Alabama now and the EMS saying that count will increase. Video of the pleasant grove damage is showing brick structures leveled to the foundation with just debris laying on top. Local radio reported drive ways ripped up in the same area. This event will at least be the second deadliest outbreak in history. I'm still waiting to hear from two people missing......
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124. IKE
Per CNN....14 killed in Georgia storms.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
Thar she goes
loop
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The Reed Footage is incredible.

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Reed Timmer video of the outbreak yesterday. The first tornado is unreal with several vortices you can clearly see. Just incredible footage.

Link

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Quoting ShenValleyFlyFish:
Ducked a bullet?
ya
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52095
#117. I'm not going there.
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
Ducked a bullet?
Member Since: September 9, 2007 Posts: 36 Comments: 4687
Quoting txag91met:


Another Jarrell picture.

I remember that one well..It started out as this tiny innocuous filament looking twister, and then like something out of a horror film, blew up into a gruesome monstrosity. Besides statistically and figuratively wiping houses and buildings off of the face of the Earth, it dismembered, impaled and sucked the lungs out of cows. Quite literally turning them inside out. I would bet humans faired far worse.
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52095
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52095
Godspeed to Portlight and Red Cross and everyone involved in the emergency aid effort!
Every dollar helps, too.
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52095
Please help in any way one can

The needs are great, as the images here show so vividly.

Tornado Impact Images,,
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52095
Hello Dr Jeff,

Wanted to comment in your blog yesterday with some thoughts on influential factors you mentioned but wasn't appropriate time with extremely severe outbreak ongoing... So a bit late, here goes -

"Midwest deluge enhanced by near-record Gulf of Mexico sea surface temperatures... warm ocean temperatures helped set record high air temperatures in many locations in Texas yesterday, ..."

Just a few thoughts...
In my opinion the extreme warmth / record temps mentioned is being sourced from heat that's been steadily building over interior Mexico for the past few months, more so IMO than attributing to Gulf SST's - as pressure temp charts from the surface up thru 700 mb layer have consistently shown... A frequent Spring pattern with sun heating that land mass / hot thermal low evolving and southern latitude ridging building NWD... The early-season intense heating over Mexico is often apparent by late Winter spreading into S TX (and beyond), even as Gulf remains cool... And why S TX has recorded highs over 100F in February before...

That said, Gulf of Mexico SST's have warmed considerably to offer good low level moisture supply - the loop current has been strong for several months now pumping in warm Caribbean water... While persistent warm ridging centered over the region anywhere from Cen AM / S MX across the Gulf / N Carib to off the SE US (since the NAO flip / pattern change mid-February) has additionally warmed sfc waters and US southern tier...

Warm Gulf SST's combined with strong WAA / EML off the Mexican plateau are only part of the equation... Considering the repetitive, multiple severe outbreaks we've witnessed, the serious omission in the discussion of causation is abundance of mid-upper level energy; the northern jet stream pattern's primary influence... It's been unusually persistent in sweeping across the CONUS in a broad zonal, and generally continuous configuration this April - with some tendency to dig strongly farther south, especially over past two weeks... Interesting to note we've seen little of a subtropical jet (other than an occasional streak like what appeared along 25N during Invest 91L)... A comparison of the jet stream (300 mb analysis) this April to recent years from the SFSU Archive shows notable differences - particularly the remarkable continuity... The SFSU archive only goes back to last 3 days Apr of 2007, but to my eyes April 2011 has had a more prominent N jet stream branch as described above than in Aprils of 2008-2010, using the "build animation" feature to compare (used 7 day length)...

Scientific pondering aside, my thoughts / prayers go out to the thousands of our neighbors affected and suffering...

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Presslord has been contacted with needs for 5 families that lost all in one hard hit area.

He is in a meeting now,as Im just off the phone with Him and were making plans for a Portlight member to travel to their area as early as tomorrow.

Presslord will make a statement here and on the portlight Blog as soon as the details are finalized.
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Another Jarrell picture.

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The Jarrel, TX storm was CRAZY. It had all the ingredients for a strong tornado (high MLCAPE - 7000J/kg and higher), lots of directional shear, and a discrete supercell to start from - and it took advantage of them.
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102. 7544
sorry to read about all this but send some rain to so the so fla folks its been dry as a bone any relief in sight ?
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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.