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 aspectre:
A magnitude5.8earthquake struck near the east coast of Honshu epicentered
34miles at 81.9degrees(E) from FukushimaDaiichi

The lone red dot represents centralTokyo.

Lest we forget, TEPCO wants to shore up reactor#4's cooling pool (loaded with recently hot fuel rods) with support columns lest a quake causes the structurally damaged building to drop that pool from its high perch to the ground.

I saw yesterday that #4 had sprung a new leak. Do you know if that's fixed? I also saw that TEPCO had given up on the idea--mentioned a few days ago--to completely superflood two of the reactors, as their engineers told them this could cause a possible collapse of the entire containment structure.
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13600
Quoting goavs4:
Link on Houston Chronicle Blog form tuscaloosanews.com, unbelievable...



This is heartbreaking to watch.
Member Since: October 24, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 2045
Seeing the photos and videos of the aftermath from yesterdays storms made me think that a lot of those scenes very closely resembled the aftermath of Japan's Tsunami. Amazing amount of destruction. God help them.
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thanks for update doc yesterday is a day i hope not to see again for awhile
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Quoting NavarreMark:
Thanks for the update Dr Jeff.

Some of our Volunteer FD guys are heading up there to help out along with some folks from local churches. Be leaving about noon. Should be there this afternoon. They'll be going in a small convoy of PUs towing cargo trailers with stuff for the new homeless and plenty of tarps to make blue roofs for those who may need it. They'll also have tools and hardware to assist folks with emergency home repairs.

GOD bless em.


Awesome.

Ut Alii Vivant!
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Quoting emcf30:


Wounder what it is going to look like once they let the media into the worst hit area. What were are seeing is where they are allowed to go so far.
If we start seeing asphalt torn up, or brick buildings leveled to waist or knee high, we're talking EF5.
Member Since: August 3, 2008 Posts: 16 Comments: 5890
south dade fish-

that really got to me :(
Member Since: August 13, 2005 Posts: 171 Comments: 26253
A magnitude5.8earthquake struck near the east coast of Honshu epicentered
34miles at 81.9degrees(E) from FukushimaDaiichi

The lone red dot represents centralTokyo.

Lest we forget, TEPCO wants to shore up reactor#4's cooling pool (loaded with recently hot fuel rods) with support columns lest a quake causes the structurally damaged building to drop that pool from its high perch to the ground.
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Quoting jeffs713:
Just looking at the pics and videos, the Tuscaloosa tornado was at least a EF3, if not an EF4. Brick buildings severely damaged (but not flattened), trees stripped and broken in half...

Horrible that over 100 died, but it could have been much worse. The SPC was on the ball with their forecast, and the NWS did a great job handling the load and putting out timely warnings. Now that the storms have passed, we need to focus on the needs of those most impacted, and getting them back onto their feet.


Wounder what it is going to look like once they let the media into the worst hit area. What were are seeing is where they are allowed to go so far.
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1951
Just looking at the pics and videos, the Tuscaloosa tornado was at least a EF3, if not an EF4. Brick buildings severely damaged (but not flattened), trees stripped and broken in half...

Horrible that over 100 died, but it could have been much worse. The SPC was on the ball with their forecast, and the NWS did a great job handling the load and putting out timely warnings. Now that the storms have passed, we need to focus on the needs of those most impacted, and getting them back onto their feet.
Member Since: August 3, 2008 Posts: 16 Comments: 5890
Horrible tragedy yesterday and prayers for all the Families affected and lost lives. Given the pattern of trajectories of these recent Spring low pressure systems I am wondering if any studies have been done to see if there is any correlation, or identifiable pattern, between these Spring trajectories in the US and the subsequent hurricane trajectories in the Summer which might also impact the US depending on ENSO phases.......Just wondering.
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Quoting presslord:


for what it's worth: that is pronounced "Oh-ree"
Ya dey nefer say anytink the vey you vud expect in Carolinas.
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Quoting tkeith:


This pic is north of Cairo a few miles on the Mississippi.



Thanks for that, keith. Just heard from a friend who is attempting to get to NOLA via Amtrak that their train is not progressing past Birmingham. No word on the condition of the tracks and/or station in Tuscaloosa. He'd already re-booked his trip from the City of New Orleans to the Crescent because of flooding in downstate IL.
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Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1951
Not sure if this has been posted yet, but I found it quite fitting. You don't see this very often: NWS discussion from Birmingham:

000
FXUS64 KBMX 281158
AFDBMX

AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE BIRMINGHAM AL
645 AM CDT THU APR 28 2011

.UPDATED...AVIATION DISCUSSION.

&&

.DISCUSSION...

WOW...WHAT A DAY. MANY THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS GO OUT TO THOSE
IMPACTED BY WEDNESDAYS HISTORIC TORNADIC OUTBREAK ACROSS THE
STATE.

TRYING TO WRITE A DISCUSSION AFTER SUCH AN ACTIVE DAY IS QUITE
DIFFICULT. HOWEVER THE WEATHER NEVER ENDS AND WE MUST CONTINUE. THE
NEXT FEW DAYS WILL BE CLEAR...SO THE CLEAN-UP PROCESS CAN BEGIN
ACROSS THE STATE. WE ARE GOING TO GO FROM WELL ABOVE NORMAL
TEMPERATURES OVER THE PAST FEW DAYS TO ACTUALLY BELOW NORMAL
TEMPERATURES FOR TODAY AS THE COLD FRONT CONTINUES TO PUSH EAST OF
THE AREA. THERE WILL BE SOME MODERATION IN TEMPERATURES THROUGH
SATURDAY.

THE NEXT WEATHER WILL BEGIN TO MOVE IN ON SUNDAY AS THE NEXT COLD
FRONT APPROACHES FROM THE NORTH. MODELS ARE VERY FAR APART IN
REGARDS TO THIS TIME-FRAME SO THERE IS QUITE A BIT OF UNCERTAINTY
TO SAY THE LEAST. THE EURO BLAST THE FRONT THROUGH THE AREA BY
MONDAY...WHILE THE GFS HOLDS THE FRONT UP AND BRINGS US SEVERAL
BANDS OF SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS THROUGH TUESDAY. LOOKING BACK
AT PREVIOUS DAYS ABOUT THE ONLY CONSISTENCY BETWEEN MODELS IS THE
FACT THAT THEY CONTINUE TO DISAGREE. HOPEFULLY WE CAN GET SOME
CONSISTENCY IN HERE WITHIN THE NEXT DAY OR SO. ONE THING TO
NOTE...IF THE GFS PANS OUT WE COULD SEE A ROUND OR TWO OF STRONG
TO MAYBE EVEN SEVERE STORMS...BUT THE INCONSISTENCIES IN THE
MODELS ARE JUST TOO LARGE TO INCLUDE AT THIS TIME.

&&
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 11 Comments: 2448
Just got off of the phone with an old buddy who is now in law enforcement in Central Tennessee. He said they dodged the bullet, except for some flooding that is a problem. Glad to hear that he was OK, I have seen what an F5 can do up close and personal.
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Watching CNN and the reporter said people were killed in their basements..thats how bad this storm was..so even in the best of shelters, you couldnt hide from it..just awful!
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31. Horrible, but thanks for that. Feeling very sad, but lucky. Alabama was awesomely welcoming to evacuees from Gustav, so I hope their kindness and generosity will be reciprocated.
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I spoke to a friend in tuscaloosa just now. He said the tornado missed them by miles and I asked if he saw it and he said "are you kidding? At one point it looked as wide as the whole horizon with huge debris just floating and little tornados whirling out from it." He said they have a temporary morgue set up in the hospital parking lot. He said you cannot imagine the power of it and it was terrifying and that it was so big you knew there was no way to get out of the path if it was coming toward you.
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Link on Houston Chronicle Blog form tuscaloosanews.com, unbelievable...


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The snowmelt in the upper Mississippi was quite rapid at the end of March and Early April the 72 hour snowfmle map from NOHRSC shows this. The Missouri River also impacted.
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Quoting IKE:
"""Figure 6. Remarkable video
of the tornado that hit Tuscaloosa, Alabama yesterday. Fast forward to
minute four to see the worst of the storm."""....

Incredible.
..the person recording can be heard saying several times at the end of the clip saying"oh my god,oh my god...",you can hear his voice quivering in fear
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EEK, WTH?: Our locals returned to regular programming just as the rain, lightening and thunder hit my neighborhood! (Not really bad here, rain is already slacking... just praying it's not the calm before a wind comes up).

Two reported dead in Washington County, VA, which has taken the brunt of it around here; and we're afraid more bad news to come.

You didn't think I could stay away forever, did you (although you were probably hoping...)
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Quoting clwstmchasr:


What is amazing about this outbreak is how much was caught on video and broadcast live on TV.

That's certainly true. I hope the videos will help those who study these monsters.
Member Since: October 24, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 2045
Check out the photo board on the site I posted link to #23. Truly Amazing.
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1951
@Cat5: Springdale is in the far northwest part of Arkansas - up in Walmartland, LOL. They are best known for Tyson chicken plants. They at least are in the low end of the rain. The heavy rain looks like it will be in the delta. Dunno if it will hurt the rice or not.
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There was a horrible flood on the Missouri/Mississippi system near St. Louis in 1993. I flew in to St. Louis to visit my mom, and it was unbelievable. And this one will be worse?!?!

The rains have been awful in Arkansas, and our driveway has washed out. It was okay until the last rains Tuesday night. Ditto our county road. Evidently the water rushing downhill met water overflowing the small river at the bottom, and created some sort of maelstrom. Will try for pics later today.

I can't complain, though. The house is still here. :) Been through the death and destruction of an EF4, and my heart breaks for those people in AL. At least ours stayed mainly over rural areas - hitting two cities is unreal. It looks like they were bombed. And from experience, it will be months and years before life is back to normal there.
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Link

New Facebook page re: Tornados
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1951
Quoting cat5hurricane:
So, the question remains: Will Mother Nature ever let up? As Dr. Master's alluded to, over 19" of rain at one particular locale in Akansas--I believe Springfield.

Don't think they will be welcoming what the 5 Day HPC has in store for them:



Well it looks like another plume of moisture is inbound from the pacific, but explosive development like yesterday would all depend on what happens with that remaining cooler air.

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Quoting srada:
Tornado spotted in Horry County (Myrtle Beach, SC)..


for what it's worth: that is pronounced "Oh-ree"
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Did you see that video on TWC in Ringgold?

One of those metal utility poles is leaning about 30 degrees from vertical. It looks like the foundation was pulled up.
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wow this is going to start melting fast.

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So, the question remains: Will Mother Nature ever let up? As Dr. Master's alluded to, over 19" of rain at one particular locale in Akansas--I believe Springfield.

Don't think they will be welcoming what the 5 Day HPC has in store for them:

Member Since: August 17, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 6939
Quoting bschick32:
Can anybody get pictures of the confluence of the Ohio and Mississsippi rivers right now? That would have to be an unbelievable scene with both rivers at record levels.


This pic is north of Cairo a few miles on the Mississippi.

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Tornado spotted in Horry County (Myrtle Beach, SC)..
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Unconfirmed 233 dead per CNN and rising. Death toll likely to top 300.
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Sitting in NE NC waiting for the weather to arrive. Winds are VERY gusty. The humidity is pretty high, too. Will make for an interesting afternoon/evening.

Thanks for the information!
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Quoting JRRP:


how do you post radar loop or videos here?I only know pictures:(
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Can anybody get pictures of the confluence of the Ohio and Mississsippi rivers right now? That would have to be an unbelievable scene with both rivers at record levels.
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Tuscaloosa, AL. Damage shown looking down 15th Street toward Home Depot.
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10. JRRP


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My thoughts are prayers go out to the victims and family/friends of those of whom been affected by such a horrific act of Mother Nature.
Member Since: August 17, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 6939
Thank you Dr Jeff for the update... I thought the Mississippi River just had a record breaking flood a year or two ago??? the one that flooded St Louis.... I guess this one will be worse.

Hope we can get a break from severe weather soon.

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

Incredible.
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Unfortunately these powerful tornadoes yesterday hit densely populated areas and downtowns. Even with a 30 minute warning and watching the tornado from your home computer, if you were in the path and took shelter, you can still be blown away. Its going to take weeks to survey the damage to determine the power of the tornadoes but im guessing the Tuscaloosa/Birmingham tornado was the most deadly since it was so long tracked and went thru 2 major cities.
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 1261
Thanks Jeff...
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Just read of >100 fatalities in Tuscaloosa alone from that single tornado. It could have been much worse, of course, but that's till 100 too many...
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13600


Thanks for the excellent update, Doc!

So many tragic events occurring these last 2 months...:(
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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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