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 emcf30:
Smithville MS Tornado just officially upgrade to EF5
Where did you hear that?
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That list is sad, but not nearly as sad as the one the authorities in New Zealand have been keeping from the Feb. earthquake.

Unfortunately, there's likely a list like that for this tornado outbreak too... :(
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First EF5 rating out in Monroe County, MS. And it's not even for the storm that tracked from Tuscaloosa -> Birmingham.
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Smithville MS Tornado just officially upgrade to EF5
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
Have they released a count of the estimated persons missing for this disaster? I know its probably almost impossible this early into the event
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
747. IKE

Quoting emcf30:


You know what is weird, I watched that video 2 to 3 times before you made the comments this morning, and did not even notice that noise. I was just sitting here mesmerized by the whole situation. Such a amazing demonstration of mother nature but yet so devastating and sad.
That video and the one's of the tsunami in Japan are beyond just about anything I've ever seen.

Think I'll go mow my front yard and think about things for awhile.
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My mom and aunt are driving up to get my cousins from Tuscaloosa. Their graduation at UA has been cancelled until August or Sept. if I understood her correctly. Their apartment was severely damaged and vehicles were destroyed. They were one of the lucky ones.
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
(quietly lurking here...sadly)
Member Since: August 13, 2005 Posts: 163 Comments: 25506
Good morning everyone. Well, I for one, got up early to see the Royal Wedding. And for what it is worth, several of the British interviewees expressed their condolences and thoughts for the people in the south US. Even in their celebrations, they are conscious of our trials. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this horrible tragedy.
Member Since: March 28, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 1532
Quoting emcf30:
This is disturbing.
Emily Burkhalter Myers
I saw this on a status update: "In Cullman Alabama - we were surveying the damage of our home and heard a baby crying. We found it in the ruble and it doesnt belong to us or any of our surrounding neighbors." If anyone has any information, I would like to know if they found the parents and if the baby is ok....
11 minutes ago via Android · Like ·

Face book page Link
In Memory of people who lost their life
This reminds me of stories I heard from the '70s of pple being set down, unharmed, several miles away from where the tornado picked them up, in their totalled cars. A baby is light enough to be transported.

This is getting more and more bizarre...

Quoting pipelines:
My friend's father was just found.....he didn't make it. Great man, 20+ years a pastor helped a lot of people, from Pleasant Grove. This is just horrible.....I can't believe this.
Really, REALLY sad to hear this...

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Sounds like mic was set too high. Getting feedback from the camera's electronics.


Quoting emcf30:
Yea I re-listened to it. The broadcasters were saying they were going to stay on air as long as the could at at 24 sec into the video it cut off and went to static and dead air wave noise
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Have any of you seen thisLink?

Pretty sobering list....Even if most of those people show up safe and sound, my heart goes out to all those loved ones waiting there, with no way of knowing...
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Quoting IKE:

You could be right about that. It just sounded odd.


You know what is weird, I watched that video 2 to 3 times before you made the comments this morning, and did not even notice that noise. I was just sitting here mesmerized by the whole situation. Such a amazing demonstration of mother nature but yet so devastating and sad.
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
739. IKE

Quoting bingcrosby:


I had a friend that went to Pleasant Grove directly after the storm to look for a cousin. Could not locate his street. Finally found it based on some mailboxes that were untouched. The slab on the house was wiped clean. Luckily, his cousin wasn't even in town when it hit. My friend served our country in Iraq and he said it really did look like a warzone with people in the streets and limbs missing. It's crazy that even though I'm 6 miles south of the devastation, I still have insulation/roofing/siding in my front yard.
That's incredible.

This one is going to take a long times for folks to get over...if ever.
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738. IKE

Quoting emcf30:
Yea I re-listened to it. The broadcasters were saying they were going to stay on air as long as the could at at 24 sec into the video it cut off and went to static and dead air wave noise
You could be right about that. It just sounded odd.
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As to #2 Ike, I think it is the same Tornado. He is driving thru the parking lot and turns so he could find the way out to follow it or capture the damage. He just re positions his camera to keep filming it. He is obviously shaken towards the end.
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
Quoting IKE:

I can just imagine...the force of those tornadoes was horrible.

I'm surprised there's not more dead.


I had a friend that went to Pleasant Grove directly after the storm to look for a cousin. Could not locate his street. Finally found it based on some mailboxes that were untouched. The slab on the house was wiped clean. Luckily, his cousin wasn't even in town when it hit. My friend served our country in Iraq and he said it really did look like a warzone with people in the streets and limbs missing. It's crazy that even though I'm 6 miles south of the devastation, I still have insulation/roofing/siding in my front yard.
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As of 6:51 AM Central Time

Fatalities by state

Alabama: 213

Tennessee: 34

Mississippi: 32

Georgia: 15

Arkansas: 13

Virginia: 11

Kentucky: 1

Total: 319
Member Since: July 10, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 224
Yea I re-listened to it. The broadcasters were saying they were going to stay on air as long as the could at at 24 sec into the video it cut off and went to static and dead air wave noise
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
732. IKE

Quoting pipelines:
My friend's father was just found.....he didn't make it. Great man, 20+ years a pastor helped a lot of people, from Pleasant Grove. This is just horrible.....I can't believe this.
I am so sorry for him and everyone affected. What a tragic way to die.



Quoting jeffs713:


No clue on #1.

On #2, it is the same tornado, he turned around a bit, likely to point away from the storm. I think the guy filming is a local resident, as he seems VERY shaken afterwards (crying, possibly) as he was driving towards the residential area.
I see it exit to his right...but his vehicle stays going left of it....then his camera goes back left to it again? I never see his vehicle turn back toward it as he's moving away from the first tornado viewing.

If he did turn back he's beyond sane at that point.
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Good morning folks. I find this goes well with my morning coffee, but everyone has their own preferences of course...

Spirit finds fresh morning and the dew of precious things
Hope is a phoenix building wings to fly
And what we wish shall be
Like a breathe of fresh air
Safe and secret powers
That no love can spare

Move away from your western guns
Travel towards eastern suns
Far above all earthly goals
A pledge for creation's soul




PS - sorry for the off topic post, but the lyrics seemed appropriate for the subject of the day. Plus, it's Friday and I figured some might appreciate something a little uplifting.
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My friend's father was just found.....he didn't make it. Great man, 20+ years a pastor helped a lot of people, from Pleasant Grove. This is just horrible.....I can't believe this.
Member Since: July 10, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 224
Quoting IKE:
I've watched the 7 minute Tuscaloosa download quite a bit. Some observations.....

(1)What is the noise in the vehicle that you hear? He cuts it off near the end of the download.

(2)It appears to be 2 separate tornadoes....one passes to his right 3-4 minutes into the download....he then turns his camera back to his left and there is the incredible footage of tornado #2.


No clue on #1.

On #2, it is the same tornado, he turned around a bit, likely to point away from the storm. I think the guy filming is a local resident, as he seems VERY shaken afterwards (crying, possibly) as he was driving towards the residential area.
Member Since: August 3, 2008 Posts: 16 Comments: 5792
728. IKE

Quoting emcf30:


I believe the noise is coming from the radio it sounded like it went off the air in the beginning of the video. He never turned it off until the end.
Or maybe a fan? Maybe it's his AC fan.
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Quoting IKE:
I've watched the 7 minute Tuscaloosa download quite a bit. Some observations.....

(1)What is the noise in the vehicle that you hear? He cuts it off near the end of the download.

(2)It appears to be 2 separate tornadoes....one passes to his right 3-4 minutes into the download....he then turns his camera back to his left and there is the incredible footage of tornado #2.


I believe the noise is coming from the radio it sounded like it went off the air in the beginning of the video. He never turned it off until the end.
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
726. IKE
From ABC 33/40 in Birmingham.....

BIRMINGHAM - AL -
More than one million customers
of Alabama Power, the Tennessee Valley Authority and smaller rural
cooperatives are without power because of Wednesday's deadly storms.
Alabama Power reports that early Friday morning there were still 250,000 customers without power after Wednesday's storms.
At the peak, the tornadoes and storms knocked out services to more than 412,229 customers in the state.
Thursday afternoon the Alabama Rural Electric
Association reported 232,000 of its customers were out of power.  TVA
reported 641,000 homes and businesses were without service as of 6:00pm
Thursday. 
All of the electric companies in the state
are struggling to rebuild entire sections of their power grids.  Alabama
Power reports it has 6,300 people working to restore service.  Crews
have been called in to help from other companies in Illinois, Indiana,
Ohio, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Michigan and
Wisconsin.
TVA reports that 70 large transmission lines
are out of service, including a large portion of the major lines serving
North Alabama and Mississippi.  Those problems take much longer to
repair than the power poles and lines that snapped across large parts of
the state.
Alabama Power reports that all customers in
Southeast and Southwest parts of the state are back on line.  But in
Central and North Alabama, it's a different story entirely.
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bad roach problem this yr why? orange county schools are invested too. e.cen fl.
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724. IKE

Quoting bingcrosby:
Guys, I'm from Birmingham, 6 miles south of the main damage path. Not sure if it's being reported yet nationally, but rescue crews have been finding bodies in trees, hallways, bathtubs, and even underground basements in Pleasant Grove. For many, the storm was going to be a killer no matter what. EF5 damage in spots. I've seen enough talk concerning mobile homes. These were well build structures with underground basements. And people still died.
I can just imagine...the force of those tornadoes was horrible.

I'm surprised there's not more dead.
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Quoting emcf30:
Ike, could you please post the video or link to which you are referring to, Thanks


Ok thanks
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
Guys, I'm from Birmingham, 6 miles south of the main damage path. Not sure if it's being reported yet nationally, but rescue crews have been finding bodies in trees, hallways, bathtubs, and even underground basements in Pleasant Grove. For many, the storm was going to be a killer no matter what. EF5 damage in spots. I've seen enough talk concerning mobile homes. These were well build structures with underground basements. And people still died.
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721. IKE

Quoting emcf30:
Ike, could you please post the video or link to which you are referring to, Thanks
It's in the blogging of Dr. Masters above^^^^^
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720. Jax82
Quoting flsky:

Kinda seems like it should be 2012 instead of 2011, doesn't it! haha


Yea no kidding! Cant we all just have sunny skies with a light wind? ;)
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 1261
Ike, could you please post the video or link to which you are referring to, Thanks
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
This is disturbing.
Emily Burkhalter Myers
I saw this on a status update: "In Cullman Alabama - we were surveying the damage of our home and heard a baby crying. We found it in the ruble and it doesnt belong to us or any of our surrounding neighbors." If anyone has any information, I would like to know if they found the parents and if the baby is ok....
11 minutes ago via Android · Like ·

Face book page Link
In Memory of people who lost their life
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
717. IKE
I've watched the 7 minute Tuscaloosa download quite a bit. Some observations.....

(1)What is the noise in the vehicle that you hear? He cuts it off near the end of the download.

(2)It appears to be 2 separate tornadoes....one passes to his right 3-4 minutes into the download....he then turns his camera back to his left and there is the incredible footage of tornado #2.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
716. flsky
Quoting Jax82:
Earthquakes, Tsunami's, Super Tornado Outbreaks, 100yr Floods, Snowstorms, Fires, Nuclear Meltdowns, $4 gasoline, Middle East uprising. The only thing left is Major Hurricane Hits U.S. to add to this catastrophic year we're having. :-\

Kinda seems like it should be 2012 instead of 2011, doesn't it! haha
Member Since: October 24, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1733
(TheWeatherSpace.com) -- On Saturday will be the next day of severe weather in the Southern Plains regions into the Ozarks.

It will be a mixed bag of an atmosphere as the Tornado Risk Analysis Model has been ran ahead of the normality of its schedule, to peer into the atmosphere across the area.

It has found some risk zones over the day and the evening/early night for the area and those zones do include Northern Texas, Southern Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Northern Louisiana.

One thing that caught my eye is it detecting Northern Louisiana, out ahead of the main line. This could be a boundary that fires storms off during the afternoon there. Any storm firing with a weaker cap in the area will have a chance of tornadoes in Northern Louisiana, flow moving southwest to northeast.

As for the main line of storms. T.R.A.M. indicates a solid line forming from North Texas through Southeastern Oklahoma and into Western and Northern Arkansas later on Saturday evening as the cap breaks of the area.
(Click for Image)

One thing that I did note is the wind fields at 18,000 feet. They are running along the same direction as the orientation of the line. This means that storms will form and run into each other one after another, causing more of a hail/wind threat than tornado during their mature stages. This is good for residents in Arkansas to not deal with a tornado outbreak but not with the flooding concern.

As storms build along the line they will move southwest to northeast across the area, which in term will cause what is called training and this is a flooding concern for areas the storms move over, one after another.

The winds run 'slightly' parallel in Northern Arkansas, but just enough veer to introduce a chance of tornadoes in the embedded rotation zones on the northeast section of the line, which is North Central Arkansas.

Best area for tornadoes will be where the line breaks, which T.R.A.M. is indicating back in the Wichita Falls, TX zones along the dryline on Saturday evening or just north of the Dallas/Fort Worth zones at the end of the storm line.

Really cannot go into specifics anymore due to the change that could happen but if in Southeast Oklahoma to West/North Arkansas s I'd keep an eye on the potential of severe thunderstorms with the reality of training, heavy rains for a flood concern in areas already hit.
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933


This may have been posted already. Zoom in and you can clearly see the paths of the tornados embedded in the earth. WOW
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
711. IKE

Quoting BahaHurican:
Jeff, I think I'm with Ike... it's just about the only "happy" news this a.m..... at least this particular prince won't have the raid the exchequer for his fribbles and foibles... lol
 But I wonder if his wife will be chased by the paparazzi? Judging by the coverage and interest I would say yes.
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Quoting DestinJeff:
I don't know if I should feel ashamed or proud of my lack of interest in the royal wedding.
Jeff, I think I'm with Ike... it's just about the only "happy" news this a.m..... at least this particular prince won't have the raid the exchequer for his fribbles and foibles... lol
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Alabama has a Facebook page for lost or missing.Link
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Quoting DestinJeff:
And to think I expected to wake up this morning to all the world's troubles solved with but one kiss.
You think she is telling him what to wear yet?
Well, I hope she's still at the point where wearing anything is a moot point... lol
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Quoting cat5hurricane:

LOL. Yeah, didn't think they surpassed the 100 foot mark.
They prolly used to approach 100 ft, but u know pple around here... they are dedicated to making Isaiah's prophesy about "Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low" a reality in our lifetime... lol

I don't think pple around here think much of the value of a "hilltop experience" for making storm surge a surviveable fact of life.... lol
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Just read a little snippet about the "royal wedding". They seem like nice enough couple. Hope they have a long AND happy marriage....

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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.