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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@aqua: I know it's early, but--do you have anything stronger than coffee?

I quit four years ago- coffee's gonna hafta do the trick.

Coffee black thick strong like molasses. No foo-foo sweetums for me.
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Quoting aquak9:
Even with the imminent sunrise, it's seems like another dark day.

Please let this severe weather be over.

Hot coffee to my friends.
tgif
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Good morning.

With the death toll at an already astounding 300, Tuscaloosa's mayor says the recovery effort in his city will begin today, with cadaver dogs being called in to help find many of the missing and unaccounted for. Let's hope those missing are just folks too busy to have made their whereabouts known...

Here's a good look at the storm from a high-rise in the CBD:



@aqua: I know it's early, but--do you have anything stronger than coffee?
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Even with the imminent sunrise, it's seems like another dark day. 0.41" in the rain gauge.

Please let this severe weather be over.

Hot coffee to my friends.
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.
Member Since: September 9, 2007 Posts: 36 Comments: 4687
Quoting KoritheMan:

I'm pretty sure your question was rhetorical, but just in case it's not, the answer is: not very, especially during the spring/summer when arctic air is scarce to nonexistent.


i kinda figured it might not be.

well, i know that hurricanes remove alot of Potential energy from the oceans. And this last system seemed like a "landcane".... so is there studies on soil tempatures before and after a major weather event? (a link in my WU mail would be cool as im getting off for the night)
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Quoting Jedkins01:
Scratch that... Sadly, although it looks and sounds like we are going to get a huge thunderstorm with all this lighting just offshore to my west. The storms continue to collapse before moving onshore. If you look at storm total history, as well as long range loops, the line deceivingly looks like it would bring lots of heavy activity right into the Tampa Bay area, but instead the line just continues to collapse rapidly right before moving onshore.


Don't you just hate storms the completely tease you?

In fact even the NWS has been fooled too, they have continued to issue weather statements for strong storms that will move into West Central Florida. Accept they haven't and continue to fall apart right before the shore line for whatever reason.


I too am sitting here listening to the thunder, watching the radar, and, considering that this is the same batch of energy that basically destroyed a good chunk of this country, am really wondering how these storms are not even making it onshore when it seems that our weather radios should be waking every one up right now. But Nothing? Somebody please explain?
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Weather severity is a big concern with our work in building engineering. We are supposed to reflect or protect buildings from solar radiation or the building exterior will be radiated.

We imaged buildings in the infrared spectrum at sunrise to see solar impact and how fast they were radiated. Here is what it looks like in the infrared spectrum and it contradicts what meteorologists expect of building development. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isfE-B129Vg

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643. RMCF
left the San Antonio at the Emergency Management Conference and driving to Birmingham,AL will i ever sleep. probably not but what else am i going to do. Will give updates tomorrow as i am driving through. Love my job.
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be for i say good night


this is odd

Wikipedia says we now have 7 confrom nados but i dont see any any of the new added EF4s on the pages
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good night
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Quoting Tazmanian:
am looking for word too this one

Tanner area wish was rated EF4 for now

but look at this


11 deaths – Catastrophic damage in the area with many well-constructed houses flattened or blown away and hundreds of others damaged or destroyed. A large cargo container was thrown over 600 yards (560 m). Many people were injured. Survey incomplete - may have been EF5.


i've waiting for someone to say F5, too much destruction.
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Shuttle Endeavor bathed in Floodlights as it awaits tomorrows Final Launch of her and crew.

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Scratch that... Sadly, although it looks and sounds like we are going to get a huge thunderstorm with all this lighting just offshore to my west. The storms continue to collapse before moving onshore. If you look at storm total history, as well as long range loops, the line deceivingly looks like it would bring lots of heavy activity right into the Tampa Bay area, but instead the line just continues to collapse rapidly right before moving onshore.


Don't you just hate storms the completely tease you?

In fact even the NWS has been fooled too, they have continued to issue weather statements for strong storms that will move into West Central Florida. Accept they haven't and continue to fall apart right before the shore line for whatever reason.
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Quoting BahaHurican:

Anyway, I'm headed off to bed. Got a full day tomorrow.
Considering you just confused "cycle" with "cyclone", I think this is a most opportune time. ;)
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Thanks pipe. I admit I haven't given as much attention to the tornado end of the cyclone as I have to the hurricane....

Anyway, I'm headed off to bed. Got a full day tomorrow.
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Quoting BahaHurican:
I have a question. Are large tornadoes [like the 1 or 1 1/2 mile ones we've seen this week] always high-end wind-wise?


I've heard of small tornadoes with high winds, but never large wedge tornadoes with lower speeds. I think most wedge tornadoes are assumed to be a minimum of EF3, that's a guess though.
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Quoting BahaHurican:
I have a feeling a lot of the "rush" is to accomodate [read get rid of] news reporters. I guess they figure the final report has to be done anyway, so may as well just assign something to get the naggers off their back. Then when a change has to be made, I think people may feel it "sounds better" to upgrade than to downgrade.

That's probably accurate enough. The news media, living in a world of instant information, probably don't "get it" except for the TV meteorologists themselves. For my part, I'd rather see one final, thorough, reviewed statement than these "preliminary" things that are just begging for objections from those who know something about it... but I'll try to take my own advice and be patient too.
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I have a question. Are large tornadoes [like the 1 or 1 1/2 mile ones we've seen this week] always high-end wind-wise?
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Quoting Dropsonde:
...Yeah, I'm another one not sure what to make of some of what they are doing. Smithville may be justified; a case could probably be made either way (and the determination between EF4 and EF5 is said to be the hardest to make), but this does not look dubious AT ALL to my eyes:

Huntsville

...PRELIMINARY STORM SURVEY INFORMATION FROM LIMESTONE AND MADISON COUNTIES...

SEVERAL WELL CONSTRUCTED HOMES WITH ANCHOR BOLTING WERE COMPLETELY WIPED CLEAN. ONE HOME HAD THE DEBRIS CARRIED OVER 300 HUNDRED YARDS WITH LARGE ITEMS CARRIED COMPLETELY AWAY. INTENSE GROUND SCARRING WAS NOTED IN THIS AREA.


How was that rated? EF4, 190 mph. Says it's preliminary, but this IMO is a rock-solid case for an upgrade and fully supported by the EF document. I actually expect that it will be, once the dust settles, but geez. There's no need to rush out a statement if it's likely to be changed later. Everyone knows this was a major event that will take time to even examine, let alone recover from.
I have a feeling a lot of the "rush" is to accomodate [read get rid of] news reporters. I guess they figure the final report has to be done anyway, so may as well just assign something to get the naggers off their back. Then when a change has to be made, I think people may feel it "sounds better" to upgrade than to downgrade.
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Was about to say re: cold fronts that the "cold" part is pretty relative by the time they hit the Tropic of Cancer. Air in front of the line is, say, 80 degrees; after, it may be 75. A lot of cold fronts disappate in the area... I guess the air just gets "mixed out"...
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...Yeah, I'm another one not sure what to make of some of what they are doing. Smithville may be justified; a case could probably be made either way (and the determination between EF4 and EF5 is said to be the hardest to make), but this does not look dubious AT ALL to my eyes:

Huntsville

...PRELIMINARY STORM SURVEY INFORMATION FROM LIMESTONE AND MADISON COUNTIES...

SEVERAL WELL CONSTRUCTED HOMES WITH ANCHOR BOLTING WERE COMPLETELY WIPED CLEAN. ONE HOME HAD THE DEBRIS CARRIED OVER 300 HUNDRED YARDS WITH LARGE ITEMS CARRIED COMPLETELY AWAY. INTENSE GROUND SCARRING WAS NOTED IN THIS AREA.


How was that rated? EF4, 190 mph. Says it's preliminary, but this IMO is a rock-solid case for an upgrade and fully supported by the EF document. I actually expect that it will be, once the dust settles, but geez. There's no need to rush out a statement if it's likely to be changed later. Everyone knows this was a major event that will take time to even examine, let alone recover from.
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Quoting MTWX:

True but even a little rain will make thing worse than they are right now... Within the next week we are looking at a major flood concern too.
true i know iam hoping april goes out on a quiet note and the first week of may stays on the weak side of things till they can get some things done in the target areas anyway weather is still going to happen just hope it nothing intense
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Quoting HawkPhotographyDOTus:

how efficient are these frontal systems in reducing the overall surface temp of these areas?
I'm pretty sure your question was rhetorical, but just in case it's not, the answer is: not very, especially during the spring/summer when arctic air is scarce to nonexistent.
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Quoting ShenValleyFlyFish:
But the writing's not as polished. Got to love British editors.


No argument there.
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Quoting Patrap:
There's a Royal Wedding?

Well they should have picked another date as tomorrow is Opening Day of Jazz fest in NOLA.

LoL


lol..
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622. MTWX
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
maybe models have to come into agreement

at the moment a small slight risk area is all thats showing

True but even a little rain will make thing worse than they are right now... Within the next week we are looking at a major flood concern too.
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There's a Royal Wedding?

Well they should have picked another date as tomorrow is Opening Day of Jazz fest in NOLA.

LoL
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Quoting BahaHurican:
The closest I've seen from stuff posted here is that la nina may be related to both upswings in severe wx in the US and increased TC formation in the ATL basin. But even that hasn't been strongly correlated from what I've seen. There seems to be a lot of natural variation from la nina to la nina.
Well, La Nina certainly does increase seasonal Atlantic hurricane activity; where the inherent variability lies, however, appears to be confined to the mean synoptic scale steering pattern.

For instance, I've noticed that in some years, La Nina tends to force a good portion of storms into Central America/Mexico, with a secondary set recurving to the east of Bermuda. While in other such years, the US bears the brunt of the season.

As for severe weather, La Nina theoretically (not sure if an actual distinct correlation has been drawn) increases the magnitude and extent of springtime severe weather in the United States, as the mean 500 mb ridge located along the western Atlantic and adjoining southeastern United States during such events funnels an influx of warm southerly winds into the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean. Obviously, that heat in turn helps to fuel extreme severe weather events, like the one we saw yesterday.
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IA will happen when substantial recovery is complete. They don't want us inspectors in the way.
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hmmm, I wonder if Obama is going to watch the royal wedding?..ROFL
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617. MTWX
Quoting AllyBama:
Unfortunately our area may be looking at it again saturday night into sunday...:(

NO!!!!!!!!.....I will be praying that things change for the better..

Me too Ally.... Me too...
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Obama is "suppose" to make the "individual assistance" announcement tomorrow - that is the rumor..
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Quoting MTWX:

Unfortunately our area may be looking at it again saturday night into sunday...:(
maybe models have to come into agreement

at the moment a small slight risk area is all thats showing
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Unfortunately our area may be looking at it again saturday night into sunday...:(

NO!!!!!!!!.....I will be praying that things change for the better..
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# 603.

Yes Ally,,hes going to Tuscaloosa in the morning and then on to Fla for the Launch of Endeavour,,to watch the Launch with the Wounded Congresslady from Arizona whos Husband is Cmdr. Mark Kelly,,the Shuttle Cdr.
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I think a lot of the preliminary reports are going to say EF-4, until they can look at everything. Sure can't imagine the pictures I've seen being caused by anything less than that ...
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Quoting AllyBama:
I hope that there is no forecast for more severe weather next week for anybody!


I second that notion...!!
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Quoting KoritheMan:

I actually don't think there's a positive correlation between an active severe weather season and an active Atlantic hurricane season. I've studied this topic a bit, and that's the conclusion I've come to.


bummer :(

I figure the heat energy that we have been seeing (going back to the higher then average atlantic SST, the russian heat wave, and what appears to be higher then normal SST in the caribean) has to be dealt with in some way.... how efficient are these frontal systems in reducing the overall surface temp of these areas?
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Quoting ShenValleyFlyFish:
But the writing's not as polished. Got to love British editors.

True.
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608. MTWX
Quoting AllyBama:
I hope that there is no forecast for more severe weather next week for anybody!

Unfortunately our area may be looking at it again saturday night into sunday...:(
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Quoting MrMixon:


Ah, have patience... 'tis the curse of the living encyclopedia. It squirms and wriggles for a while before it settles into a comfortable position. And even then, it may move now and again.

But it beats buying a new set of Britannica's every year...

:)
But the writing's not as polished. Got to love British editors.
Member Since: September 9, 2007 Posts: 36 Comments: 4687
606. MTWX
Quoting EYEStoSEA:


MSWX...did you get any damage? I have family in N Ms and Tn area...we all were very lucky, very little damage...trees and such

We were extremely lucky! We just had some trees down and a 5-8 hour power outage (depending on the neighborhood you are in). Our neighboring towns aren't so lucky... Paul wants me to call portlight in the morning, and we will see what we can do for our neighboring communities!
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I hope that there is no forecast for more severe weather next week for anybody!
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Patrap, its still not declared IA, u have to click the IA tab to verify. Link
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Thanks Pat...I understand that Obama is suppose to be in T-Town tomorrow to survery the damage.
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am looking for word too this one

Tanner area wish was rated EF4 for now

but look at this


11 deaths – Catastrophic damage in the area with many well-constructed houses flattened or blown away and hundreds of others damaged or destroyed. A large cargo container was thrown over 600 yards (560 m). Many people were injured. Survey incomplete - may have been EF5.
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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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