Deadliest U.S. tornado since 1953 rips through Joplin, Missouri, killing 89

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:11 PM GMT on May 23, 2011

Share this Blog
8
+

The incredibly violent tornado season of 2011 struck another sickening blow last night, when a violent tornado carved a ½ – ¾ mile-wide path of devastation through Joplin, Missouri. At least 89 people died, hundreds were injured, and huge sections of the town virtually obliterated. Damage from the tornado is so severe that pavement was ripped from the ground, which is characteristic of a top-end EF-5 tornado with winds in excess of 200 mph. This was almost certainly a least an EF-4 tornado with winds over 166 mph, and the level of damage is so extreme that this is likely to surpass last month's Tuscaloosa-Birmingham tornado as the costliest tornado of all-time.


Figure 1. Cars stacked on top of each other in front of the heavily damaged St. Johns Regional Medical Center after the May 22, 2011 tornado in Joplin, Missouri. Note the pavement ripped up from the road and piled in front of the cars. Tornadoes powerful enough to rip up pavement are frequently classified as EF-5 with winds in excess of 200 mph. Image credit: Chris McCrillis, posted to Twitter.

The huge supercell thunderstorm that spawned the Joplin tornado formed over extreme southeast Kansas yesterday afternoon, along the boundary between warm, moist air flowing northwards from the Gulf of Mexico, and cold, dry air moving south from Canada. NOAA's Storm Prediction Center (SPC) had put the region in its “moderate risk” region for severe weather. As the supercell moved into Southwest Missouri, it spawned the tornado that roared through Joplin at 5:45pm CDT. This storm generated other tornadoes, straight-line wind damage, and flash flooding from torrential rains that exceeded six inches as it moved east southeast across Southwest Missouri. SPC recorded 48 preliminary reports of tornadoes yesterday, bringing the 2-day total for the current outbreak to 70. A tornado also killed one person and injured 22 in Minneapolis Sunday. Separate tornadoes killed one person each in Andice, Texas and Reading, Kansas on Saturday—the first tornado deaths in the U.S. since the April 25 – 28 Super Outbreak.


Figure 2. Radar reflectivity image of the supercell thunderstorm that spawned the Joplin, Missouri tornado, ½ hour after it devastated the city (circle with the “+” symbol.)


Figure 3. Radar Doppler velocity image of the supercell thunderstorm that spawned the Joplin, Missouri tornado, ½ hour after it devastated the city (circle with the “+” symbol.)


Figure 4. Satellite image taken at 5:45pm CDT May 22, 2011, when the Joplin, Missouri tornado was occurring. Image credit: NASA/GSFC.

Deadliest tornado since 1953
Yesterday's Joplin, Missouri tornado is the deadliest single tornado in the U.S. since June 10, 1953, when 94 people died in the Worcester, Massachusetts tornado. The previous deadliest tornado in the past 50 years occurred just last month, when 65 people died in the Tuscaloosa-Birmingham EF-4 tornado in Alabama. This year's tornado death toll now stands at 455, making it the deadliest year for tornadoes in the U.S. since 1953, when 519 people died. The deadliest year was 1925, with 794 deaths. That was the year of the deadliest U.S. tornado of all-time, the great Tri-State tornado, which killed 695 people in Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana.

More severe weather today
NOAA's Storm Prediction Center has placed a large section of the Midwest U.S., including portions of Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, in its “moderate risk” region for severe weather today. The threat of tornadoes will not be as great today as yesterday, with today's main threat being large hail and damaging straight-line thunderstorm winds. However, I do expect we will see a dozen or so tornadoes today, and residents of the at-risk area need to keep in mind the deadly history of this storm system. The severe weather threat will continue into Tuesday, when additional tornadoes are likely over Oklahoma, Kansas, and Southwest Missouri. A severe thunderstorm roared through Joplin between 8:30am and 9am CDT this morning, bringing heavy rain, small hail, and wind gusts to 36 mph. Undoubtedly, this storm frayed some nerves, and the city will remain at risk of seeing more severe thunderstorms through Tuesday night.


Figure 5. Severe weather threat for Monday, May 23, 2011.

Links
The most remarkable audio I've ever heard of people surviving a direct hit by a violent tornado was posted to Youtube by someone who took shelter in the walk-in storage refrigerator at a gas station during the Joplin tornado. There isn't much video. We won't see a lot of spectacular videos of the Joplin tornado, since it was wrapped in rain and difficult to see.

Listen to my 12-minute interview on the historic April 2011 tornadoes for EarthSky.org, which aired on NPR earlier this month. I discuss how climate change might impact severe weather and tornadoes.

Our weather historian, Christopher C. Burt, has an excellent post on The World's Deadliest Tornadoes.

My 2008 post, Are tornadoes getting stronger and more frequent? The answer is--we don't know.


Figure 6. The Portlight relief trailer being loaded in Summerville, SC, in preparation for a journey to the April tornado disaster zone.

Helping out tornado victims
For those who want to lend a helping hand to those impacted by the widespread destruction this spring's severe weather has brought, stop by the Red Cross website, or portlight.org blog. Portlight has been very active bringing aid to the victims of this year's tornadoes.

Jeff Masters

()
()
()
Wall Cloud (thomasanthony)
Rotating wall cloud coming through Perry Kansas. That speck towards the top is a helicopter.
Wall Cloud
Gran Tara by ketchum ok. (wick918)
The one that hit Joplin Mo.
Gran Tara  by ketchum ok.
Reading, KS (wheelingrabbit)
Reading, KS Grain Silo
Reading, KS

Reader Comments

Comments will take a few seconds to appear.

Post Your Comments

Please sign in to post comments.

or Join

Not only will you be able to leave comments on this blog, but you'll also have the ability to upload and share your photos in our Wunder Photos section.

Display: 0, 50, 100, 200 Sort: Newest First - Order Posted

Viewing: 110 - 60

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14Blog Index

Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
XX/INV/92L
MARK
28.18N/55.85W


92L????
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
108. PTXer
Storm totals of the northeast corner of Oklahoma are showing 8+ inches! Anyone in the middle of that?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
XX/INV/92L
MARK
28.18N/55.85W
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 171 Comments: 53854
Atmospheric conditions haven't changed much sense yesterday for the area near Joplin. I would hope this only produces rain & lightning. Though this doesn't help Recovery efforts I'm sure.

Per NWS at Springfield MO around 6:30 AM

"WILL BE WATCHING FOR CONVECTIVE
DEVELOPMENT IN OKLAHOMA AS A POTENTIAL ORIGINATION POINT FOR
ANOTHER ROUND OF STORMS FOR OUR AREA. THE ATMOSPHERE OVER OKLAHOMA
IS QUITE UNSTABLE...EVEN AT THIS HOUR...AND IT IS LIKELY THAT
STORMS THAT DEVELOP IN OKLAHOMA WILL MOVE INTO THE OUTLOOK AREA."
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:


Models keep showing a system S of RD/PR...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
507

WHXX01 KWBC 231555

CHGHUR

TROPICAL CYCLONE GUIDANCE MESSAGE

NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL

1555 UTC MON MAY 23 2011



DISCLAIMER...NUMERICAL MODELS ARE SUBJECT TO LARGE ERRORS.

PLEASE REFER TO NHC OFFICIAL FORECASTS FOR TROPICAL CYCLONE

AND SUBTROPICAL CYCLONE INFORMATION.



ATLANTIC OBJECTIVE AIDS FOR



DISTURBANCE INVEST (AL922011) 20110523 1200 UTC



...00 HRS... ...12 HRS... ...24 HRS. .. ...36 HRS...

110523 1200 110524 0000 110524 1200 110525 0000



LAT LON LAT LON LAT LON LAT LON

BAMS 28.1N 56.5W 28.2N 54.8W 27.9N 54.6W 27.6N 55.0W

BAMD 28.1N 56.5W 27.6N 52.6W 27.7N 50.4W 28.2N 49.4W

BAMM 28.1N 56.5W 27.8N 53.8W 27.3N 52.7W 26.8N 51.6W

LBAR 28.1N 56.5W 27.7N 53.3W 28.1N 51.1W 29.2N 50.0W

SHIP 20KTS 28KTS 34KTS 36KTS

DSHP 20KTS 28KTS 34KTS 36KTS



...48 HRS... ...72 HRS... ...96 HRS. .. ..120 HRS...

110525 1200 110526 1200 110527 1200 110528 1200



LAT LON LAT LON LAT LON LAT LON

BAMS 27.3N 55.5W 27.8N 56.2W 29.2N 57.3W 30.3N 59.2W

BAMD 28.8N 49.1W 30.2N 48.5W 31.2N 48.9W 32.7N 51.1W

BAMM 26.9N 50.8W 28.7N 49.5W 30.5N 50.7W 32.4N 54.0W

LBAR 31.0N 49.7W 34.8N 51.0W 37.2N 52.8W 38.9N 55.5W

SHIP 35KTS 26KTS 17KTS 16KTS

DSHP 35KTS 26KTS 17KTS 16KTS



...INITIAL CONDITIONS...

LATCUR = 28.1N LONCUR = 56.5W DIRCUR = 105DEG SPDCUR = 15KT

LATM12 = 29.0N LONM12 = 60.0W DIRM12 = 104DEG SPDM12 = 23KT

LATM24 = 30.5N LONM24 = 65.6W

WNDCUR = 20KT RMAXWD = 90NM WNDM12 = 20KT

CENPRS = 1009MB OUTPRS = 1013MB OUTRAD = 175NM SDEPTH = S

RD34NE = 0NM RD34SE = 0NM RD34SW = 0NM RD34NW = 0NM



$$

NNNN
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 171 Comments: 53854
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
DISTURBANCE INVEST (AL922011) 20110523 1200 UTC

...INITIAL CONDITIONS...
LATCUR = 28.1N LONCUR = 56.5W DIRCUR = 105DEG SPDCUR = 15KT
LATM12 = 29.0N LONM12 = 60.0W DIRM12 = 104DEG SPDM12 = 23KT
LATM24 = 30.5N LONM24 = 65.6W
WNDCUR = 20KT RMAXWD = 90NM WNDM12 = 20KT
CENPRS = 1009MB OUTPRS = 1013MB OUTRAD = 175NM SDEPTH = S
RD34NE = 0NM RD34SE = 0NM RD34SW = 0NM RD34NW = 0NM

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 21249
AL, 92, 2011052312, 01, CARQ, -24, 305N, 656W, 20, 0, DB

Not sure on this, but maybe. It is from ATCF COM file.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 171 Comments: 53854
Shouldn't be comparing hurricanes and tornadoes,two different animals.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
The Worcester 1953 tornado is among 2 other events that same spring that both had over 100 fatalities. Texas to Michigan to Mass.
1953 is the only year listed multiple times here: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/23/us-usa- weather-history-idUSTRE74M46R20110523 that clearly isn't the result of a single outbreak. (The 1908 fatalities are probably the same event in 2 locations...same day and ~60 miles apart. The 1936 ones are very likely the same outbreak as it moved along west to east...more fatalities the very next day.)

Good question. No, 1953 was not a La Nina spring. In fact, neutral to very weak El Nino, by SOI index.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:


check out far lower right corner something showing up
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 171 Comments: 53854
Quoting NRAamy:
Good info, Dashboard Cowman.....


I try. Hiya Amy, nice car. :)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting IronShiek:
Hurricanes have nothing on something like this. At least here in the United States.


Been on the ground after many hurricanes, have you?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Patrap:


Its in the entry above,

Links
The most remarkable audio I've ever heard of people surviving a direct hit by a violent tornado was posted to Youtube by someone who took shelter in the walk-in storage refrigerator at a gas station during the Joplin tornado. There isn't much video. We won't see a lot of spectacular videos of the Joplin tornado, since it was wrapped in rain and difficult to see.




That was difficult to listen to. Glad those folks survived.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting FLWeatherFreak91:
TUTT
Hopefully TUTT will give us some rain. We need it.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 21249

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting hydrus:
The blob off of Florida is interesting...
TUTT
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 171 Comments: 53854
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 171 Comments: 53854
For those needing shelter, the American Red Cross has set up a shelter at Missouri Southern State University in the , Leggett & Platte Center.

The City and Joplin R-8 are coordinating transportation to help those left homeless due to tornado. People can go to the following locations and a bus will take them to the shelter.

People should go to:
1. Junge Stadium on 13th Street;
2. Forest Park Baptist Church, 7th & Rangeline
3. Lowe's 24th & Rangeline
4. Vintage Stock, 32nd & Main.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 171 Comments: 53854
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 171 Comments: 53854
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 171 Comments: 53854
The blob off of Florida is interesting...
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 21249
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting IronShiek:
Hurricanes have nothing on something like this. At least here in the United States.
andrew was bad
Member Since: September 11, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 4602
15 fotos of total devastation in Joplin in our German "Spiegel"
http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/0,1518,764359,00.h tml
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
The St. Johns Hospital Air Med Helicopter was destroyed as well in the Tornado.

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 171 Comments: 53854
  • Iola , Kansas, yesterday Northwest of Joplin . Set a new all time rainfall record 8.4 inches beating the old record of 6.8 inches set 1915 -
http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/extremes/records/all-tim e/prcp/2011/05/22?sts[]=US#records_look_up
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting NRAamy:
The official start of Hurricane season. If you wouldn't have abandoned us for those couple weeks, you would have known. :-)

I didn't abandon you guys.... YOU get trolled and see how well you like it...it's not fun.... I'm just testing the waters to see if it's safe to come back inside....

We will protect you!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
These African disturbances seem to have a spin to them.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 21249
X-rays and other medical records have been found 60 miles Northeast of the Joplin Hospital last hour.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Patrap...what a link. Sitting here with tears in my eyes. ugh.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
On May 22, 2011 a highly destructive and deadly tornado tore through the town of Joplin, MO. Here is video of the tornado entering the southwest side of town, filmed by TornadoVideos.net Basehunters team Colt Forney, Isaac Pato, Kevin Rolfs, and Scott Peake.

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Are there any WU-ers from Joplin?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
In the moments during and following catastrophe,,we see the best of all of us,,collectively.


Roger Nomer/AP
An emergency worker carries a girl to safety following deadly tornado in Joplin, Missouri.



We can make a great difference in the suffering if we focus our efforts.

Help us help them.

portlight.org entry



Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: Posts: Comments:


A shelf cloud containing a thunderstorm approaches a tornado-ravaged neighborhood in Joplin, Mo., Monday, May 23, 2011.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:

Viewing: 110 - 60

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14Blog Index

Top of Page

About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.