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

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

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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

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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

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92L looks to me baroclinic and needs to shed that front that's attached in order for any subtropical develop to occur. Though it has a better chance than 91L did.
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459. txjac
Please no more tonadoes ...those charts dont look good Pat
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Quoting kimoskee:


Don't worry visit us here in Jamaica. I hear there were people walking around downtown with water offering emergency baptisms. I myself am in paradise. It's a long weekend so I'm taking advantage of one of our beautiful beaches, not to mention food galore and mojitos. Hmmmm... maybe I did get raptured! LOL

Nice!
Long weekend here too! (Indian Arrival Day)
Will follow your very good example.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24314
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
I don't know if 92L would be declared a subtropical cyclone or not according to this sentence:

"Since they form from initially extratropical cyclones which have colder temperatures aloft than normally found in the tropics, the sea surface temperatures required for their formation are lower than the tropical cyclone threshold by 3°C (5°F), lying around 23 °C (73 °F)."
It has Sub Tropical Characteristics so it would be a Subtropical Cyclone, Doesn't matter about SSTs even though from the looks of 92L being in 24 to 26C waters, it will be a Verge SubTropical or Tropical System at formation(likely Subtropical For Now)
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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128344
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128344
Quoting presslord:


pretty safe bet that you, me and Shen are doomed...


Don't worry visit us here in Jamaica. I hear there were people walking around downtown with water offering emergency baptisms. I myself am in paradise. It's a long weekend so I'm taking advantage of one of our beautiful beaches, not to mention food galore and mojitos. Hmmmm... maybe I did get raptured! LOL
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I don't know if 92L would be declared a subtropical cyclone or not according to this sentence:

"Since they form from initially extratropical cyclones which have colder temperatures aloft than normally found in the tropics, the sea surface temperatures required for their formation are lower than the tropical cyclone threshold by 3°C (5°F), lying around 23 °C (73 °F)."
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32072
451. Skyepony (Mod)
Most recent ASCAT is mostly a miss, yet shows some frontal attachment.
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UPATED----Hospitals where people were taken:


Integris Baptist Health Center in Miami - 918-542-6611

McCune Brooks Hospital in Carthage 417-358-8121

St. John's Hospital in Springfield 417-820-2000

...Via Christi in Pittsburg 620-231-6100

Barton County hospital in Lamar 417-681-5700

Labette County hospital in Parsons Ks. 620 421 4881

Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville - 479-463-1000

Mercy Medical Center in ROgers - 479-338-3000

Cox Hospital in Springfield,mo - 417-269-6000

Northwest Medical Ctr (479) 553-1000 Bentonville, AK

Willow Creek Womens Hospital. (479) 684-3000 - Springdale, AR

Children's mercy in KC-(816) 234-3000

St. Francis Hospital- Tulsa, OK-(918) 502-2050

Joplin Memorial Hall 417-623-3254,

McCauly School 417-624-9320 and

Freeman Hospital 417-347-6656.

university mssu- 417 659 5464

carthage health- 417 358 1937

mount vernon- 417 466 2260
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10490
92L is entering 25C, getting warmer
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Quoting presslord:
FYI - I'm listening to Harold Camping explain himself...Anybody interested in hearing this?


Just give us the short version of his long explanation. :-)
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447. txjac
Quoting AtHomeInTX:


Lol. It must go to the same place all my forgotten stuff goes. :)


look at post 445 ...all that beautiful rain that isnt coming our way ...
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
System may look impressive, but it still has quite a bit to go before it becomes tropical/subtropical. Its circulation center is very elongated, which may take a while to get together. A large swath of 20-25 knots lies on its NE quadrant however.



Sticking with an orange circle, 30%, for development by Wednesday afternoon.
It's circulation is elongated North to South a bit.
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Quoting tropicfreak:


Ok Thanks!

It happens, some of the stuff I learned about the tropics kind of dissappears in the off-season.


Lol. It must go to the same place all my forgotten stuff goes. :)
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Quoting txjac:


Ha ...lol ...thought that only happened to me!


Every season my brain shifts gears,

Fall to Winter: Hurricanes to winter weather
Winter to spring: Winter weather to severe weather.
Spring to summer: Severe weather to Hurricanes, though severe weather is common in the summer too, my brain doesn't really shift gears in that case.
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I'll be releasing my hurricane season predictions tomorrow afternoon, along with an update over 90E (If it is still an invest), 92L, the Joplin, MO tornado, and other stuff.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32072
441. txjac
Quoting tropicfreak:


Ok Thanks!

It happens, some of the stuff I learned about the tropics kind of dissappears in the off-season.


Ha ...lol ...thought that only happened to me!
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Quoting sunlinepr:
Looks like the little Invest 90E is withering away under the duirnal minimum tonight, shows its weak thats for sure, but its the first invest in the EPAC. So our little tough kid on the block tonight is 92L who is braving dry air, and the duirnal minimum, but is still managing to fire convection, Strengthen (30 MPH & 1008 MB), and organized...
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439. beell
Also known as Left Front Quadrant (LFQ)/Right Rear Quadrant (RRQ)

Photobucket
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Meanwhile, 90E looking very disorganized.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32072
System may look impressive, but it still has quite a bit to go before it becomes tropical/subtropical. Its circulation center is very elongated, which may take a while to get together. A large swath of 20-25 knots lies on its NE quadrant however.



Sticking with an orange circle, 30%, for development by Wednesday afternoon.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32072
Quoting presslord:
it was an "invisible judgement day"

It was just a dress rehearsal, dry run.
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1935
Quoting presslord:


the World is gonna end October 21...gonna be a bad earthquake....I'm talkin' REALLY bad...


well, that a great b-day present from mother earth for me.....i'll be 28. Same as Wilma coming through Ft. Myers on my 21st b-day....
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434. beell
Quoting Drakoen:

Conceptually, probably better to think of it as the right front entrance region of the jet stream where the winds flow upstream from the low pressure center.


Left exit region. an enhanced area of divergence and vertical motion. If looking downstream it is on the left side as the air usually rounds the base of a trough. Entrance region is at right rear as the flow speeds up into the jet max. Same thing. ADDED: Same result.

Right front is subsident.
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Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32072

NOAA satellite shows storm system moments before spawning tornado in Joplin, Mo. (Credit: NOAA)

Link
Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9814
Quoting presslord:


pretty safe bet that you, me and Shen are doomed...

Good!
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24314
Quoting HurricaneDean07:
Typically, But this doesn't look to be the case, and usually you see anticyclones only in TROPICAL systems, 92L is subtropical...


Ok Thanks!

It happens, some of the stuff I learned about the tropics kind of dissappears in the off-season.
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Quoting presslord:


this dude is shameless...I mean...I've never heard anyone who has it as tightly together....and, oh yea....it ain't his fault that all those folks gave everything away...it's .....Ready? It's God's fault!!!!!!

Yeah. Well, usually when the Team fails, the Manager/Coach/Someone gotta go.
So it's God's fault, Huh?

It will be interesting to see how many of his followers stick with him...
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24314
Quoting tropicfreak:


A drop in pressure.

Not a large one, but that is showing that it is gradually strengthening.

It also has 30 MPH now, had 25 MPH. Getting stronger, also has a surface low... This Invest has the best shot to become Arlene than the last 2...
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Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9814
Quoting pottery:

Further to this.
I think that I am within my Legal Rights to know how I was Judged on that day.
And do we all perish together in the Great Quake?
Sinners and Faithful together??

What a Dreadful thought. It cannot be!


pretty safe bet that you, me and Shen are doomed...
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10490
Quoting tropicfreak:


Isn't that dramatic drop in wind shear caused by an anticyclone. Sorry, a little rusty on my tropics notes! :)
Typically, But this doesn't look to be the case, and usually you see anticyclones only in TROPICAL systems, 92L is subtropical...
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
When I made my blog post a couple of hours ago, buoy reports had pressures between 1011-1013. Looking at them now, it shows 1008-1010 mb.


A drop in pressure.

Not a large one, but that is showing that it is gradually strengthening.
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Quoting presslord:
it was an "invisible judgement day"

Further to this.
I think that I am within my Legal Rights to know how I was Judged on that day.
And do we all perish together in the Great Quake?
Sinners and Faithful together??

What a Dreadful thought. It cannot be!
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24314
Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:
AL 92 2011052400 BEST 0 277N 533W 25 1008 LO



EP 90 2011052400 BEST 0 108N 964W 20 1009 DB
ah, so 92L now 30 MPH with 1008 MB, looking good...
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Quoting HurricaneDean07:
But from what the models are showing is by the time that happens it should already be dissipating... Late Friday or Saturday


Models models models. Geez, I grew sick of them this past winter forecasting tracks of winter storms here in Richmond VA.
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Quoting bappit:
left front exit?
Conceptually, probably better to think of it as the right front entrance region of the jet stream where the winds flow upstream from the low pressure center.
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Quoting pottery:

Brilliant!
But really, everything was visible HERE! All day long.
How about where you are.
Was the day invisible?


this dude is shameless...I mean...I've never heard anyone who has it as tightly together....and, oh yea....it ain't his fault that all those folks gave everything away...it's .....Ready? It's God's fault!!!!!!
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10490
When I made my blog post a couple of hours ago, buoy reports had pressures between 1011-1013. Looking at them now, it shows 1008-1010 mb.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32072
Quoting HurricaneDean07:
Yes, This is true, But wind shear is on it's side so it won't be getting dry air FORCED into it's core, but there still will be dry air.
Wind Shear Dropping by 30 Knots!


Isn't that dramatic drop in wind shear caused by an anticyclone. Sorry, a little rusty on my tropics notes! :)
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AL 92 2011052400 BEST 0 277N 533W 25 1008 LO



EP 90 2011052400 BEST 0 108N 964W 20 1009 DB
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Quoting tropicfreak:


I know its sub tropical, but what I was saying was if it crossed that line then it may gain tropical characteristics.
But from what the models are showing is by the time that happens it should already be dissipating... Late Friday or Saturday
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414. beell
Quoting bappit:
left front exit?


left front exit.
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In drought-stricken Houston, the fast-moving clouds, same as the ones that flew over for 2 straight weeks, feeding the Missippi floods, are on the move again. Strong last night, stronger tonight. I can almost predict a flood or tornado tomorrow, somewhere. godspeed to them.
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Quoting presslord:
it was an "invisible judgement day"

Brilliant!
But really, everything was visible HERE! All day long.
How about where you are.
Was the day invisible?
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24314
This system may turn out something like Subtropical storm Nicole if it organizes further over the coming days.

Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32072
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
92L still has that dry air to deal with though...

Yes, This is true, But wind shear is on it's side so it won't be getting dry air FORCED into it's core, but there still will be dry air.
Wind Shear Dropping by 30 Knots!
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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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