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Tornadoes and huge hail pound the Plains

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:33 PM GMT on March 29, 2007

A barrage of 65 tornadoes ripped through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska last night. Two people were killed in the Oklahoma Panhandle when a tornado destroyed their house. Tornadoes also killed one person in Colorado, and one person in Texas. Several of the tornadoes were large, long-lived, and possibly violent EF4 twisters. Since the Enhanced Fujita rating scale is a damage scale, we may never know how strong some of these tornadoes were, as they mostly missed populated areas where they could do damage.

One supercell thunderstorm in the Texas Panhandle spawned a tornado that hit a rest area along I-40, flipping 18-wheelers parked there. This storm may have done enough damage to get an EF-scale rating. The thunderstorm also produced 4.5 inch diameter hail (softball sized!), which one doesn't see very often anywhere in the world. Looking at the radar reflectivity from this storm (Figure 1), we see that the echoes from this storm were near the top of the scale--70 dBZ--thanks in part to these highly reflective large hailstones. Seeing 70 dDZ on the radar is another rarity!

Figure 1. Radar reflectivity image of the March 28, 2007 thunderstorm that produced a tornado and softball-sized hail as it crossed I-40 east of Amarillo, Texas.

We got lucky with last night's storms, which all missed populated areas. What would happen if we got unlucky? What would a violent EF5 tornado do to Chicago or some other densely populated urban area? That was the cover story of January's issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, which I'll discuss tomorrow.

Jeff Masters

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11. Inyo
3:27 PM GMT on March 29, 2007
it seems sometimes that tornados follow roads or riverbeds or other smooth areas. I'm not sure if it is really true though, or just a perception. (or perhaps in these areas damage is more severe since the wind gets a running start)
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10. jake436
9:21 AM CST on March 29, 2007
Probably, but like I said, I thought it was just happenstance, but after closely watching for a couple of years, I have noticed on numerous occasions that they either die down, or split and go around urban areas. It's uncanny.
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9. thelmores
3:09 PM GMT on March 29, 2007
I would be really surprised if there is "any" evidence that shows cities are less susceptible to tornadoes than less densely populated area's..... I believe we are talking pure chance along with topography variations......
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8. jake436
8:45 AM CST on March 29, 2007
You mention 600' wide, but at least two of the tornadoes in KS last night were wider than 1/2 mile, one of them reportedly 1 mile wide. These were some very large wedges rolling through KS last night.

I agree about the taller buildings possibly disrupting air flow, but it's a complete guess on my part.

edit---The 1/2 mile wedge was in Bird City, KS. The mile wide wedge was in Grant, NE.
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7. Lecho
2:23 PM GMT on March 29, 2007
I had heard reports that one tornado was 600ft wide. Any info on this?

Jake, I have oftened wondered the same thing myself about large cities and supercells/tornadoes. I am interested to see Dr. Master's post about the article tomorrow. Living near Chicago I have often noticed the largest storms never seem to make it to the city. I am guessing it has something to do with taller buildings and denser urban area disrupting air flow into the storm.
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6. jake436
8:09 AM CST on March 29, 2007
I watch these severe outbreaks intensely, and I am amazed how it SEEMS the bigger cells "avoid" the more populated areas. Does anyone heave a clue why they do, or is it just happenstance? I've watched many large supercells over the past couple of years just split in two and both "pieces" go around a metro area. It's uncanny, and fortunate. Look how these storms did last night all around Amarillo. They did recieve some small hail and really heavy rains, but the severe stuff seemed to die down, then reform after it got past Amarillo.
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5. Denverite
2:06 PM GMT on March 29, 2007
Any thoughts on the ones that hit Holly, Co.? News reports are talking 60 houses were damaged...
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4. hurricane23
9:57 AM EDT on March 29, 2007
Here's a better image of the Hook echo the produced a very large tornado which in my opinion had to have caused great damage in Cheyenne,KS.

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3. hurricane23
9:43 AM EDT on March 29, 2007
Thanks Dr.Masters for the update look forward to your blog tommrorow.My prayers go out to those familys that went threw this violent outbreak last night.

Tornado graphic
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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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