Tornado smashes small Kansas town; major tornado outbreak today

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 6:30 PM GMT on May 05, 2007

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A terrible scene--played out all too often in 2007--happened again last night in Greensburg, Kansas. The sirens sounded, warning of an advancing tornado, but the black of night hid the 3/4-mile wide monster twister approaching from the southwest. The residents of this small town of 1600 had time to find safe shelter, but the tornado was so powerful, that even sturdy buildings could not protect the residents. The tornado destroyed or heavily damaged 90% of the town, destroying the central business district, city hall, and the high school. Eight people died, plus one more person 30 miles away. Damage surveys are not yet complete on the tornado, but photos I've seen of the destruction show damage consistent with EF4 winds(168-199 mph). It is possible the storm was an EF5 (winds more than 200 mph). The ten deaths yesterday bring the U.S. tornado death toll to 69 so far this year, three more than the toll for all of last year. For those interested, I've saved a 1 Mb animation of the radar reflectivity and Doppler velocities of the tornado (thanks to Wunderblogger redefined for saving these!) The animations show some very strong rotation and odd swirling behavior that I don't recall ever seeing in a tornado radar animation before.

Wunderblogger Mike Theiss was out chasing yesterday and caught some of the storms; be sure to tune into his blog over the next few days to read his chase accounts.


Figure 1. Radar image of the strom that spawned the Greensburg, KS tornado of May 4, 2007.

Major severe weather outbreak today expected
More strong (EF2 and EF3) or violent (EF4 and EF5) tornadoes are possible again tonight, and the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) has put a large area of Kansas and Nebraska under its highest risk level, "High Risk". This is the fourth time this year that SPC has issued its "High Risk" forecast. The last time it did so, on April 24, an EF3 tornado struck the Mexico/Texas border near Eagle Pass, killing ten (the "High Risk" area defined by SPC was actually a bit north of where the tornado struck). Tornadoes have already been reported in Colorado and Nebraska today, so tune into our severe weather page and radar page to follow the outbreak.

Coastal Carolina storm
The latest (8am EDT) computer forecast models continue to show a moderately strong coastal storm developing several hundred miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, on Monday. The storm will be extratropical in nature when it forms. It will bring strong winds and high surf to the Carolina coast for several days early next week, as it meanders offshore. Water temperatures are 22-23 C off of the coast, which may be warm enough to allow the low to acquire some subtropical characteristics and become the season's first named storm. However, none of the models are showing this, and I put the odds of a Subtropical Storm Andrea forming next week at about 10%.

Jeff Masters

LP Supercell with Wallcloud (MikeTheiss)
Small "Left Split" LP Supercell with blocky wallcloud in Oklahoma. Mike Theiss - All Rights Reserved
LP Supercell with Wallcloud
Lightning 5-4-07 (kshippychic)
Lightning 5-4-07

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88. RL3AO
6:21 PM CDT on May 05, 2007
Tropical= warm-core low
Extra-tropical= cold-core low
Sub-tropical= warm-core with characteristics of both.
87. Bamatracker
11:19 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
alright...need somebody to break down some definitions for me. What is the difference between tropical, sub-tropical, and extratropical?

thanks
Member Since: May 17, 2006 Posts: 6 Comments: 1367
86. franck
11:13 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
...most distinct hook echo I've seen...think the largest as well.
Member Since: August 30, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1150
85. RL3AO
6:11 PM CDT on May 05, 2007
Does anyone want to pop into a weather chat?
84. MZT
11:04 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
These are fast moving tornadoes too. Not much time to get out of the way.
Member Since: September 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 793
83. savedbygod
11:01 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
DocBen, I agree absolutely. We have too many grandkids & greats so we call the kids & let them go from there.
Good to know another Wichitan, I was feeling outnumbered by the Floridians. LOL Only kidding.
Time to get back to stormwatching.
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81. DenverMark
11:01 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
Large tornado is 5 miles west of Yankton, SD...moving north at 40 mph.
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80. RL3AO
5:59 PM CDT on May 05, 2007
The Southern U.S. can be active year round with peaks in April thru June. Northern U.S. is from March to November with peaks in Late-May thru July. (I think)
79. DocBen
10:57 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
No problem saved - we are all learning something. When you quit learning you die.

As noted, this is the time of year. I always keep track of where the grandkids are - they are the ones that matter.
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78. savedbygod
10:54 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
Thanks RL3AO. I thought the Dakotas, Michigan & Western were more active in July.
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77. RL3AO
5:53 PM CDT on May 05, 2007
This is prime time for tornados in OK, KS, NE. The peak season for the Dakotas and upper mid-west is late-May into June. But this is nothing irregular. May is home for major outbreaks.
76. savedbygod
10:51 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
It isn't early for these storms here but isn't early for this strong a storm in the Northern States?
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74. MZT
10:48 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
I've driven through that part of Kansas. Once you get west of Pratt, you begin to feel like you're really out of the wooded part of Kansas, and out on the prairie. There's not much around to block the wind.
Member Since: September 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 793
73. savedbygod
10:46 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
My prayers to people in Greenburg & all who are in the path of these storms. They are showing no mercy. The people in Greensburg can't handle another hit. There is hardly anthing left now but the shelters they are in.
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72. RL3AO
5:42 PM CDT on May 05, 2007
1
70. savedbygod
10:38 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
DocBen, That's all I do. I am embarrassed to ask questions most of the time because I have not been at this for long. Everyone on here seems to know so much. My head spins at times, reading the blog but I am trying to learn. I am more comfortable asking tornado questions because I have watched them longer & been around them most of my life. I am trying to learn.
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69. RL3AO
5:37 PM CDT on May 05, 2007
Another rotating cell right on line to approach Greensburg.
68. MZT
10:34 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
That certainly is a massive system in the middle of the country, though. It looks like Kansas, Nebraska, South and North Dakota, and Minnesota will all be getting pummeled tonight.
Member Since: September 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 793
67. DocBen
10:32 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
saved - no, not with any of the stations. Just watching it all closely.

http://weather.kansas.com/US/KS/Wichita.html
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66. MZT
10:25 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
That small disturbance off the coast of Wilmington has been drifting to the SE today. So I do think the models indications a "retrograding" motion to that low, may be borne out.

I don't know if my eyes are playing tricks on me, but I think I can see some vortexing a little bit west of the current cloud blob.
Member Since: September 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 793
65. RL3AO
5:27 PM CDT on May 05, 2007
Pretty nasty cell approaching Lincoln, NE
64. savedbygod
10:26 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
DocBen, are you from a local station here in Wichita?
RL3ALO, I didn't look close at the radar OK. Once I saw it on radar over OK; I started calling our family & friends that one of us was getting hit that night, here in Wichita. It was my Best Friend. They just made it to the shelter.
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62. DocBen
10:23 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
Storms not verey far from Greensburg rithg now. Gonna be a long night here in Wichita.
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61. RL3AO
5:23 PM CDT on May 05, 2007
^^^
That hook echo was comparable to the Okie City tornado.
60. savedbygod
10:15 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
Dr. Masters, thank you for mentioning that swirling on the radar. When I saw it last night, I was awed. I haven't seen anything like it & that hook echo but I figured it was just that I haven't seen enough of them. Someone else mentioned the huge hook echo in this blog. Was it unusual also? I mean how large it was & how defined. A couple of times, it almost looked as if it was going to curl around like an eye.
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59. dnalia
10:14 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
MichaelSTL
Not at all... F5s have occurred in almost every month of the year (list)
weathergeek5
No this is the peak of tornado season, from April til June.


Oh, OK. Thanks!
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57. weatherboykris
10:08 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
From Charleston NWS:

.LONG TERM /MONDAY THROUGH SATURDAY/...A POTENTIALLY SIGNIFICANT
COASTAL STORM MAY IMPACT THE RGN THIS WEEK BRINGING A VARIETY OF
HAZARDS THE PARTS OF THE AREA INCLUDING HIGH WINDS...DANGEROUS
SURF...STRONG RIP CURRENTS AND BEACH EROSION. ALL OF THE MODELS ARE
IN GENERAL AGREEMENT THAT FRONTAL CYCLOGENESIS WL OCCUR OFF THE
SC/NC COAST LTE TNGT INTO SUN AS THE SUPPORTING UPR TROF DIGS DOWN
THE ERN SEABOARD AND EVENTUALLY CUTS OFF JUST E OF CAPE HATTERAS.
THE 05/12Z GFS IS SIMILAR TO ITS PREVIOUS RUNS IN BEING THE ERN MOST
OUTLIER OF THE VARIOUS MODEL PKGS WITH THE ECMWF LOOKING MORE
REASONABLE AT THIS JUNCTURE. THIS TRACK WOULD RETROGRADE THE SFC LOW
CLOSER TO THE GA/SC COAST WITH THE LOW BEING CNTRD ABT 200 E OF SAV
BY THE END OF THE WEEK. THIS TRACK IS VERY CLOSE TO THE LATEST
MANUAL HPC PROGS. OBVIOUSLY THE EVENTUAL IMPACTS FROM THIS SYSTEM WL
BE HIGHLY DEPENDANT ON THE EVENTUAL MOVEMENT AND STRENGTH OF THE SFC
LOW AND THE STRENGTH OF THE RIDGE TO THE N OF THE SYSTEM.
COMPLICATING MATTERS IS THAT THERE ARE SIGNALS IN THE VARIOUS MODELS
THAT THIS SYSTEM COULD BECOME A SUBTROPICAL STORM OR SUBTROPICAL
DEPRESSION HYBRID...WHICH IS FURTHER SUPPORTED BY PHASE DIAGRAMS OUT
OF FSU.

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56. RL3AO
5:09 PM CDT on May 05, 2007
Theres hail...thats a new percentage for me.

1
55. i12BNEi
10:05 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
A little info. "Storm in May" is one of the horses riding in the Kentuky derby today.I wonder if it is a sign?
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54. weathergeek5
9:55 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
No this is the peak of tornado season, from April til June.
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52. RL3AO
4:50 PM CDT on May 05, 2007
Looks like this might be the worst outbreak since the 2003 week long outbreak.
51. dnalia
9:49 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
Looks like we may be getting a thunderstorm here in Miami. We really need the rain.

They're now saying that town was 100% destroyed. That's incredible. They're also saying maybe F5. Isn't it a bit early in the season for storms that strong?
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50. melwerle
9:48 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
You're da bomb, StormW!

Hope everyone is safe out there with the tornados...

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48. thelmores
9:35 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
the film from Greensburg is devastating! My heart and prayers go out to the whole town, and Greensburg looks like a victim of a nuclear bomb!

tree's were stripped bare, and confirmed at least 10 dead so far.... undoubtedly will be more! Once again, I am awed by the awesome power of mother nature!
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45. Skyepony (Mod)
9:43 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
Here's some tornado vorticies, I just saved on radar, in South Dakota...I hope Howard got lucky.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 161 Comments: 37355
43. RL3AO
4:38 PM CDT on May 05, 2007
Wow. This will be a hell of an outbreak.
42. melwerle
9:38 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
the low...
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40. weathergeek5
9:36 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
Here is some raw footage of the Greensburg tornado, maybe this was an EF 5 Tornado.

http://www.kake.com/breakingnews/7347256.html
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39. melwerle
9:34 PM GMT on May 05, 2007
so your professional opinion on all this?
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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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