Atlanta tornado one the most damaging on record

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:24 PM GMT on March 17, 2008

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The strong EF2 tornado that smashed through downtown Atlanta at 9:40 pm Friday night is a reminder that the U.S. is potentially vulnerable to a very high death toll from a violent tornado hitting a major city. Friday's tornado, with a width of 200 yards, path length of 6 miles, and winds up to 130 mph, was strong enough to cause an estimated $150-$200 million in damage to downtown Atlanta. Only 16 tornadoes during the 20th century caused inflation-adjusted damage more than $200 million (Brooks and Doswell, 2000), so the Atlanta tornado is one of the most damaging of all time. Fortunately, no one was killed, although at least 27 people were injured, one seriously.

As unlucky as Atlanta was to have its first tornado ever to hit the downtown area, the city was extremely fortunate that the tornado was not not stronger. What would have happened if a clone of the strongest tornado on record--the May 3, 1999 Bridgecreek-Moore F5 tornado--had hit Atlanta? According to tornado researcher Josh Wurman of the Center for Severe Weather Research in Boulder and three co-authors in a paper published in the January 2007 issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, the toll would have been staggering--14,900 deaths and tens of billions in damage. I discussed their findings in an April 2007 blog.

However, three tornado researchers, led by Harold Brooks of the National Severe Storms Laboratory, challenged these numbers in a January 2008 article in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. They argued that Wurman et al. overestimated the potential deaths from such a storm by a factor of 100, and a death toll nearer to 150 would be more reasonable. They stated:

Given that the highest death toll in a tornado in U.S. history is 695 in the Tri-State tornado of 1925, and that the last death toll of greater than 100 was in 1953, the validity of these estimates is of some concern.

The authors conceded that a violent tornado traveling the length of a rush hour-packed freeway or hitting a sports stadium filled with spectators could generate much higher death tolls. Wurman et al. responded to the criticism by defending their death toll estimates:

We acknowledge that historical tornadoes have not caused the level of fatalities estimated in our paper. However, considering that tornadoes are relatively rare and that dense population in urban and suburban neighborhoods in the United States is a relatively recent but growing phenomenon, the historical record is too short to indicate the range of possible events.

Considering that Friday's Atlanta tornado hit the Georgia Dome stadium when it was packed with 16,000 people watching an SEC tournament basketball game, I think that both groups of researchers would agree that a death toll in the thousands was quite possible had the Atlanta tornado been an EF5.


Figure 1. Doppler winds image of the March 14, 2008, Atlanta, Georgia EF2 tornado. Note the region just northwest of the city showing blues and reds right next to each other, denoting strong winds moving both towards and away from the radar in a tight circulation. This is the signature associated with a mesocyclone--a rotating thunderstorm that commonly spawns a tornado.

More severe weather expected this week
Severe weather is expected over much of the Midwest and Southern U.S. over the next three days, in association with a strong cold front that will traverse the region. The Storm Prediction Center has placed portions of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas under its lowest classification of potential severe weather today, "Slight Risk". The Weather Underground Severe Weather page and Tornado page are good places to go to follow this week's severe weather.

Good tornado book
For those of you interested in reading about the most violent and most damaging tornado on record, the famed 1999 Bridgecreek-Moore tornado, I recommend a reading of Nancy Mathis' book Storm Warning, which is now out in paperback. I reviewed the book in a blog last year.

Annual WeatherDance contest ready for registration!
Armchair forecasters, now's your chance to shine! WeatherDance, based on teams in the men's and women's NCAA basketball tournaments, allows players to predict which team's city will be hotter or colder on game day in each round of the Big Dance. Beginning today, players can make their forecasts at the Weather Dance Web site at: www.weatherdance.org. The site will be updated with cities promptly after NCAA seeding announcements. First round Weather Dance selections must be entered by 11:59 p.m. EST Wednesday, March 19.

"Officially, Weather Dance began as a class project to get students involved in weather forecasting, but we kept it around because it got popular. People think they can do better forecasting than the meteorologists. Well, here's their shot!" said Perry Samson, WeatherDance creator, co-founder of the The Weather Underground, Inc., and Professor in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences at the University of Michigan.

This is the third year for the game. Last year more than 2,000 people played. Most play merely for the thrill, but many science teachers involve their classes as part of meteorology units. The winning teacher will receive an invitation and $500 to join the Texas Tech/University of Michigan Storm Chasing team this spring for a day of tornado chasing. Other winners will receive a Weather Underground umbrella or a copy of the book "Extreme Weather," by Christopher C. Burt.

Jeff Masters

Atlanta Tornado Damage (boyntonbeachboy)
Brick Bldg that was destroyed by tornado landed on this car!
Atlanta Tornado Damage
Atlanta Tornado F2 CNN CENTER (boyntonbeachboy)
The first recorded tornado hit downtown Atlanta last night causing major damage
Atlanta Tornado F2 CNN CENTER
2 inch Hail (JoyBelle)
This is some of the hail after tornadoes swept through our area today.
2 inch Hail

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232. Weather456
5:07 PM AST on March 19, 2008
Another impressive disturbance - 94S. This disturbance is under light to moderate anticyclonic shear and over warm SSTs. A QuikSCAt pass from 1333 UTC showed a most define LLCC.

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
231. FLWeatherFreak91
5:06 PM EDT on March 19, 2008
Soooo windy. Just had a gust to 43 which is really weird to see because it's completely sunny w/o a cloud in sight! Hopefully this will knock out the rest of the pollen in the trees so the allergies won't last long. lol
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230. Weather456
4:10 PM AST on March 19, 2008
Tropical Invest 95P

Information based on data through 2000 UTC WED 19 Mar 2008

Tropical Invest 95P is located near 17.5S-163.5E remaining stationary. Estimated surface winds are near 30 knots and minimum central pressure is near 1004 mb. Vertical wind shear is 10 knots and sea surface temperature is 29-30C.

Position was based on infrared imagery through 2000 UTC which based the center on the cloud system. Further adjustments were implemented using model data. Winds were estimated from SSM/I microwave sensor in conjunction with Dvorak classifications, where 0.40 spiral gave a T-no of 2.0. Pressure based on model data. Infrared imagery showed a well organized system producing clusters of vigorous convection in and around the low level center. The environment around the disturbance appears favorable for the development of a tropical depression in the next 48 hrs with anticyclonic outflow, warm SSTs and low wind shear. Furthermore, the system has shown signs of development on satellite imagery. The global models are in agreement on development but are split on the movement of the system. The CMC keeps the system meandering and making a clockwise loop in the vicinity of the current location, while the GFS develops a much deeper cyclone and moves the system slowly southeastward. Based on the 700 mb steering flow, the CMC seems more reasonable at this point.

by W456

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
229. Smyrick145
8:31 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
Thanks Stormw. We could be in a for bumpy ride this hurricane season if that materializes right?
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227. Weather456
4:07 PM AST on March 19, 2008
Tropical Invest 91B

Information based on data through 1900 UTC WED 19 Mar 2008

Tropical Invest 91B is located near 07N-75E drifting towards the west. Estimated surface winds are near 20 knots and minimum central pressure is near 1007 mb. Vertical wind shear is well below 10 knots and sea surface temperatures are near 30C.

The center was difficult to locate due its poor definition. QuikSCAT, microwave imagery and model data showed the center located near 06N-76E, but recent model data and satellite derived winds from CIMSS through 1800 UTC showed the center located near 07N/75E. Infrared satellite imagery through 1900 UTC confirms the location of the low level center. Another distinct observation made was a mid-level rotation identified on infrared imagery located further west of the low level center and model data of 500 mb strongly agrees with this. Surface winds were estimated using a QuikSCAT pass through 1328 UTC, low level derived winds and model data through 1800 UTC. Few or no surface observations were available for the area. Pressure based on the GFS model run. Infrared satellite imagery showed a relatively defined and organized system with most of the thunderstorm clusters rotating on the west side of the distinct mid-level circulation. The system is moving within a favorable environment with warm SSTs, low wind shear, and distinct equatorial outflow. These conditions should allow the formation of a tropical depression in the next 24-48 hrs. Most global models are in fair agreement that a weak tropical cyclone will form in the Eastern Arabian Sea, move towards the northwest over the next 5 days, then recurve towards the northeast under the influence of digging trough in 6 days or 144 hrs.

by W456

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
226. Smyrick145
7:57 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
Hurricane 23
With a weakening La Nina and hurricane season only 2 months away. Could you see neutral conditions or near neutral by the heart of the hurricane season? This question is not only directed toward hurricane 23 but to anyone who has an educated opinion on this subject.
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225. surfmom
7:41 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
check hourly --wish I could, today was my day off, rest of the week I'm at the barns with the four-leggeds --Which this wind is beginning to get old. There's nothing worse seeing good south swell get blown out and working w/horses in this weather is high end stress. Nothing worse then riding one thorough bred polo horse, towing one on each side and trying to get a track workout done with them spooking in every direction when the gust blow stuff around. You'd think they'd figure out the palm or leaves will not eat them by now...but instinct is instinct. OK now I must chain myself to the kitchen sink. BBL
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
224. NEwxguy
7:27 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
several models converging on a serious mid-atlantic snowstorm for next week,could be a big one for virginia and north carolina,and maybe delaware and new jersey.STill pretty early
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 881 Comments: 15814
223. surfmom
7:24 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
franck thanks for your comment. It just seems odd to me... there was NO mention of the Atlanta tornado - which to me was odd, considering how much money it will coast, and then this weather we are seeing yesterday & today --Nada off to the kitchen for a while bbl
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
222. groundswell
7:29 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
Both coasts windblown to shreds-Atlantic-check back on Sat for clean swell, Gulf,well, check hourly beginning Thur.
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221. hurricane23
3:20 PM EDT on March 19, 2008
Hey folks good afternoon hope eveyone is having a great day just wanted to post the BOM update on whats happening with la nina.

On this update which i agree with they say la nina has indeed begun to loose punch and they also make note that el nino is rather unlikely as of right now despite the warming off South America.It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming months.You can view all the ENSO updates on my links page which ive updated includeing links to CPC and Australia.

Have a fantastic day! Adrian
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220. franck
7:09 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
Subtly media is beginning to suppress natural disaster news....too much of it.
Member Since: August 30, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1150
219. surfmom
6:29 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
What totally mystifies me, is why my local "crap" newspaper has three sentences regarding the flooding from yesterday and NO mention of the the potential mess we are seeing today.
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
218. stormhank
6:27 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
u here pony
Member Since: September 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1386
217. stormhank
6:15 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
email me if you have any thanks I mean 2008 hurricane predictions
Member Since: September 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1386
216. stormhank
6:11 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
anyone herd any early predictions on 2008 hurricane season acticity??
Member Since: September 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1386
214. OUFan919
5:38 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
I live a couple miles away from the Meramec also and have a lot of friends who live in the Meramec river valley in Fenton. I told a lot of them to keep an eye on the river and if it gets close to them that they should pack up and leave. I'm going to go around and film the waters up and down the Meramec Thursday and Friday when it gets close to its record stage.
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210. NEwxguy
4:17 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
As far as spring snowstorms we expect at least one each year.Models hinting at blocking pattern setting up in the Atlantic,should make the US weather interesting
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 881 Comments: 15814
209. NEwxguy
4:14 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
Thats alright Tampa,keep those shots coming,as a patriots fan,thats going to be what we hear for a long time,as far as the Rays they figure if they start enough brawls this year,they might distract the other team
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 881 Comments: 15814
208. Patrap
10:27 AM CDT on March 19, 2008
Tropics a Quiet,in the Hemisphere.

North Atlantic Storm Advisories

There is no tropical storm activity for this region.
North Atlantic Tropical Outlook North Atlantic
East Pacific Storm Advisories

There is no tropical storm activity for this region.
East Pacific Tropical Outlook East Pacific
Western Pacific Storm Advisories

There is no tropical storm activity for this region.
Western Pacific Tropical Outlook Western Pacific
Central Pacific Storm Advisories

There is no tropical storm activity for this region.
Central Pacific Tropical Outlook Central Pacific
Indian Ocean Storm Advisories

There is no tropical storm activity for this region
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128630
207. weathers4me
3:24 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
Link


Will this mess make it to W central FL coast? The winds have really started picking up here within the hour here in Bradenton.
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204. NEwxguy
2:44 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
well they are talking about a possible winter storm for us here in New England,on Monday or Tuesday originating from a small low forming in the Gulf,so the models do see that low.
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 881 Comments: 15814
203. Patrap
9:42 AM CDT on March 19, 2008
Morning,..a lil Low is seen there out thru time.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128630
202. TampaSpin
10:36 AM EDT on March 19, 2008
199. Patrap 10:31 AM EDT on March 19, 2008
UNYSIS GFSx 10-day Link


Patrap good morning, it does appear that another low does develop in the GOM from that GFS run.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
201. weathermanwannabe
8:32 AM CST on March 19, 2008
If the front does stall over Florida (over/near the Peninsula/Gulf) in a few days, then maybe it will squeeze out some much needed rain................
Member Since: August 8, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 9211
200. Patrap
9:31 AM CDT on March 19, 2008
SPC storm reports. Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128630
199. Patrap
9:30 AM CDT on March 19, 2008
UNYSIS GFSx 10-day Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128630
198. TampaSpin
10:27 AM EDT on March 19, 2008
195. Ivansrvivr 10:22 AM EDT on March 19, 2008
CC; i wouldn't expect very much rain out of this next front. We are entering time of year when the parent low pressure tracks are further and further north and it usually gets very dry here in S. Florida. Unless another disturbance forms along this front in the GOM basically giving it a "shot in the arm", I just don't see it doing much for us. (I hope your'e right and we do get some rain but this one doesn't look like much for us at this point)


I expect another low to develop in the GOM from this front Friday nite.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
197. stormhank
2:27 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
stormy for se today
Member Since: September 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1386
196. stormhank
2:22 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
mornin
Member Since: September 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1386
195. Ivansrvivr
2:09 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
CC; i wouldn't expect very much rain out of this next front. We are entering time of year when the parent low pressure tracks are further and further north and it usually gets very dry here in S. Florida. Unless another disturbance forms along this front in the GOM basically giving it a "shot in the arm", I just don't see it doing much for us. (I hope your'e right and we do get some rain but this one doesn't look like much for us at this point)
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194. Patrap
9:05 AM CDT on March 19, 2008
Gulf Loop Current and Surface Temperatures Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128630
193. weathermanwannabe
7:47 AM CST on March 19, 2008
Good Morning Folks....Things are still relatively quiet this morning in the Florida Panhandle and the meager and unimpressive front line (so far) along the Southern Gulf coast is just passing through Mobile......We'll see what happens later in the morning with the daytime heating but the front is moving through pretty quickly down here so it may just end up being a brief wind/rain event (very brief) for this region.........
Member Since: August 8, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 9211
192. NEwxguy
1:46 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
nasty line of storms moving through alabama.
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 881 Comments: 15814
191. weathersp
9:41 AM EDT on March 19, 2008
Found this realating to the Atlanta Tornado... It looks more like a hail shaft then anything else but.. It is interesting..

Link
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190. TampaSpin
9:36 AM EDT on March 19, 2008
That is one strong Low moving out of Texas finally...
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
189. watchingnva
1:30 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
father in law in centralia,il has riceived 11.6 inches of rain since late monday evening....lot of backroads closed....im going to talk to him more today...later
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188. NEwxguy
1:21 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
lt snow this morning,it may be spring starting tomorrow,but not going to show up up here for a while
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 881 Comments: 15814
186. Patrap
8:20 AM CDT on March 19, 2008
GOM 120 Hour Water Surface Temperature Forecast Model Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128630
183. cchsweatherman
8:47 AM EDT on March 19, 2008
I will be very interested to see how unstable the atmosphere will become over Central and Southern Florida in advance of the approaching front. Seems like we will receive some much needed rainfall starting Thursday and lasting into Saturday WITHOUT severe weather. Some more good news for Floridians who want this drought to end. Lake Okeechobee continues to slowly inch higher as it has reached 10.20 feet. Thoughts?
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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.