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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282. Cavin Rawlins
5:38 PM GMT on March 20, 2008
Invest 95P, on the verge of becoming a tropical depression. Excellent satellite signiture with expanding cruve banding. Excellent outflow under and upper anticyclone in the southern quadrants.

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
281. Cavin Rawlins
5:29 PM GMT on March 20, 2008
Good Afternoon....


Today is the official start of the spring season. The vernal equinox began 0548 UTC or 0148 EDT/AST this morning and will end on June 20 at 2359 UTC or 1959 EDT/AST.

....SYNOPSIS....

GULF OF MEXICO/NORTHWEST ATLANTIC OCEAN WEST OF 50W....

The western flank of a mid-upper ridge over the Southwest Atlantic is maintaining pronounce southwesterly winds aloft over the Gulf Region. A surface cold front is embedded under this southwesterly flow of moisture from extreme southeastern Mexico at 17N/95W across the Yucatan, the Southeastern Gulf and The Florida Peninsula, before entering the Atlantic. Visible imagery showed a swath of multilayer cloudiness and showers within 120 nmi behind the leading edge frontal ropes clouds north of 22N. A much broader zone of cloudiness and showers lies across the Yucatan Peninsula, and Northern Central America, partly due to enhanced lift along the terrain.

Meanwhile, the associated high pressure ridge has build across the Southern United States, Mainland Mexico, and into the Gulf behind the front. This high is producing exceptionally fair skies across the area, 20 knots of offshore flow and 7-10 ft northwest swells over open waters behind the front.

A very deep layer ridge extending from a 1023 mb high at the surface to a 200 mb ridge in the upper levels. A cold front continues from the Central Florida Peninsula and surges northeastward along the coastal waters of the Eastern United States. The front more or less surges around the flow of the ridge. Dry air is noted elsewhere near the heart of the ridge with light surface winds and scattered stratocumulus clouds. The pressure gradient between this ridge and a large low pressure area in the far North Atlantic is generating 20-30 knot winds and extremely large open ocean swells of 22 ft which are impacting the Northern Caribbean. See Caribbean heading.

CENTRAL AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN REGION....

A broad zone of broken to overcast cloudiness and showers are seen along Central America from 87W to 92W north of 15N. This activity is associated with a surface cold front. Weak upper ridging and dry air is seen across the remainder of the Caribbean, hindering much vertical development of cloudiness with only broken and dusty stratocumulus clouds embedded within the surface flow. A moderate high pressure system is maintaining a somewhat tight pressure gradient across the North Central Atlantic which is producing large open ocean waves. These waves are being directed towards the Northeast Caribbean in the form of 16-20 ft swells. Because of this, marine conditions remain hazardous, and swimmers and small craft should avoid these waters in the meantime. Additionally, structural damages to ports and piers are possible. These swells are less significant within the Caribbean Sea where 8-9 ft seas everywhere and near 13 ft along the Colombian Coast/SW Caribbean Sea.

by W456
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
280. atmoaggie
5:13 PM GMT on March 20, 2008
See this article about global warming making the trees bloom and birds arrive earlier than 20 to 30 years ago. Link

We really need to do something about this and right now! This is so horrible that the trees are not conforming to traditionally scheduled festival weeks. Every one needs to completely give up all energy use unless it is a non-emitter so the birds do not come back 2 weeks earlier than they did during the last cooler cycle in the multi-decadal...WAIT! What?

20 - 30 years ago the trees bloomed later...SO? This is "proof" that energy facism is needed? Sure a few delicate species are in the wrong locations and might not adapt...right...how did those species come to exist anyway? Oh yeah, they are nothing more than mutations of another species, but more suited to their environment.

Hmmm. OK. So what is the problem, again? (Love the AP stories about the horrible effects of GW...always looking for that item to strike fear in our hearts, like trees and birds...snicker;)
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
279. atmoaggie
4:44 PM GMT on March 20, 2008
236. TampaSpin 10:42 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
This might be a stupid question for all but, does anyone think the National Weather Service issues alot more Tornado Warnings that may not merit a warning. Has technology got so good that maybe a third level of alert is needed between a watch and a warning. Just an observation. But, i too would rather be safe than sorry.


The new dual pole radars will hopefully offer some improvement. The researchers will be able to get a lot more information from the hydrometeors and make better correlations to when nados form. Is it going to vastly improve the detection of real vs maybe nados? I think that is yet to be determined. It will greatly improve rain-rate, hail size, and precip type. detection.

In the next 5 years all of the WSR-88 radars are scheduled to be replaced by the new dual-pole ones.

See details about them at: Link

As for a 3rd level of warning...I doubt the general public would be able to digest that without some confusion and confusion in this business could lead to very undesirable results.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
277. AWeatherLover
2:34 PM GMT on March 20, 2008
great to see the rain this morning. It looked like it was just a light rain so I was surprised to see my rain guage had 0.85 inches when I checked it this morning. Any updates on the blob by the Yucatan anyone?
Member Since: November 2, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 431
276. surfmom
2:17 PM GMT on March 20, 2008
off to work g'day all
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
275. surfmom
1:56 PM GMT on March 20, 2008
Thanks Weather456, also you are soooo lucky to live where you do......I think of myself as a Caribbean queen, even though I live on the Gomex. Just love the carib --mainland life is just too intense, too much rapido -although you don't get much surf I imagine. I guess the waves are of hurricane height?
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
274. Cavin Rawlins
1:44 PM GMT on March 20, 2008
272. surfmom 9:16 AM AST on March 20, 2008
weather 456 - where did you get that infor regarding St Kitts? Is this considered odd weather to cause such waves?
\

I live there. Also its not odd during this time of the year but these waves are huge. Really some of highest since our last near hit by Lenny.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
273. surfmom
1:18 PM GMT on March 20, 2008
A blob in the Gulf - Amazing --will this be a wave maker? hummmmmmm guess it bears watching
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
272. surfmom
1:16 PM GMT on March 20, 2008
weather 456 - where did you get that infor regarding St Kitts? Is this considered odd weather to cause such waves?
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
271. NEwxguy
1:02 PM GMT on March 20, 2008
That blob forecast in the gulf,may be our Tuesday snowstorm here in new england Tuesday,did someone say its spring?
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 863 Comments: 15083
270. Cavin Rawlins
12:35 PM GMT on March 20, 2008
Excellent Curve band cloud

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
269. Cavin Rawlins
12:28 PM GMT on March 20, 2008
devasting waves lashing Saint Kitts....some the highest I've seen since Hurricane Lenny 9 yrs ago
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
268. Patrap
12:24 PM GMT on March 20, 2008

Sweet Spring has arrived..Ahhhhhhhhh!
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125630
267. surfmom
12:04 PM GMT on March 20, 2008
happy to wake up this AM to RAIN - at last! looks like just a morning spritz, but it was lovely to wake up to the sounds of rain pelting the roof. Hope the winds lays down today, I've had enough of it for this month.
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
265. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
6:39 AM GMT on March 20, 2008
could be one never knows
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 165 Comments: 52274
262. aspectre
5:48 AM GMT on March 20, 2008
hokay... Ran across an interesting item about how the US EastCoast is experiencing progressively increasing wave heights due to increasing hurricane intensity. Unfortunately it's from a mass-media news article that gives neither the title of the research paper nor the lead authors.

So does anyone have access to the Journal of Coastal Research? Or run across a better written article which at least names the authors or the paper's title?
Member Since: August 21, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 4860
261. Skyepony (Mod)
4:21 AM GMT on March 20, 2008
Incrediable flooding..


There is some pics of the mess coming in the WU photo gallery.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 156 Comments: 36112
254. surfmom
1:07 AM GMT on March 20, 2008
I'm off, got to deal with horses and wind...again tomorrow. Other people have it worse tonight so really no complaints. Adios
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
253. surfmom
1:04 AM GMT on March 20, 2008
Tropicaldan, yes - people don't understand heavy water. I was clueless till wilma, took one ride that scared me to death - if you don't know what you are doing or really fit --you are dead, or you put other people at risk to save you. I don't do big water, and happily my son is smart about it too. He did go into Wilma a boy and when he came out --he had a different look in his eye, it changed him --like a warrior
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
252. Tazmanian
12:54 AM GMT on March 20, 2008
oh well


here is the map

Link
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5089 Comments: 114068
251. Tazmanian
12:52 AM GMT on March 20, 2008
where the map i this post????
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5089 Comments: 114068
250. Tazmanian
12:51 AM GMT on March 20, 2008
this map is from accuweather

heres a sneak peak outlook map:
*dotted areas are formation zones

Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5089 Comments: 114068
248. Tropicaldan
12:03 AM GMT on March 20, 2008
surfmom

Lots of surfers profiting from the waves as they are rare in St Martin, but the Gendarmerie on the French side is ordering people out of the water for their own protection.

Those used to bodyboarding in the usual 2 feet swells are out riding 12 feet monsters - dunno if they really know what they risk there.
Member Since: February 17, 2006 Posts: 3 Comments: 86
247. surfmom
11:44 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
tropicaldan - yeah I picked up on that wave action - friend said PR was going macker - I'll bet there are some dudes packing up their boards right now. Had no idea the weather was that strongly affecting you guys in the carib. I can't remember a March this windy --least since I have been working with animals that are so affected by it. (horses)
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
246. surfmom
11:37 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
Well the waves are filling in a bit better, seems most of the swell by passed SRQ/Tampa and went to the panhandle. Wind has finally settled to 15mph South, gomex is 69 degrees at my home beach. Wish some of the rain, ...some of the rain other states have received would find it's way to WFL, backyard is so dry, especially from all this wind
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
245. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
11:15 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
TROPICAL DEPRESSION 14F from RSMC Nadi

Member Since: May 24, 2006 Posts: 48 Comments: 43690
244. TerraNova
11:04 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
The 18z GFS has the Monday storm missing the east coast and floating off into the sea...CMC and ECMWF have trended towards this solution in the past few runs. I know, a lot of things can change in 138 hours, but I thought that this was worth mentioning. GFS has shown consistency with the out to sea theory so far and the other models are now showing signs of agreeing (at least for the time being, anyway).

From the NYC Discussion Link

MODELS INDICATE CYCLOGENESIS OFF
THE EASTERN SEABOARD BUT TRACK OF THIS POTENTIALLY POTENT SYSTEM
REMAINS UNCERTAIN. RECENT ECMWF RUNS HAVE SHOWN A LATE SEASON
SNOWSTORM IMPACTING THE MID ATLANTIC AND NORTHEAST REGIONS.
HOWEVER..THE LATEST 12Z ECMWF RUN HAS BACKED OFF THIS SCENARIO IN
FAVOR OF A TRACK FURTHER OFF THE COAST. LATEST 12Z GFS AND
CANADIAN RUNS ALSO DEPICT A MORE OFFSHORE TRACK WHICH WOULD RESULT
IN MINIMAL PRECIPITATION AMOUNTS ACROSS THE TRI-STATE AREA.

From the HPC long term discussion Link

...POTENTIAL FOR LATE SEASON SNOWSTORM FOR THE MID ATLANTIC
REGION...

MODELS CONT TO CONVERGE BUT WITH A WIDE SPREAD ON EAST COAST/W
ATLC CYCLOGENESIS DAY 5...WITH THE 00Z GFS AND GEFS MEAN TRENDING
STRONGLY TOWARD THE DEVELOPED SOLUTION INDICATED BY THE LAST
SEVERAL RUNS OF THE ECMWF AND ECMWF ENSEMBLE MEAN. SEVERAL OF THE
00Z GFS ENSEMBLE MEMBERS ARE AS INTENSE AS THE 00Z ECMWF WITH THIS
LOW...WITH A SIMILAR TRACK FROM SOUTH OF CAPE HATTERAS TO EAST OF
THE NORTH ATLANTIC BENCHMARK.


The HPC Official forecast has trended a bit to the east to reflect the change in model consensus.
Day 5 (Monday) = over Cape Hatteras NC
Day 6 (Tuesday) = southeast of Cape Cod
Member Since: July 30, 2007 Posts: 76 Comments: 4062
243. GeoffreyWPB
11:03 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
Thanks Tampa..thought it sounded iffy for the last week in March...
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10578
242. TampaSpin
11:00 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
GeoffreyWPB This is the extended forcast for Tampa, don't see anything real cool.

Monday Night through Wednesday
Mostly clear. Lows in the lower 50s. Highs in the mid 70s.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 177 Comments: 20430
241. GeoffreyWPB
10:58 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
Two Buccaneers and Three Moe's....A Full House!
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10578
240. TampaSpin
10:56 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
Most warnings are issued from doppler possiblities i believe.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 177 Comments: 20430
239. GeoffreyWPB
10:49 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
or detected on dopplar
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10578
238. GeoffreyWPB
10:48 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
I thought tornado warnings were only issued when one was sighted....
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10578
237. GeoffreyWPB
10:45 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
Evening all. I saw on our local weather this a.m. (West Palm, Fl.), on the extended forecast, that lows next week may dip to the low 50's. Does that look like it may hold up?
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10578
236. TampaSpin
10:42 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
This might be a stupid question for all but, does anyone think the National Weather Service issues alot more Tornado Warnings that may not merit a warning. Has technology got so good that maybe a third level of alert is needed between a watch and a warning. Just an observation. But, i too would rather be safe than sorry.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 177 Comments: 20430
235. NorthxCakalaky
10:40 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
Heavy rain fell across N.C today I got about 1.75inches if rain.(Hopefuly the severe weather will not survive the mountains of N.C.Severe thunderstorm watch was issued for a few mountain counties.)

Spring snow? WXII12 and Fox8 are two local news stations here.Both are saying chance of snow Easter night and Monday for a good portion of N.C.
234. Tropicaldan
9:59 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
For those saying its quiet in the tropics, you should be living in P Rico and the Northern Leeward islands right now.... huge swells continuing to buid here in St Martin, we are on 'Alerte Rouge".

"THIS COASTAL FLOODING IS THE GREATEST NON TROPICAL CYCLONE RELATED SWELL EVENT EXPERIENCED IN THE LOCAL AREA SINCE THE PERFECT STORM OF 1991. RESIDENTS AND LOCAL INTERESTS SHOULD EXPECT MAJOR BEACH EROSION...AS WELL AS STRUCTURAL DAMAGE TO PIERS...BOARDWALKS AND STRUCTURES DIRECTLY ADJACENT TO THE COASTLINE

http://forecast.weather.gov/wwamap/wwatxtget.php?cwa=sju&wwa=high%20surf%20warning
Member Since: February 17, 2006 Posts: 3 Comments: 86
233. Cavin Rawlins
9:26 PM GMT on March 19, 2008
One of the uses of CloudSat


94S CloudSat pass at 0931 UTc this morning

Also notice that a great deal of organization has taken place between this visible shot and the one at 1900 UTC.









Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
232. Cavin Rawlins
9:10 PM GMT 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

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About JeffMasters

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