Killer tornadoes rip Iowa, and Minnesota; tropical depression possible late this week

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:08 PM GMT on May 26, 2008

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The 2008 Memorial Day Weekend tornado outbreak will continue to hammer the U.S. today, even as residents from Iowa and Minnesota clean up from the devastating tornadoes that killed eight people Sunday afternoon. A mile-wide tornado plowed through Parkersburg, Iowa between 5pm and 6pm CDT yesterday, killing five people in that city, and two in nearby New Hartford. It was the deadliest tornado in Iowa in more than 40 years. The tornado passed just north of the airport in Waterloo, Iowa, which recorded sustained winds of 64mph, gusting to 94 mph at 5:37pm CDT. Damage appeared to be at least EF-4 in photos I saw, and possibly EF-5 (over 200 mph). In Minnesota, another powerful twister killed at least one person and injured 9 in the Minneapolis suburb of Hugo.


Figure 1. Satellite image of the supercell thunderstorms that spawned the Parkerburg, Iowa and Hugo, Minnesota tornadoes on May 25, 2008.

The slow-moving low pressure system responsible for all the mayhem began in Colorado on Thursday, when the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) recorded 48 reports of tornadoes, including the EF-3 mile-wide twister that killed one person in Windsor, Colorado. On Friday, an additional 63 tornado reports occurred, mostly in Kansas. The tornado that hit Quinter, Kansas on Friday was the eighth violent EF-4 tornado of the year. Also on Friday, two people were killed in Cairo, Kansas when a tornado smashed a car trying to flee the storm. If you want to see why one should not try to escape a tornado in a car, take a look at what the tornado did to the car. Saturday was relatively quiet, with only 13 tornado reports, but Sunday's tally of 43 brought the 4-day total from the 2008 Memorial Day weekend outbreak to a remarkable 157 tornado reports. Some of these tornado reports are undoubtedly of the same tornado, so the actual number of tornadoes for the 4-day outbreak may be less than 150. BBC has some awesome aerial footage of the weekend tornadoes.



Figure 2. Radar reflectivity image (top) of the May 25, 2008 Parkersburg, Iowa tornado. The position of Parkersburg is marked by a circle with a cross in the middle. Bottom: Doppler velocity image of the tornado, showing a small core of red and blue colors right next to each other, denoting strong winds towards and away from the radar, the classic signature of a tornado vortex.



Figure 3. Radar reflectivity image (top) of the May 25, 2008 Hugo, Minnesota tornado. The position of Hugo is marked by a circle with a cross in the middle. Bottom: Doppler velocity image of the tornado, showing a small core of red and blue colors right next to each other, denoting strong winds towards and away from the radar, the classic signature of a tornado vortex. We've also saved a 12-frame radar animation of the Hugo cell, thanks to wunderground member Todd S.

Tallying up the numbers
The death toll from Sunday pushes this year's tornado deaths to 111, the most since 1998, when 130 were recorded. Assuming that the Parkersburg, Iowa tornado was an EF-4 or EF-5, there have been nine violent EF-4 or EF-5 tornadoes this year. This is the most since 1999, when 13 such twisters were recorded. The total number of tornadoes this year is approaching 1100, and we may challenge the all time record for tornadoes in a year of 1817, set in 2004. Could this be a sign of climate change? No, I don't think so, and I'll explain why in a blog later this week.

Severe weather forecast
Severe weather will pound the U.S. again this Memorial Day, with the main action expected to stretch more than halfway across the country--from Texas to New York. NOAA's Storm Prediction Center has placed much of Kansas, Oklahoma, and the Texas Panhandle under its "Moderate Risk" category for severe weather, one step below its highest level of concern, "High Risk". Yesterday was also a "Moderate Risk" day in Iowa and Minnesota. The Weather Underground Severe Weather page and Tornado page are good places to go to follow the severe weather. Also, tune in to the chase accounts and awesome storm photos from Wunderblogger Mike Theiss. After today, it appears the severe weather outbreak will finally diminish, with only a slight risk of severe weather expected Tuesday, and no severe weather expected Wednesday.

Possible development in the Western Caribbean or Eastern Pacific late this week
For the past 3-6 days, our most reliable global computer weather forecast models have been predicting the development of a low pressure system near or over Central America by Friday of this week. Given the persistence in the models in developing this low, we need to be alert to the possibility of a tropical depression forming in either the Western Caribbean or Eastern Pacific, on either side of Costa Rica and Nicaragua. It is uncertain which ocean basin such a storm might form in, and whether or not there will be a tropical wave around to help kick off development. It may be that the low pressure region will stay anchored over land south of the Yucatan Peninsula, preventing any development. This is the solution preferred by the ECMWF model in its last few runs. However, the GFS, NOGAPS, and Canadian models all predict a tropical depression might form in the Western Caribbean near Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. In contrast, the UKMET shows development in the Eastern Pacific, on the Pacific side of Central America. Climatologically, May tropical storms are much more common in the Eastern Pacific than the Western Caribbean, so we should not discount the UKMET solution, even though it is an outlier. All five models predict that the Central American low pressure area will move northward towards the Gulf of Mexico, and wind shear may fall enough to allow a tropical depression to form should the low's center emerge over water. I'll be posting daily updates on the situation this week.

Jeff Masters

Wedge Tornado (MikeTheiss)
A large and violent wedge tornado near Quinter, Kansas. Photo Copyright Mike Theiss
Wedge Tornado
Wallcloud near Lacrosse, Kansas (MikeTheiss)
Photo of a wallcloud crossing road near lacrosse, Kansas on May 25, 2008. Photo copyight Mike Theiss
Wallcloud near Lacrosse, Kansas
Storm Damage (CAPEdcrusader)
These are pictures taken of the storm that went through Forest Lake / Hugo, MN. The tornado passed 3 miles south of us, but we got a pretty vicious shot of hail for about 15 minutes straight. The pictures of bldg damage are west of the worst tornado damage, probably where the funnel cloud was just about to reach the ground.
Storm Damage

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109. atmoaggie
3:15 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Caribbean shear has been dropping a lot. Was well below climatology, but has rebounded a bit.



From CIRA
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108. Stormchaser2007
11:15 AM EDT on May 26, 2008
Yeah I found it interesting because thats the exact area that the models develop the possible storm...
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107. atmoaggie
3:12 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
104

Yes, that probability has been creeping to "warmer" colors. Partly, expected this time of year, but, yes, interesting.
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106. Drakoen
3:12 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Throw out that NAM model...
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105. TerraNova
11:10 AM EDT on May 26, 2008
The 12z NAM has a broad area of low pressure off the Yucatan, connected over land with a tropical system in the EPAC. I don't know whether the NAM is handling this correctly but I recall somebody telling me last year that the NAM should not be used for tropical cyclone guidance.

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104. Stormchaser2007
11:10 AM EDT on May 26, 2008
Interesting

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103. Tazmanian
8:08 AM PDT on May 26, 2008
Storm Survey Team to Parkersburg Monday Morning
NWS Des Moines personnel will travel to Parkersburg and surrounding areas of southern Butler and northern Black Hawk counties on Monday morning to survey tornado damage that occurred late Sunday afternoon. Preliminary damage scale ratings, damage photos, and storm track information will be posted on this website late Monday or Tuesday.

i cant wait too see what they find today but i think they will find EF-5
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102. atmoaggie
3:06 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
SSTS are warm around Florida indeed.

Kind of. Most of that area will warm another 10 degrees in the next 6 weeks.
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101. weathersp
11:05 AM EDT on May 26, 2008
I know NAM doesn't do a very good job at Tropical Systems but I think it is worth pointing out that the NAM gets a 996mb low in the EPAC within 72 hours.

Link
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100. atmoaggie
2:59 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
For those of us with mid to large SUV's its around $70...

Which I do not understand and have no sympathy for. Most of our vehicles, and especially SUV's have only gotten larger in the last 10 years. Larger = more weight. Even with marginally improving engine efficiency over this time all benefits have been sucked up by the heavier vehicle.

I have a 10 year old car that still gets 34 MPG. If a very inexpensive 10 year old car can get that, why haven't we improved gas milage since? (This is a car capable of moving a family of four and accelerating to 90 on the highway on-ramp, not a sub-compact) Consumer demand. If the Ford Inexcusables did not sell due to the MPG, the automarkers would have been working a lot more on vehicle weight, engine efficiency, aerodynamic drag, etc. But no one cared, until now. Sales tends push innovation...
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99. Stormchaser2007
11:05 AM EDT on May 26, 2008
Hmmm... even Accuweather is talking about it too...

The Eastern Pacific Basin remains tranquil at this time. A tropical wave that was located near 95 west has dissipated overnight. Despite this, plenty of thunderstorms remain over the Eastern Pacific, from Central America to about 95 west. These thunderstorms are poorly organized and are not expected to develop into a tropical system. However, some of the computer guidance is suggesting that a tropical system could develop later this week in either the western Caribbean Sea or in the eastern Pacific.

From Accuweathers tropical weather section.
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98. weathersp
11:02 AM EDT on May 26, 2008
93.

Wilma come out of the Central Caribbean this ones coming out of the EPAC. Way different Steering scenarios.
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97. weatherboykris
3:02 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
91. Stormchaser2007 3:01 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Since its a Global model wouldn't the pressure be even lower if for some crazy reason that come true??


Yes, good point. I seriously doubt anything like that will occur though.

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96. Stormchaser2007
11:01 AM EDT on May 26, 2008
Here junior...

Link
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95. weathersp
11:00 AM EDT on May 26, 2008
The only small possible way that could happen is if it sat over the Gulf Stream for 12-18 hours straight with no shear..

Any way you slice it not gonna happen!
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94. weatherboykris
3:01 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
23 appears to be using the CMC, also known as the GEM.
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93. 7544
2:59 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
hi every is that track very close the one like wilma took if it does turn ne twoard fla thanks
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92. Drakoen
3:00 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
86. atmoaggie 2:59 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
You can view it HERE.Its the GGEM loop from albany.

962 !?! Now THAT would be an exceptionally healthy early-season storm.


LOL. Well averaging the GFS, CMC, and NOGAPS. It would at least be a category 1 hurricane. Still way too early to tell. That area in the EPAC is looking interesting though.
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91. Stormchaser2007
10:59 AM EDT on May 26, 2008
Since its a Global model wouldn't the pressure be even lower if for some crazy reason that come true??
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90. juniormeteorologist
2:59 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
hurricane23 which model r u using? can i have a link?
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89. HurricaneFCast
2:58 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
So they've gotten much stricter with the rules since Last Hurricane Season, huh? Well that's good, maybe there will be less arguing this time around? It's good to be hopeful, right? :)
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88. weatherboykris
2:58 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
SSTS are warm around Florida indeed.

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87. weathersp
10:56 AM EDT on May 26, 2008
I always knew those Canadians were crazy.. LOL!
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86. atmoaggie
2:57 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
You can view it HERE.Its the GGEM loop from albany.

962 !?! Now THAT would be an exceptionally healthy early-season storm.
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85. hahaguy
10:57 AM EDT on May 26, 2008
yep why isnt that surprising the cmc is forecasting that
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84. Stormchaser2007
10:57 AM EDT on May 26, 2008
This is probably what will drift into the Caribbean later this week.

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83. TheCaneWhisperer
2:55 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
It is still May, right Adrian? That is insane however, all the globals are predicting an upper level anticyclone to develop over the storm which would make all that possible. Just hard to digest the first week of June. Sea temps are there as well, it's rather warm around SFL.
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82. weatherboykris
2:58 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
HPC, which is in regular contact with the NHC in situations such as this, has the low over the Yucatan at Day 7.

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81. Drakoen
2:57 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
A cat 5 on the CMC how normal...

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80. Stormchaser2007
10:55 AM EDT on May 26, 2008
Wow that would be something if our first storm was a Cat 3 that made landfall on South Florida in MAY!!
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79. MasterForecaster
2:43 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Yea hurricane geek, it really is getting insane. For those of us with mid to large SUV's its around $70...I've been carpooling a lot lately lol.

Does anyone know when we should be able to see the area of convection that will be associated with the "storm"

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77. hurricane23
10:55 AM EDT on May 26, 2008
Here's another view...

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76. FitzRoy
2:51 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Thanks for all the cries of righteous indignation - yes, it would be over $100 to fill up! Anyway, I've hijacked this thread enough with my moaning - off to soak up the sun, although the current weather here is bizarre - it's over 20 degrees C and glorious sunshine (somewhat unusually for the north of Blighty), but gale force winds!
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75. Stormchaser2007
10:51 AM EDT on May 26, 2008
Nice area of convection with this possible wave.
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74. hurricane23
10:54 AM EDT on May 26, 2008
.
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73. HurricaneFCast
2:53 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Hi Everyone, How's it going?
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72. Drakoen
2:52 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Nice graphics atmo, I forgot to check that site today...
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71. weatherboykris
2:52 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Thanks for the update Dr. Masters. Interesting week ahead. Several hours yet before we get any 12z runs.
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70. Stormchaser2007
10:51 AM EDT on May 26, 2008
Thanks Adrian!
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69. atmoaggie
2:46 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Hmmm, that almost look to be a cat2 if GFS has it's way.

Also of note is that GFS has moved up the time frame about a day since late last week.



Dang, the details are hard to see at this size.
Central pressure = 992 mb
time = Wednesday, 04 June at 06:00 UTC. (2am EDT)
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68. Drakoen
2:50 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
I stayed up till 3:00am with the 00z runs and woke up around 9:00am. My brain is trying to come into focus now.
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67. Stormchaser2007
10:50 AM EDT on May 26, 2008
NOGAPS

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66. hurricane23
10:48 AM EDT on May 26, 2008
You can view it HERE.Its the GGEM loop from albany.
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65. Stormchaser2007
10:49 AM EDT on May 26, 2008
Dang thats the NOGAPS track but that pressure is through the roof!
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64. kmanislander
2:48 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
BBL

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63. Drakoen
2:48 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Thats probably the CMC model Adrian posted.
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62. Stormchaser2007
10:46 AM EDT on May 26, 2008
23 whats the pressure on that thing?? and what model is it...
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61. HailKing
2:46 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
An interesting personal comment on the tornado outbreak in mid USA. My daughter lives about 2 miles from Windsor Colorado, (she was ok) and my sister lives abour 4 miles from Hugo Minn. This weather is stressing me out!
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60. Drakoen
2:45 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
52. atmoaggie 2:44 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Yes. Low pressure spins clockwise at the surface

Say what? Low=counterclockwise.


LOL. You know what I meant. I didn't type very consciously.
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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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