Whipping northward at interstate speeds, multiple rounds of severe thunderstorms raced from the Carolinas to New England on Wednesday and early Thursday. The springlike round of severe weather--which extended unusually far north for February--took one life in South Carolina and at least four in Virginia
, making Wednesday the latter state’s deadliest tornado day since the notorious Super Outbreak of April 27, 2011. Three people, including a two-year-old boy, were killed in hard-hit Waverly, VA, and another man died in Appomattox County (see photo of the Appomattox tornado at bottom). Figure 1.
Lightning lights up the night sky behind a home in Waverly, Va, that was hit by a tornado earlier in the day, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. Fast-moving storms swept into Virginia on Wednesday, leaving at least three dead in the tiny farming town of Waverly and injuring several others across the state, authorities said. Image credit: Todd Spencer/ The Virginian-Pilot via AP.Fierce winds at the surface and aloft
Wednesday’s storms lived up to the soberly worded outlooks issued by NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center (SPC) earlier in the day. Local NWS offices across the region had their hands full keeping up with dozens of tornadic supercells and line segments with embedded rotation. Many locations were under tornado warnings at least twice throughout the day. Winds at all levels were howling from the south, which allowed individual storm cells to scream north while lines of storms translated slowly eastward. At least one warning cited a cell motion of 100 mph
, which is extremely unusual in an NWS warning. These “training” echoes led to many 2” - 3” rain totals from the Washington, D.C., area north across much of New England. Capital Weather Gang’s Jason Samenow dubbed the storm in D.C.
“arguably one of the fiercest since the June 2012 derecho.”
Even apart from thunderstorms, the southerly winds produced widespread gusts above 40 mph. By 7 am EST Thursday morning
, NOAA/SPC had racked up at least 17 tornado reports and more than 300 reports of high wind, extending from Florida to Maine. Hail up to baseball size was reported near Tungsten, NC, and Castle Heights, VA.
The surprise element Wednesday night was how far north the action extended. A wedge of cold air eroded more quickly than expected, allowing warm, moist air to surge north ahead of a slow-moving cold front. This warm front set the stage for late-night thunderstorms that would be impressive for the region in May, much less February. By late Wednesday night, severe thunderstorm watches had been placed as far poleward as southern Vermont and eastern Massachusetts “If not unprecedented, I'd characterize yesterday as ‘highly unusual’,” said Greg Carbin, warning and coordination meteorologist for NOAA/SPC.
At 9 PM EST Tuesday, Boston’s Logan Airport was fogged in, with nearly calm winds and the temperature a clammy 42°F. By 3 AM Wednesday, the temperature had jumped to 61°F, with south winds gusting to 46 mph. Meteorologist Jacob Wycoff noted
that the last time western Massachusetts experienced a severe thunderstorm warning in February was nearly 20 years ago--on Feb. 22, 1997. Winds at the iconic Blue Hill Observatory, the nation’s oldest continuous weather station, gusted to 74 mph
just before the storms moved in around 3 AM.Figure 2.
Model depictions of winds at 250 mb, or about 34,000 feet (left) and 850 mb, or about 5,000 feet (right), produced at 7:00 pm EST Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, and valid at 1:00 am Thursday. The strong upper-level jet at left was projected to head toward New England with 250-mb winds topping 140 knots (160 mph). Strong diffluence--evident in the wind contours parting as they approach New England--supported vigorous thunderstorm growth. At right, a large area of 850-mb winds was projected to exceed 64 knots (74 mph). Image credit: Levi Cowan, tropicaltidbits.com
WunderMap radar depiction at 2:15 am EST Thursday showed a robust line of thunderstorms--several of them severe--moving across central New England, with weaker secondary storms over central New York. A shield of snow extended from Quebec into the central U.S. Winter weather pummels Midwest
While the Eastern Seaboard grappled with springlike storms, areas from Missouri to Michigan were plastered by a more seasonable round of heavy snow. Power was knocked out to thousands, and dozens of vehicles were stuck overnight in Chicago’s Grant Park, according to weather.com
. Accumulations of up to 11" hit the northern suburbs of Detroit, and the exceptionally wet, heavy nature of the snow led to warnings that heart attacks were likely for those with heart conditions who attempted to shovel the cement-like stuff.Figure 4.
My Davis Weather Station needed a solar panel brush-off after 11" of wet, heavy snow caked it overnight. The northern suburbs of Detroit where I live got the highest accumulations of anywhere in Michigan from the storm. - Jeff MastersNext week: rinse and repeat?
After a more tranquil weekend and an uneventful start to next week, the eastern U.S. could see another powerhouse storm system. Long-range models are suggesting the potential for an inland nor’easter not unlike the one just departing, with severe weather again possible from the South to the mid-Atlantic and perhaps northward from there. El NIño commonly intensifies severe weather across the Gulf states during winter, but multiple rounds of severe storms north of the Carolinas would be a more unorthodox happening.Portlight disaster relief charity responds to this week's tornadoes
disaster relief charity, founded and staffed by members of the wunderground community, is responding to this week's devastating tornadoes. Since a large area was affected, Portlight is focusing on identifying those who lost their mobility thru loss of walkers, wheel and powerchairs, and where home ramps will need to be rebuilt or replaced. You can check out their progress on the Portlight Blog
or donate to Portlight's disaster relief fund at the portlight.org website.
We’ll be back on Friday with our next post.
Bob Henson and Jeff Masters