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

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

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

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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659. chevycanes
10:12 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
in just about all the GFS runs its been hugging the coast for the first few days. then they have it going anywhere from Mexico to S. FL.

just have to wait and see what happens.
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658. TerraNova
10:11 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
What time should the new GFS be done running? Ayone have a link to see the NOGAPS and CMC? I haven't looked at those yet. Thanks!

I think it usually takes no more than an hour or so to run, so it'll probably be done by 6:45.

18z GFS link
12z NOGAPS link
12z CMC link
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657. nash28
10:13 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Gotta run in a sec guys. Dinner beckons.
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656. Bamatracker
10:11 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
maybe the gfs got tired of running back and forth across land so now it just will hug the coast instead.
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655. nash28
10:12 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
108hrs. GFS has this thing parked:-)

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654. juniormeteorologist
10:10 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
hey guys! Im back, took a nap, anyway, wat is going on with the computer models...where are it predicting the storm to go now?
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652. nash28
10:10 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
GFS is usually done with the 18z by 6:30 ET.

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651. Bamatracker
10:09 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Stick around Orca...with those models running things are going to get wild in here in a bit.
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650. louisianaboy444
10:04 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
I have good study habits i know i have the knowledge and the capability its the part of working out the laziness lol we all fight that battle sometimes....but i'll strive for what i want trust me...

Thank yall for all your support and advice...i try to contribute to this blog the best way i can i love to post actively but like i said my knowledge is still growing so if anyone needs to correct me on something i say do it...mistakes are your best learning tool :)
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649. AWeatherLover
10:06 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
What time should the new GFS be done running? Ayone have a link to see the NOGAPS and CMC? I haven't looked at those yet. Thanks!
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648. Orcasystems
10:05 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Was reading back in the Blog, sounds like I missed all the fun :) I must admit, it does help to watch during a slow business day.
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647. Bamatracker
10:06 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
right now im looking to get a BS in meteorology then a masters in Marine Sciences. Supposely once i take for 4 core classes for marine scinece i can study tropical weather exclusively for the rest of the Masters program. Still a long way off though. Have to take it one semester, or season at a time.
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645. nash28
10:04 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
GFS at 90hrs still hugging the coast.
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644. AWeatherLover
9:56 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
I am loving the ressearch side of getting my degree. That is definitely what I am heading for. I am just not interested, personally, in the media side of meteorology. I am currently a senior going for my BA in enironmental geography and a minor in physics because they don't offer meteorology at my university. I am working on a few researhc projects at the time, so I am hoping that they will help me to further my career. Then I plan on transferring to another school for my PhD once I am finished with my masters at my current university. I love this blog because I feel that for the most part I really learn from the folks on this blog who are more knowledgeable than I am.
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643. presslord
6:00 PM EDT on May 26, 2008
444...the beauty of a degree is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts...each class won't necessarily have a direct relation to your filed...some of this is about making you well rounded...enjoy the process...it lays the foundation for all the rest...
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642. nash28
10:03 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Bama is right. Those two are a bear, as is Numerical Modeling.
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641. Bamatracker
10:00 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
louisianaboy....best advice i can give you. Study math and physics. Those two subjects keep more people from finishing met degrees than anything else.
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640. WPBHurricane05
6:01 PM EDT on May 26, 2008
good luck in Chemistry louisianaboy
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639. catastropheadjuster
9:55 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Bama I'm in Satsuma.Right outside of Mobile.
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638. louisianaboy444
9:55 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
I think this fall in my first semster i am taking a chemistry class and a chemistry lab class and also a biology....they were on the requirements so i guess they all tie into weather somehow...i guess the biology is to learn how weather affects life and different animals migration habits? I think i have a physics and math class in there somewhere also...i am motivated though because becoming a Met is the only thing i ever wanted to do and the only thing i could picture myself doing....People who see me now ask me how the weather is doing...haha its quite amusing...but i have to admit i still get lost sometimes hearing yall speak...still have alot to learn...
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637. atmoaggie
9:56 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Cool, Bama. My wife and did about the same thing. She is finishing Microbiology next year.

Good luck.

BBL, guys. Time to light the pit up. Happy Memorial day.

Remember all of those that paid the ultimate price so we can all come in here and say what we like about the subject we all love. Freedom is NOT free.
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636. WPBHurricane05
5:57 PM EDT on May 26, 2008
GFS 72 hours Link
hugging the coast
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5:56 PM EDT on May 26, 2008
i see clouds may be some rain with a little wind
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634. Bamatracker
9:50 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
yes atmo...dr. williams was my advisor the first time i was going. I went on hiatus for a couple of years to get my wife out of school. Now being the wonderful women she is, she is letting me go back and get my met degree i've wanted since I was a kid. I tell you those few years I was gone the program really changed. They really have some great research projects with tropical weather going on that i hope I can get involved in somehow.
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633. nash28
9:51 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Louisianaboy- That's fantastic young man! Work hard, study hard! As for being on the air, I can tell you through friendship with a local met here, most degreed mets do end up going through a stint on television or some media after college. I wish you the best of luck!
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632. nash28
9:48 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
To illustrate my point regarding how far technology has come over the years, I will mention one of my local mets. Chief Met Paul Dellegato from Fox News Tampa. Last year on a talk radio program he mentioned that over the last two years, people email him or catch him on the street and start going into great detail regarding the GFDL, how the upper level synoptics are playing out two weeks in advance of a storm shown by the models, etc... I was one of these folks. He was absolutely amazed in the knowledge of just regular folks without a formal Met background.
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631. atmoaggie
9:47 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Bamatracker, you going to USA? I know a couple of the profs, there. We are helping Dr. Kimball build a cluster to run HWRF, there. And we have worked with Dr. Blackwell in the past.

USA has an up and coming program. Who knows, if I were going back to school I might have gone there.

Good luck LA444! One thing I can tell you is do not get down about your degree choice when you are taking some of the first math and physics. In my case, they were the most difficult courses of my entire experience. After the first year it only get easier. Once I got into some of the upper-level Atmo courses, the interest level seemingly hides the difficulty.
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630. louisianaboy444
9:44 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Hey nash i have to say i respect what you have done....i have also been interested in weather since i was a young kid and now i am graduted and out of high school....i start college June 2nd at the University of Louisiana at Monore....i'm in persute of my Masters degree in atmosphereic sciences and hopefully i can become a met one day i'm not sure if i would wanna be on the airwaves or behind the scenes....my passion for tropical weather has grown over the years so i might become something having to do with that...wish me luck guys....i'm sure i will start hitting the books and learning what many of you already know
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629. atmoaggie
9:45 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Not everyone can afford a 4 or 6 year stint at an FSU, PSU, Rutgers, CSU, etc... Such is the same in any job that requires a scientific skill set. The best thing you can do for yourself is to self study like the dickens, hammer it home! Get as much applicational experience that you can without that lovely neat piece of paper called a degree.

Cannot be denied. There are some driven individuals that have, through experience and head-strong will, a great skill set in meteorology and are very knowledgeable. You can find some of them here.
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628. nash28
9:45 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
But, if all else fails and killing them with kindness doesn't work, tell them to go pound sand.

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627. nash28
9:43 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
And I am sure Lixion Avila takes it as a compliment as well while he is looking at the 18z GFS running:-)

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626. aspectre
9:31 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
SeaSurfaceTemperatures in most of the NorthAtlantic tropical cyclone MainDevelopmentRegion are pretty close to seasonal average.
However last I saw, SSTs in the far eastern portion of the MDR -- plus in the area east of CapeVerde while south of the MDR -- are 1&1/2 to 2 degrees above normal.

Anybody have any idea how that's going to affect the 2008 hurricane season? Any comparable seasons?
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625. nash28
9:40 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Then why do you hang around Michael?

Here is another tip gang...

Anyone who comes in here to stir the pot, or call people morons, usually is jealous of those folks. It's the truth. In past years, I would have turned this guy into soup verbally, but now, I take the comment as a compliment.

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623. Bamatracker
9:38 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Im looking foward to this season myself. I am finally getting back this year to working on my met degree this fall. I hope one day to land a job dealing with tropical weather. Jobs in met are few and far between in south alabama though.
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622. nash28
9:39 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Kingy- Unless I missed something, I don't recall seeing any disrespect to "senior forecasters."
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620. nash28
9:38 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
With the internet, there are endless sources to self study all of the aforementioned classes that Maggie discussed. If you have the drive, go and get it.
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619. kingy
9:35 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
As CCHS Weatherman says, lets wait until wednesday/Thursday before attempting any interpretation on the modelled organisation over central america. Everyone calm down and start showing some respect for the senior weather forecasters .
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618. Bamatracker
9:37 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Im in the good ole port city of Mobile.
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617. TerraNova
9:37 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
are the models out yet folks?

18z GFS just started running. Link
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616. catastropheadjuster
9:27 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
BamaTracker what part of Alabama u from?

Nash: Thank You, That's the way i look at it. I really love coming in here to read and learn, I don't talk that much. When the blog don't have alot of folks on here i may ask a few questions. And I hate it when someone comes in and tries to stir the pot and cause trouble when they don't even know what's been going on all day. That's why I love the + & - & Hide button. They work so good.
Your Salmon sounds really good. I've never ate salmon before. The only fish I have ever ate is Bass & Flounder.
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615. nash28
9:32 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
My point is this....

Not everyone can afford a 4 or 6 year stint at an FSU, PSU, Rutgers, CSU, etc... Such is the same in any job that requires a scientific skill set. The best thing you can do for yourself is to self study like the dickens, hammer it home! Get as much applicational experience that you can without that lovely neat piece of paper called a degree. Get your foot in the door where you want to be schlepping coffee if you have to. Work your ass off, and degree or no degree I guarantee you. Eventually, someone will notice your skill set. Hard work from the ground up is just as valuable, and sometimes more than being able to pass exams.
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613. tallahasseecyclone
9:25 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
I have been driving a truck all along the gulf coast this year and have been absolutely stunned by what I percieve to be the stupidity of the developers along the coast from Pass Christian, MS to Gulf Shores, AL? Don't you people learn from your mistakes? These people are costing us Billions of $$ in insurance claims because they insist on building high rise condos right on the FREAKING SAND THAT JUST GOT WASHED AWAY. Why can't they build like 200 feet from the beach?

"The wise man builds his house on the rock"
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612. nash28
9:24 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Ok, I'm not tooting my horn here, but I wanted to add to the "met" comments...

I myself do not have a Met degree. I have been actively involved in studying weather, atmospheric conditions, etc... since I was a kid. Over the last four years, I have come to have a passion for the tropics. I was fortunate enough to become friends with StormW, who bequeathed to me a couple of very good books to study from. I have gained alot of knowledge by both self study and also by folks here like StormW, Weatherguy03, etc....
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611. atmoaggie
9:26 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Next, I have a theory about the folks that come in here and talk about how worthless these blogs are, and how you should ask a "real met" or watch your news. I think some of these folks may be the "real mets" or better stated broadcast mets, and they are quickly coming to the realization that we do not need to sit through hours of Head On commercials, or wait until the last 5 minutes of a local news cast to be able to figure out what our weather will be like. There is so much accurate weather data on the web, not to mention all of the information the NWS puts out, that almost anyone can understand much more about their weather by spending 15 minutes on the web as opposed to 10 minutes watching commercials and 5 minutes of hearing a weather forecast. Real mets are on the research side imho!

Hey, SJ, everyone.

Broadcast mets: Sometimes they have a glorified journalism degree and nothing more. Sure they have some tools and spend a lot of time on it, but to assume that they really know what they are talking about may be in error. Not in all cases, of course, but some.

TV weather broadcasts are far too short and simple to satisfy the desires of anyone with a real interest.

Another point: Some of you guys in here are more thorough in the realm of tropical meteorology, especially TCs, than my professor of Tropical Meteorology was for a senior level course on the subject. There have been items covered here that were basically glossed over. TUTT comes to mind.

Your point: Real mets are in research. Yes, mostly. I do know some that kept 4.0s, and close, that went on to broadcast jobs. Waste of talent if you ask me, but it is what they wanted. To get As in 3 physics courses, 6 math courses above calculus, dynamics, mesoscale/severe, numerical modeling, atmo chem, and the like seems excessive for a broadcast job. Considering some of the specialty courses, computer programming, numerical modeling, chemistry, and physics most of us can make more money and have a more forgiving schedule in research. I personally would not want the job to get to work at 4am Christmas morning to give a 6am forecast declaring that it is going to be cool and sunny. That sounds extremely dull to me.
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610. presslord
5:25 PM EDT on May 26, 2008
AMS specifically mentions media "mets" who aren't educated/experienced to their qualifications...they are called "weathercasters"
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609. StormJunkie
9:22 PM GMT on May 26, 2008
Good points Slvr. I could not agree more.
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