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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.

Reader Comments

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1259. KrazyKaneLove
1:11 PM GMT on May 27, 2008
ty tampa, forgot about the weakness factor with steering..
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1258. TampaSpin
9:08 AM EDT on May 27, 2008
Hi Nash,
On Friday the CMC model was suggesting for development to occur in the Pacifi and then cross over into the Atlantic side as a possiblity. How funny.
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1257. TampaSpin
8:52 AM EDT on May 27, 2008
1225. KrazyKaneLove 8:35 AM EDT on May 27, 2008
can anyone explain to me what factors these models are suggesting will move this ghost system north? To my untrained eye, that seems unlikely as of now, but is something supposed to change?

Steering flows at different levels determine where systems move. Weaker storms are funky. Here is link of Steering Layer Wind Steering Layer Winds
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1256. Patrap
8:06 AM CDT on May 27, 2008
Then your way ahead of Most and the Threats if they come.
Outstanding smmc
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1255. smmcdavid
8:03 AM CDT on May 27, 2008
Good morning...

Pat, you will be happy to know I am well prepared (just in case)! Our supply kit is stocked and our evac plan has been worked out.

Anything new this morning?
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1254. KrazyKaneLove
1:00 PM GMT on May 27, 2008
ha ha, press..my mom was visiting during Wilma, talk about stress...the visitors are all excited until the aftermath occurs..mom was ready to get her hair done the next day,lol. Had to break it to her that there wasn't a salon open for about 100 miles North of me, and I didn't have the gas to get her there!
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1253. hurricane23
9:01 AM EDT on May 27, 2008
You can see here on this infrared loop this is a broad circulation but its trying very slowly to get its act together.Nothing imminent though.

Infrared Loop
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1252. Patrap
7:59 AM CDT on May 27, 2008
Well most arent as educated as they may think.

Common Sense can go a Long way
A smart Man protects his equity with a Plan.Not wishing .
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1250. presslord
8:53 AM EDT on May 27, 2008
I have a new neighbor who just moved here from western NC...we were talking yesterday about the season...he said his plan is to come over to my house, as I have a preparedness plan/supplies/genny, etc.......hated to break it to him, but it ain't gonna quite workout like that for him....
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1247. IKE
7:55 AM CDT on May 27, 2008
It is a broad circulation.
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1246. hurricane23
8:53 AM EDT on May 27, 2008
Indeed there is some turning but as the NHC points out its a very broad circulation which could slowly consolidate and drift E/NE slowly

Here are a few links you can use to view this area.


RAMSDIS 4-km Floater Loop

Accuweather Enhanced Infrared Central America Loop

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1245. Patrap
7:54 AM CDT on May 27, 2008
High Wind risk areas Page,NOAA Link
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1244. IKE
7:53 AM CDT on May 27, 2008
Amen Patrap.......
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1242. Patrap
7:52 AM CDT on May 27, 2008
Disappointment in Tropical Formation is always welcome,,..
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1241. IKE
7:52 AM CDT on May 27, 2008
I know...they jump the gun..."when will it hit FL.", etc....they get pissed when it doesn't form...I know what you're saying.....
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1240. Patrap
7:50 AM CDT on May 27, 2008
If some spent just 1 % of their time here preparing,..They'd be a lot more Prepared when a Event does comes.
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1238. IKE
7:47 AM CDT on May 27, 2008
It's gonna do what it's gonna do...they better get over it......fun to watch though........
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1236. KrazyKaneLove
12:43 PM GMT on May 27, 2008
yeah, as someone noted earlier, and I looked at, the water vapor and winds are all pushing south..the models must be relying on something to change that in the coming days..
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1235. Patrap
7:44 AM CDT on May 27, 2008
GOM 60 Hour Wave Forecast (by Wave Watch III) ModelLink
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1234. Patrap
7:41 AM CDT on May 27, 2008
GOM 120 Hour Water Surface Temperature Forecast (by HYCOM) Model Link
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1233. IKE
7:40 AM CDT on May 27, 2008
I'm not sold on it going north much for a few days....
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1232. cchsweatherman
8:36 AM EDT on May 27, 2008
Good Tuesday morning everyone. Just looked at satellite imagery for our feature and must say that the computer models may have been right. It seems like we are starting to see somehwat better organization around two defined LLCs as well as a rapid northward movement of tropical moisture in the Caribbean. Still nothing to classify as an invest in my opinion, but it seems that the mess may be starting to organize. But, I will not consider the computer models until we have a defined system.
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1230. IKE
7:40 AM CDT on May 27, 2008
Probably right Nash..........
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1229. nash28
8:38 AM EDT on May 27, 2008
We could have 90E, which crosses over then turns into 90L.
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1228. nash28
8:37 AM EDT on May 27, 2008
If that continues, an invest will be forthcoming.
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1227. IKE
7:37 AM CDT on May 27, 2008
I don't think it's a ghost system anymore...it's there...

You can see a turn in the clouds.
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1226. keywestdingding
12:34 PM GMT on May 27, 2008
is there anyone on here we can email and ask them to fix their sst map.
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1225. KrazyKaneLove
12:32 PM GMT on May 27, 2008
can anyone explain to me what factors these models are suggesting will move this ghost system north? To my untrained eye, that seems unlikely as of now, but is something supposed to change?
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1224. hurricane23
8:19 AM EDT on May 27, 2008
Look here we have jumped up to orange on the scale which indicates about a 20-50 percent chance at development.

1005 UTC TUE MAY 27 2008


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1223. nash28
8:20 AM EDT on May 27, 2008
Morning all. I see we still have the 50-50 split in the models as to which basin the supposed low will develop in.
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1221. KrazyKaneLove
12:21 PM GMT on May 27, 2008
my family lives in the Kansas City suburbs and already had a close call this year..hopefully things tame down soon
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1220. Patrap
7:22 AM CDT on May 27, 2008
Max Mayfield on Major Hurricanes Link

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1219. KrazyKaneLove
12:17 PM GMT on May 27, 2008
are tornadoes supposed to pop up today as well?
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1218. Patrap
7:12 AM CDT on May 27, 2008

Steve Pope / Getty Images
The tornado that ripped through Parkersburg, Iowa, destroyed at least a third of the town of 2,000, killing four. The tornado may have traveled on the ground for as long as an hour, according to the National Weather Service.

Parkersburg, population 2,000, had seen its economic fortunes improving. The storm kills four people and destroys at least a third of the town.

By Jay Christensen and P.J. Huffstutter, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
May 27, 2008
PARKERSBURG, IOWA -- In a place where a man's fortune often depends on which way the wind blows, Parkersburg was enjoying a time of bounty. Farmers across the region, flush from a nation hungry for corn-based ethanol, had splurged on new tractors and sporty trucks for the first time in years.

Along the main thoroughfare, business was brisk. Civic leaders routinely boasted about how -- in a state without a professional football team -- this hamlet of fewer than 2,000 people had turned out four NFL players over the last two decades.

Such good times in a state that has seen its economy roller coaster and its population dwindle in recent decades made Sunday's deadly storms all the more painful.

The tornado that ripped through this blue-collar agricultural town -- destroying at least a third of Parkersburg and killing four people -- was nearly a mile wide in spots and cut a path almost 50 miles long. National Weather Service officials said early estimates indicated the tornado might have traveled on the ground for as long as an hour.

Two more people were killed in nearby New Hartford, about nine miles to the east. And at least 65 people were injured when the tornado barreled across freshly planted fields in this eastern portion of the state, about 80 miles northeast of Des Moines.

"You really are overwhelmed when you see it," said Iowa Gov. Chet Culver at a news conference Monday. "You can't imagine this kind of devastation, homes completely gone."

The search for the injured and the dead stretched into the early morning hours Monday as emergency vehicles raced across debris-littered roads. At least two of those killed in Parkersburg had been huddled inside their basements, city officials said.

"We get tornadoes here, but it has been years and years since we've seen anything close to being this bad," said Rod Donavon, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Des Moines. "The sirens went off. People sought shelter. And they still died."

The storm system was believed to have been at least a 3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which estimates the strength of tornadoes from 0 to 5. A level 3 means the winds were between 136 mph and 165 mph.

After the tornado hit about 5 p.m. Sunday, Jason Johnson and his wife, Barb, crawled out of the basement and gazed upon miles of overturned trucks and houses blown off their foundations.

Their house was destroyed.

Johnson's parents had recently sold their home in nearby Waverly, and were expecting to move next week -- to a place just down the block from their son.

That house also was demolished.

"None of us has a place to go after Friday," said Jason Johnson, 39. "I'd like to find my wife's wedding ring. That would make my day. I found mine this morning in the backyard."

On Monday, Mayor Robert Haylock had to duck under downed power lines as he focused on Parkersburg's other immediate problems: clean water, steady phone service and housing hundreds of residents in a town that had lost 21 businesses and more than 200 homes.

Some of those homes were on the town's south side, part of a new subdivision near a nine-hole golf course tucked in the middle of farm country. They're all gone. Debris was scattered across fields, and chunks of rebar and siding had pierced the trunks of wind-stripped trees.

Haylock, who has served on the City Council since 1973, was out of town when the storm hit. He arrived about 10 minutes after it passed.

Parkersburg's lone grocery store was in ruins, as was the only gas station. The same was true of City Hall, along with government records and historical documents that date to the 1800s.

Just last month, Parkersburg had passed a multimillion-dollar bond measure so the school district could build a fine arts auditorium for concerts and community plays.

It was another sign, Haylock said, of how Parkersburg "was growing and the economy was good."

Aplington-Parkersburg High School now has no roof, no windows and few standing brick walls. The gymnasium, where at least 1,000 people gathered for graduation last week, was a mangled pile of crumbled brick, shredded roofing tiles and sodden paper.

On the football field, a goal post was twisted and broken, as were the aluminum bleachers. Much of the high school's memorabilia honoring the Falcons' proud football past was either missing or buried beneath piles of debris that, in some places, were nearly two stories high.

Dozens of parents and teachers spent Monday digging through the rubble for reminders of local heroes such as the Denver Broncos' Casey Wiegmann and the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Kampman -- who have returned home over the summers to work out in the weight room and inspire young players with stories of life in the NFL.

Their high school football coach, Ed Thomas, was busy Monday answering frantic calls from out-of-town family and former students -- and trying to dig a few mementos from the wreckage of his home.

Nearly everyone he knows was affected by the storm. Wiegmann's father still lives in town. A tree hit his house, Thomas said.

Kampman raced from Kansas City, Mo., to get back Monday. His grandfather was one of the people injured in the storm, Thomas said.

"We'll put this town back together," said Thomas, who has lived in Parkersburg for 33 years. "We're going to rebuild and stay here, coaching and teaching. God give me help."
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1217. Ivansrvivr
12:11 PM GMT on May 27, 2008
1215. That area will have a very hard time moving northward for a week or so unless the airmasss over Florida changes very quickly.
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1216. Ivansrvivr
12:06 PM GMT on May 27, 2008
Ioke was so large, it had a "ripple" effect on weather systems for months after that.
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1215. HurrikanEB
8:09 AM EDT on May 27, 2008
what do you think on that area of convection East of Coasta Rica?
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1213. Patrap
7:04 AM CDT on May 27, 2008
I remember when the Models bounced Ioke off the IDL and folks were freaking out,It's coming Back,Itsa,Itsa..LOL
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1212. Patrap
7:03 AM CDT on May 27, 2008
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1211. Ivansrvivr
11:54 AM GMT on May 27, 2008
456, it is funny that you were ridiculed for watching Ioke which ultimately affected the Atlantic season in 06. While I don't follow the other development areas as closely, there is nothing to lose by doing so. Ioke was such a huge storm, it affected world weather patterns long after it was gone.
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1210. mcampb2811
11:56 AM GMT on May 27, 2008
Well I can guarantee that if it forms it will hit Orlando at 12 noon on Saturday, because we are having my son's outdoor Birthday Party then - LOL!
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1209. Patrap
6:48 AM CDT on May 27, 2008
Annular is a Eyewall condition,not a Type of Hurricane. Link
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Cat 6 lead authors: WU cofounder Dr. Jeff Masters (right), who flew w/NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990, & WU meteorologist Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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