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Parkersburg tornado an EF-5; major flooding in Central America likely from 90E

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:46 PM GMT on May 28, 2008

The tornado that devastated Parkersburg, Iowa on Sunday has now been rated an EF-5 by the National Weather Service. An EF-5 is the strongest possible classification a tornado can receive, and is only given to those tornadoes with estimated winds over 200 mph. The winds in the Parkersburg tornado were estimated at 205 mph. At those wind speeds, total destruction of homes occurs. Even those sheltering in basements are not safe--several of the six deaths from the Parkersburg tornado were from people sheltering in basements.

The Parkersburg tornado cut a path 43 miles long and between 3/4 miles and 1.2 miles wide across Iowa, killing six people, completely destroying 350 buildings in Parkersburg, and injuring 70 people. It was only the second EF-5 tornado this decade in the U.S. The other EF-5 occurred in May 2007, when much of Greensburg, Kansas got leveled. The Parkersburg tornado was the first F5 or EF5 tornado in Iowa since the Jordan, Iowa tornado of June 13, 1976, and was the second deadliest in Iowa since official record-keeping began in 1950. Iowa's deadliest tornado hit Charles City on May 15, 1968, killing 13 while producing F5 damage.

Figure 1. EF-5 damage from the May 25, 2008 Parkersburg tornado. At EF-5 winds speeds (over 200mph), homes are completely destroyed or removed from their foundations. Image credit: Iowa Helicopter. The NWS Des Moines office has posted ground damage photos from their damage survey.

Major flooding likely in Central America from 90E
An area of low pressure (90E) in the Eastern Pacific off the coast of Costa Rica, near 10N 88W, is steadily organizing and appears likely to develop into a tropical depression later today or tomorrow. The National Hurricane Center is currently assigning a "High" probability (>50% chance) that this will be a tropical depression, in its new experimental Tropical Weather Outlook. Satellite loops show that the low has developed a very large and expanding circulation. This circulation is likely to expand across Central America into the Western Caribbean, allowing the storm to tap moisture from the Atlantic and Pacific. Storms that are able to tap the moisture sources of both oceans can be extremely dangerous rainmakers, even if they are weak tropical depressions. Already, 90E is generating very heavy rains in excess of six inches per day near its center. The storm is expected to move northeastward over Costa Rica or Nicaragua by Thursday or Friday, and should being dangerous flooding rains of 5-10 inches to those nations and Panama. Most of the computer model guidance suggests that the storm will then track to the north, spreading very heavy rains across Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize, and southern Mexico by Saturday. These heavy rains will cause life-threatening flash flooding, particularly in mountainous regions.

Since 90E is beginning to dominate the circulation pattern of the region, it appears unlikely that a tropical depression will form in the Western Caribbean in the coming week, as some computer models have been predicting. It is possible that 90E could cross Central America and pop out in the Western Caribbean near the Yucatan Peninsula, or in the Gulf of Mexico's Bay of Campeche. However, the crossing of Central America will severely disrupt the storm, and the odds of 90E becoming a depression in the Atlantic basin are low.

Figure 2. Observed precipitation for the 24 hours ending at 12Z (8am EDT) Wednesday May 28, 2008. Rainfall amounts in excess of 2000mm (eight inches, yellow colors) occurred near the center of disturbance 90E off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Image credit: U.S. Navy Monterey.

I'll have an update Thursday morning.

Jeff Masters

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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140. JRRP
6:10 PM GMT on Mayo 28, 2008
the convection in SW carribean has winds more than 40knots
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138. cchsweatherman
2:06 PM EDT on May 28, 2008
Now the NOGAPS just has the system sitting over the Yucatan Channel in the southern GOM for a few days. Quite possibly a blocking pattern?
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137. stormkat
6:08 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
well we will see nash...what about the sst in the gulf they are marginal...its to early...stormkat
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6:02 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
90E looks to be struggling with dry air entrainment as the easterly and northeasterly winds descend off the mountains of Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

That together with the broad circulation means slow (if any) development in spite of impressive upper level divergence, very favorable wind shear and warm SSTs.

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135. moonlightcowboy
1:03 PM CDT on May 28, 2008
RAMSDIS Visible Loop

Good look here and you can see a second swirl off the coast of Nicaragua, but some of the energy is still being sucked in by 90E. Ivan's observations are spot-on there at the coast lines. Will it survive? Not likely, imo, especially with higher shear to its north.
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134. tornadofan
6:06 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
Newflash from CNN...

2008 could set records for tornado deaths

I've heard all this before, I think on STL's blog...
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133. nash28
2:04 PM EDT on May 28, 2008
Shear values change on a dime SK. It's a little silly to say that shear will remain high for a solid week.
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132. stormkat
6:01 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
yes gs if you keep watching the caribbean im sure we will have a storm in there sooner or later...one thing i can tell you at least for the next week no development will take place because of the strong shear....stormkat
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131. TheCaneWhisperer
6:00 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
The 2 lows show up well here.
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128. stormpetrol
5:55 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
Good Afternoon. WOW the SW Caribbean area of disturbed weather is growing and expanding. 90E don't look half as impressive as it did early this morning. In my opinion I think the Caribbean system has a better chance for now.
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127. TheCaneWhisperer
5:58 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
Post 1279 well remembered GS.
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126. kmanislander
5:58 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
From the 2:05 TWD

A weak 1007 mb surface low pressure coupled with
the presence of the tropical wave along 80w are producing a
broad area of dense cloudiness with scattered showers and
embedded thunderstorms S of 17n W of 72w over the SW Caribbean
Sea...N Colombia and Central America.
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124. cchsweatherman
1:53 PM EDT on May 28, 2008
GulfScotsman - I love the image you use to set the scene. I think you have said it better than anyone here.
Perhaps there is more than meets the eye - perhaps not.

Keep the wisdom coming.
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123. nash28
1:48 PM EDT on May 28, 2008
GFDL develops the CB system, albeit for a short time before hanging a left and going over land.
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122. NEwxguy
5:52 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
We're talking about the tropics and they just issued a frost advisory for parts of the Northeast
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119. TheCaneWhisperer
5:48 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
Post 75. I agree 100%, good ob CCH
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118. 0741
5:48 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
gfs have very weak system nogap got stronger system
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116. homegirl
5:51 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
I have a very hard time believing the 12Z GFDL...can't imagine a system holding together over land that long?
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115. cchsweatherman
1:52 PM EDT on May 28, 2008
You mean the GFDL, right FlWeatherFreak?
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114. Ivansrvivr
5:42 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
Look at the shape of the coastline in the W.Caribbean. There are 2 areas where the coastline actually supports cyclonic turning. Winds flow onshore during daytime. The coastline of Belize faces east, while Honduras to the south faces north at almost a 90 degree angle. During the day there is a easterly seabreeze near Belize turning to a northerly seabreeze over honduras. that is half a closed low right there. Similar effect occurs over Panama but not as pronounced. If a low is trying to spin in the W.Caribbean, topography actually helps until the Bermuda high and associated trade winds overpower the local seabreezes later in the summer. That plays a huge role in early and late season tropical development in the W.Caribbean as the tradewinds die out. That gives anything trying to form there a chance if the E-Pac system gets out of the way.
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113. stormkat
5:42 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
i really dont care what goes on in the pacific...its our areas i personally am concerned about..for at least the next week nogaps ukemet they are out to lunch on this thing developing ...like last year the best tool for forecasting is your own eyes what you see in water vapor loops and the conditions that are guiding the storm...computers are a complete waste of money..the shear will be to strong even if it makes it to the gulf it will be torn apart plus the sst are not there yet...stormkat
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111. FLWeatherFreak91
5:50 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
The GFS for the first time has developed the system in the caribbean. It has a little tiny circulation form south of cuba and go quickly due west to meet up with 90E... But nothing at all was seen like this on the previous run. Let's see what the next will do
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110. Boatofacar
5:47 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
Ok..maybe venom was a strong word. I want people like you around when/or if things get active. I just see a pattern of certain people harping on every post you make. I dont know..maybe ive gone mad! (Boat goes back lurking)
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109. cchsweatherman
1:48 PM EDT on May 28, 2008
The 12UTC GFDL model develops the Caribbean low into a tropical storm on a similar path to the NOGAPS, but suddenly turns it due west into the tip of the Yucatan peninsula. These troughs and the approaching tropical wave are the X-factors in this equation.
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108. NEwxguy
5:48 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
No matter how it evolves,its going to take its sweet time,so I think we have plenty of time to watch how the steering track sets up
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107. 0741
5:35 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
this wait and see game it might start rainy season here in florida
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106. cchsweatherman
1:48 PM EDT on May 28, 2008
Tornadofan - Seep post 90 for an enlarged image.
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105. nrtiwlnvragn
1:47 PM EDT on May 28, 2008
12Z GFDL is out.
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104. kmanislander
5:43 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
Looking at this image one can almost imagine the mythical struggle between the evil twins, neither being able so far to assert themselves decisively over the other.

With 90E so close to land one wonders whether it will actually achieve TD status before going ashore. Interaction with land is almost certainly interfering with the N and E quadrants of the circulation. Meanwhile, the low in the Caribbean continues to show deep convection with the cirrus canopy expanding now into the NW Caribbean, just hanging around and waiting.

Quite a match going on there LOL

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103. tornadofan
5:45 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
Post 97 - that map is too small. Can you enlarge it please?
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101. cchsweatherman
1:35 PM EDT on May 28, 2008
In my opinion, I find the NOGAPS solution to be the most reasonable one due to the following facts.
1) Invest 90E will make landfall within the next 24 to 36 hours, thus collapsing the system and no longer an inhibiting factor for the Caribbean low.
2) There has been a remarkable moisture surge over the past 24 hours in the Caribbean that looks to continue northward as a stationary boundary (from the cold front that moved through South Florida Sunday) is moving back north.
3) The upper-level high that has developed over Invest 90E continues to expand northeastward and has now started to fight back the high wind shear in the Northwest Caribbean. Given 48 to 72 hours, this high wind shear will likely be gone as forecasted by Wunderground and some computer models.
4) There will be a tropical wave meeting this Caribbean low within the next 48 to 72 hours that will add extra vorticity and energy to the system which could act like a sparkplug.
5) Troughs have continued to dig into the Southeast United States creating weaknesses in the Atlantic ridge. This pattern does not look to stop anytime soon, so I expect more troughs to continue moving through. It seems quite reasonable that one can expect a trough at the time a potential system would reach the Northwest Caribbean due to the frequency of the troughs.
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95. weatherboyfsu
5:38 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
Good afternoon,

Hope everyone is getting prepared for hurricane season. Good luck!
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94. FLWeatherFreak91
5:37 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
92. groundswell 5:37 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
cchs-makes sense, but shear is a large negative not mentioned-the charts show up to 50 knots, unless the shear zone lifts also.

The GFS and NOGAPS are still predicting the UL anticylcone to move east and meet with the Caribbean system, thus removing the shear threat.
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93. Boatofacar
5:35 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
Why all this specific venom towards JP? Have I missed something? Ive been here for years, and he seems to be one of the few on here that makes sense most of the time. Do these negative bloggers have an axe to grind?
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92. groundswell
5:34 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
cchs-makes sense, but shear is a large negative not mentioned-the charts show up to 50 knots, unless the shear zone lifts also.
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91. FLWeatherFreak91
5:31 PM GMT on May 28, 2008
Ok... looking at the visible sat loops, I think this is what will come to pass;

1) It looks like there are in fact 2 lows. The invest in the pac and the area off the NE coast of Honduras.

2) There is a tropical wave currently draped across the Caribbean from the DR to Colombia.

3) I think, like the nogaps was showing a few runs ago, that this wave will meet up with the low curently in the Caribbean to finally create our system.

4) It is also doubtful to me that the e-pac system will hinder caribbean devlopment because the Caribbean's moisture is currently being fed from a tropical wave inland over S America, NOT from the Pacific.

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90. cchsweatherman
1:34 PM EDT on May 28, 2008
Just in case you did not see it, here is what the 12UTC NOGAPS has in 108 hours.
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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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