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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.

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990. moonlightcowboy
11:57 PM CDT on May 28, 2008
Have a good time, WWB!
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
989. weathermanwannabe
12:48 AM EDT on May 29, 2008
986. moonlightcowboy 12:46 AM EDT on May 29, 2008

Well, I had a bit of insomnia tonight, so, I'm going to try and "nail" some sleep right now....My buddy is flying into Tally tomorrow, my wife gave me a kitchen pass for the weekend, and I'll be heading over to the Destin, Florida beaches on Friday morning...May not make it back on the Blog until Monday, but, I'll be in the water on June 1st and will keep an eye out for any storms in the Gulf!........Everyone have a great evening/weekend.......WW
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988. forecastFlyer
11:47 PM CDT on May 28, 2008
Doc Ben
So you would kind ok need a basement in a basement them.
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987. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
4:45 AM GMT on May 29, 2008
I remember those photos posted on this site before. Still amazing that the road was stripped of its pavement.
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986. moonlightcowboy
11:45 PM CDT on May 28, 2008
I'd say you nailed it, WWB!
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985. weathermanwannabe
12:39 AM EDT on May 29, 2008
981. moonlightcowboy 12:37 AM EDT on May 29, 2008

Could be from anywhere really given what appears to be extrememly favorable conditions "across the board right now"....I also hear you on the twave scenario...While climatology disfavors that prospect in June/July, the ITCZ has been firing like crazy this pre-season also and is lifiing North.......Very ripe conditions and it seems to me that it is going to boil down to shear values in terms of development this year (and the position of the Bermuda High in terms of threat potentials)...If the shear remains relatively low throughout the season, we could see "lots" of storms this year....
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984. moonlightcowboy
11:43 PM CDT on May 28, 2008
Dayum, Catfur! Peeled the asphalt off the road? Ugh! That's unreal!
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
983. DocBen
4:38 AM GMT on May 29, 2008
forcastflyer - in a bad enouth tornado the debris of the house can get dumped on you in the basement. However, the basement is still one of the best places. In my case (Wichita Kansas) it would be the basement UNDER the pool table.
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982. smmcdavid
11:37 PM CDT on May 28, 2008
Hey cat, I remember that storm. I lived in Austin at the time. Pretty scary stuff.
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981. moonlightcowboy
11:35 PM CDT on May 28, 2008
WWB, I think we'll get several ops with conditions improving. I've been hedging on a twave because of their early sorties, frequency and organization. I'm guessing somewhere in the neighborhood, maybe slightly east, of where Dennis spun up in '05.
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980. TheCaneWhisperer
4:33 AM GMT on May 29, 2008
979. forecastFlyer
11:33 PM CDT on May 28, 2008
Probably a dumb question..but we don't have basements in Texas...Why aren't they safe from stronger tornadoes. I was reading that 6 died in basements.
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978. catfuraplenty
4:36 AM GMT on May 29, 2008
(((MLC, Beach))) :) does the new 61 page book say "in case of emergency, use the index as kindling for signal fires?" LOL

Response to SLT: I saw Jarrell shortly after the storm and the image still haunts me. It was some of the worst damage I ever witnessed and was part of the basis of damage assessment that can done by a strong F-5.

Pictures and reports can be found at:

What a strong f-5 can do:
Looking SE of town a field that was stripped bare by the tornado. The few plants that remained were bent over to the ground and were accompanied by a downwind tear drop shaped buildup of soil.

One and one-half miles southeast, on the northwestern edge of Jarrell, the tornado peeled the pavement from the highway. Pavement was removed from this north-south road for another mile. Numerous homes had been located in the open field on the east (to the right of the pickup) side of the road prior to the tornado. The Jarrell tornado removed more asphalt pavement than the Dimmit, Texas tornado of June 1995.

not the very best of photos but, a view across the neighborhood that was destroyed by the tornado. Anchor bolts were visible along the periphery of the slab foundations, indicating that the homes that had been here were well constructed. Even the bath tubs and other plumbing fixtures were completely torn from the foundation and swept away by the tornado.

Shortly before 3:45 pm CDT on 27 May 97, a violent tornado struck portions of Jarrell, TX, killing 27 directly, and doing damage officially rated F5 on the Fujita Scale -- the most extreme level of tornado damage. This tornado blew some houses completely off the foundations and swept away the disentegrated remains. It also scoured asphalt from roads, killed and dismembered hundreds of cattle, stripped bark from trees and uprooted them, and bounced vehicles for up to half a mile from their parking places.
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977. weathermanwannabe
12:29 AM EDT on May 29, 2008
974. moonlightcowboy 12:27 AM EDT on May 29, 2008

The tropics are waking up BIG TIME this early in the season; I don't remember seeing this much moisture down there at this time of the year in some time.........My question (for purely fun speculation sake) is where will our first TD of the Atlantic seaosn spin up this year?.....Down in the Caribbean, or, from a frontal remnant in the Gulf or SE US Coast?....With all the recent systems/fronts crossing the mid-section of the US, and pushing east, I think our first TD may well spin up near the Carolinas this year (and catch us by surprise as we all look South)...Just my thoughts......
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976. smmcdavid
11:29 PM CDT on May 28, 2008
Wimps... thanks for the update. Last time I checked (this afternoon) we still had invest 90E.
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975. weathermanwannabe
12:27 AM EDT on May 29, 2008
973. smmcdavid 12:26 AM EDT on May 29, 2008

Not much; just that a) the system by central america is looking pretty good right now, b) but will probably not survive as an intact depression into the atlantic, c) most of the regulars have gone to sleep......
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974. moonlightcowboy
11:25 PM CDT on May 28, 2008
Makes sense, WWB!

And, now, there's no dry air in the Caribbean, little dry air in the cATL and it's diminishing in the GOM - yes, I'd say the tropics are "waking up!"
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973. smmcdavid
11:25 PM CDT on May 28, 2008
Holy cow... what did I miss? All I did was go out for dinner.
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972. weathermanwannabe
12:16 AM EDT on May 29, 2008
971. TheCaneWhisperer 12:16 AM EDT on May 29, 2008
01E looks to be on a NW path @ 10 to 15kts.

Yeah; and if it continues in that general location, and does not stay over water, the flood threat will be great for parts of Central America; I agree with all of Dr. M's comments with regard to the disruption of the system (and little chance of an intact emergence on the Altlantic side) as I was down in Honduras in the mid-90's(and traveled by auto over to the Nicaraguan border) and there are some very formidable mountains in the current path of this depression.....The interaction with land should kill it over the next 24-36 hours...
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971. TheCaneWhisperer
4:13 AM GMT on May 29, 2008
01E looks to be on a NW path @ 10 to 15kts.
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970. moonlightcowboy
11:14 PM CDT on May 28, 2008
BFox, oh and yes; but, yours is so grand, too!
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969. Beachfoxx
11:14 PM CDT on May 28, 2008

I will have to read Company Policy about sharing our Hurricane Prep Handbook!


Seriously. : )
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968. moonlightcowboy
11:12 PM CDT on May 28, 2008
Cool, BFox! You should send me a copy, or let me buy one!

Such an ugly IR shot! But, you can still see banding and proximity to land.
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967. Beachfoxx
11:10 PM CDT on May 28, 2008

Nice Avatar!

BTW, this is all in perfect timing w/ my company... we got our New Hurricane Prep Guidelines Handbook today, 61 pages! It morphed from a few sheets to a whole Handbook!
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966. msphar
4:09 AM GMT on May 29, 2008
funny thing, I was on the E. tip of Puerto Rico waiting for Chris but he never showed up.
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965. moonlightcowboy
11:06 PM CDT on May 28, 2008
962. Ivan! Always obsessing! ;)
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963. moonlightcowboy
11:05 PM CDT on May 28, 2008
Have a good sleep, TAZ! More tropical mysteries tomorrow!
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962. msphar
3:33 AM GMT on May 29, 2008
finally after how many model days, a little spin up in the pacific, alright, who's obsessing tonight...
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961. TheCaneWhisperer
3:51 AM GMT on May 29, 2008
The lows are separating folks. Shear is relaxing ahead of the system. I know I have been wrong, Dr. Masters has been wrong, YOU have been wrong, the NHC has been wrong, the models have been wrong, who knows, maybe I am wrong again. That low in the SW Caribb is Kicking Hard. We'll see how 01E is moving north in the morning, I'll gladly accept the crow if I am wrong.
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960. weathermanwannabe
12:01 AM EDT on May 29, 2008
Evening Folks...That is one big blob of moist air all the way from Central America to Cuba......Plenty of moisture to support tropical development down there in the coming weeks from the current looks of things....
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959. Tazmanian
9:02 PM PDT on May 28, 2008
but it dos have a nic small round eye and its a vary small storm too so that may be helping it to get stronger a little fatseer night all
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958. Ivansrvivr
4:02 AM GMT on May 29, 2008
post 951 would be 2951.
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956. moonlightcowboy
10:58 PM CDT on May 28, 2008
952. LOL, Taz! I was waiting on that one! ;P

- ((CATFUR)), good to see you around. Nice post at 953, too.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
955. catfuraplenty
3:57 AM GMT on May 29, 2008
Without a doubt, a picture of that in the Gulf would send the blogs into overtime and I'd be planning my escape route out of town. In short, "panic."
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953. catfuraplenty
3:28 AM GMT on May 29, 2008
Let the blob watch begin in earnest. lol

About the tornado damage reports I was always told to look for this:
f-1 = a few leaves thrown about, possibly a few limbs from trees down and trash cans blown across the street
f-2 = shingles missing from roofs (occasionally a metal roof will be peeled back at the corner), tree limbs down and a few smaller trees blown over, fences and high structures like bill boards can be down or damaged, in stronger f2's windows in houses can be broken
f-3 = moderate housing damage, roofs torn up or removed, windows blown out, projectiles like rocks and loose boards do the most damage, tall trucks over turned, sometimes train cars can be turned on their sides. Trees down. Power lines down. bill boards and metal awnings over gas stations are often blown over or sent flying.
f-4 = large scale housing damage, including having a home shifted off its foundation. Multiple failure of power and utility infrastructures. Casualties highly possible in cases where tornadoes struck places unprepared for the storm. Large scale destruction of trees. cars and trucks picked up and sent tumbling. Any type of projectile can become deadly, even a hay straw. Those in basements will usually be safe as long as the home stays somewhat intact, but wall collapses can trap people until help arrives.
f-5 = finger of the almighty. Fatalities expected. Houses stripped to their foundations, appearing as if a bomb had been detonated inside the structure. Strong f5's don't even leave a foundation, just pipes sticking up through the ground where concrete used to be. The ground can appear scoured. No trees, no grass, not even large rocks can remain. Very little above ground will go untouched. Basements are unsafe. Basically, nothing is safe except a well built, well maintained deep underground tornado shelter would be of protection.

Those were the rules of thumb I was taught to look for in damage assessment. Granted those references were for the old F scale but it seems the EF's are not too far removed.
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952. Tazmanian
8:55 PM PDT on May 28, 2008
and look it has a pine hole eye
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950. StormHype
3:46 AM GMT on May 29, 2008
meanwhile, Bertha now forming 25 miles off Ft. Myers moving WNW
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949. Ivansrvivr
3:39 AM GMT on May 29, 2008
CW, do you mean the eastward motion to the clouds moving off Nicaragua into the Caribbean?
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948. moonlightcowboy
10:40 PM CDT on May 28, 2008
Yep, JP! And those mtns and hillsides = mudslides! UGH!
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946. pottery
11:36 PM AST on May 28, 2008
OK Ivans.
You are probably correct there. I'll need to do some homework on Tropical Forests too.
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945. Ivansrvivr
3:36 AM GMT on May 29, 2008
Beachfoxx, activity where this one is is very normal for this time of year. That is why E-pac season starts in mid may.
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944. TheCaneWhisperer
3:33 AM GMT on May 29, 2008
Seems like 01E is pulling far enough away. I am starting to see two leading edges here.
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942. moonlightcowboy
10:37 PM CDT on May 28, 2008
Have a good sleep, Pottery and JP! And, BFox and all!
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941. Beachfoxx
10:37 PM CDT on May 28, 2008
Night all...

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11:34 PM EDT on May 28, 2008
Water is my stock in trade. I'm out. GN
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