Post facto review on yesterday’s tornado outbreak

UPDATE: I’ve added a firsthand account from Dr. Roy Spencer below.

Epic Tornado Outbreak ends today with focus near East Coast

By Joseph D’Aleo from Weatherbell.com

We talked about this would be a season of major floods and severe weather in  our first posts in WeatherBell in early March. Last week we warned the middle of this week would see another outbreak like the one in Mid April. And earlier this week we predicted the count would top 200 tornadoes before it was all said and done.

It started Sunday in the southern Plains with 13 tornadoes and 201 severe storms reports (updated).


Monday it ramped up with 44 tornado and 432 severe weather reports.

Tuesday action shifted slightly east  and increased further with 61 tornadoes among 702 severe weather reports.

For yesterday, the preliminary count is an amazing 160 tornado tornadoes and 635 severe weather reports.The Gulf States were especially hard hit but with tornadoes up to Virginia and even New York State.

The preliminary total for the 4 days came to 278 tornado reports and an amazing 1970 reports of severe weather.

Today is the last day of this onslaught (not the last this season).

SPC has a slight risk along the east coast.

Tornado watches are in effect this morning from Virginia to Georgia and severe thunderstorm watches for New York State and Pennsylvania. We are likely to add dozens of additional reports to this 5 day parade of storms reaching 300 reports of tornadoes and over 2100 of severe weather including hail and damaging winds.

The actual number of tornadoes will be reduced as with the longer track storms like we often see in this kind of situation, the same tornado can be reported multiple times. The Tuscaloosa tornado reportedly was on the ground in four states reaching the Carolinas! It will take them awhile to sort this out.  Especially given the same people will be busy with the next severe weather. It looks like it will be mostly associated with squall lines ahead of more rapidly moving cold fronts in this new pattern with increased blocking at least for the next week or so.

Clearly though this week’s onslaught will rank among the most significant outbreaks in history  Sadly the death toll this morning stood at over 200 and climbing. The death toll from these tornadoes is not unprecedented. The Tri-State tornado of March 18th, 1925 killed 695 people, 234 in the town of Murphysboro alone. Total deaths from tornadoes in 1925 were 800. In 1974, 319 people died from tornadoes, all in one day, April the 3rd. In 1965, 300 died. In 1953, 530 people died from tornadoes in the United States. In 1936, 550 people were killed by tornadoes. In 1927, 540 were killed by tornadoes. In 1917, 550 people were killed by tornadoes. In 1896, 530 Americans were killed by tornadoes.

The devastation from the severe weather mentioned is made worse with the massive flooding occurring in the nations midsection and in the interior parts of the northeast. The cooling and stabilizing air mass off the still cold Atlantic usually knocks the legs out from the thunderstorms that move east and even diminish the rains so eastern and southern New England will probably get off relatively easy.

One last point. the great Stanley Changnon, formerly director of the Illinois Water Survey had done a study probably in the 1990s that I reported on about how although the media attention was mainly on the feared El Ninos, that La Ninas were far more dangerous and costly with more cold and heavy winter snows that paralyze economies and transportation, more spring flooding and deadly and damaging severe weather outbreaks and more landfalling hurricanes than El Nino. The last few years and especially this year is an illustration of this. The severe weather season is not over and then we have the hurricane season which both JB and I think will be more impactful.

More later.

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BTW, for those who want the ability to track dangerous storms in real time, getting alerts and ETA’s for arrival, plus email, pager, and cell phone alerts, may I recommend the program StormPredator:

  • PERSONAL WEATHER RADAR
  • SEVERE WEATHER ALERTING
  • STORM TRACKER WITH ETA
  • PERSONAL FORECASTER
  • WEATHER BULLETINS
  • NATIONWIDE COVERAGE
  • NO DATA OR SUBSCRIPTION FEES
  • LIVE GPS TRACKING FEATURE
  • PUBLISH RADAR TO YOUR WEBSITE
  • WORKS ON Windows 2000, XP, Vista, Windows 7

For those who run websites, it will also export radar images to it, such as this fellow has done at www.hookedonscience.org Note the “live doppler radar”.

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UPDATE: Dr. Roy Spencer reports his experiences on his blog:

Tornado Update from Alabama

April 28th, 2011

The power is out here in Huntsville and over much of northern Alabama. Everything is shut down. Only cell phone service is up, and since I have Verizon broadband on my laptop, I’m spend some of my last 40 minutes worth of battery power to update everyone.

As a meteorologist, I must say that yesterday here in North Alabama was simply amazing. Virtually every thunderstorm that formed was rotating, and I hear we had 50 tornadoes just in the Huntsville area and surrounding communities. It lasted all day long. Here’s a map of the SPC’s storm reports from yesterday…Huntsville is under the big red blob of tornado reports.

By evening, all the tornado sirens had lost power, one local TV station’s weather radar was blown away, and the NWS Hytop radar also went down. There were still tornado warnings, yet there was no way to warn people. Callers into the few radio stations that had backup power were letting people know where the storms were as they arrived.

Late yesterday afternoon I rushed down to a small town just south of Huntsville only a few minutes after a tornado went through. I helped to see if there were people trapped in homes along the road. All the trees were snapped off, one home was entirely gone and the woman who lived there said her husband was in the house at the time. A very large oak tree about three feet in diameter was snapped off at the trunk. The large metal utility poles that are pretty weather proof were also snapped off.

I drove to Athens early this morning because my car was on empty and I heard they still had power. Along the way on I65 there were emergency crews helping to offload gasoline from an overturned tanker truck that got caught in one of the tornadoes. This was near Browns Ferry nuclear power plant, which is now shut down after the 500 kV lines out of the plant were taken out, probably by the same tornado. That damage path was quite wide, about a half mile.

They are saying maybe 4 or 5 days before power is restored here, since those lines feed Huntsville. Please pray for those who were not as lucky as me and my family.

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28 thoughts on “Post facto review on yesterday’s tornado outbreak

  1. That was quite a storm system. My heart goes out to the many that suffered through the worst of it.

  2. Most of the extreme tornado events that Mr. D’Aleo mentioned, as he probaly knows, havinhg read his other material, happened during cooler sunspot cycles unlike Six of the seven that began in 1933/34 through 2007. Now we are in a solar minimum and I add my comments I sent out to friends and colleages this morning.

    “The years of 1973 and 1974  were record breaking tornadoes years.

    This year has seen the same per Channel 28 News and Weather last night, here in Florida.  Actually, this year may go down as the worst per the weatherman.

    From 1963 to 1975 was a cool sunspot cycle and became the 3rd coolest period, per my work, since 1886.  5 years later in 1979, the USA’s average winter temperatures dropped to 27 degrees,F. 

    That same year, the Arctic reached a Maximum extent since NASA began to measure the Arctic, which was limited since their start by other priorities.

    Since 2006, all Average USA temperatures have been cooling.  The winters began cooling in 2000 and the annual and summer average temperatures began cooling in 2006.  Thus, the USA began its global cooling in 2006.

    No cherry picking data here.  This is straight off of the NOAA.

    If the 1963 to 1975 sunspot cycle pattern of cooling is true, then next year will be another record breaking tornado year and the Arctic should be showing some size increase in 4 to 5 years.  That will reflect in significant winters in the coming few years as I predicted a few years ago. 

    The period of 1976 to 1980 brought some coldest average temperatures known to the generations born after WWII.  This is after this cooling cycle and in the start of the next cycle (twin mini-sunspot cycles as stated by Mr. D’Aleo’s other work).

    This leads me to think this is a climate lag that pushed conditions into the next cycle caused by the green house gases and the overall warmth of the earth.  Think of an engine cooling after a run.  It takes a while for all the parts to cool down.  the air around is stays warm as well. After restart, it takes a while for all the parts to heat up again.

    What will be different is the solar minimum, which is the lack of global warming cycles (1933 to 1962 and from 1975 to 2007, that Global Warming Alarmists unknowingly complained about, will extend out to 2030 and climate lag will extend out to 2035.  We only know historically that solar minimums winters “Thin the Herd.”

    We can expect our drought to stay in place and our Florida lakes to dry up a little each year through 2035.  Hurricanes will stay a threat and diminish in numbers over the years.

    Fewer hurricanes and tropical storms will mean less rain for us here in Florida and east of the plains.  Somewhere in the next 20 years may be another Dust Bowl, maybe around 2030.

    For those up north, most people who froze to death this last winter were locked out of the house and were poorly dressed, such as a house coat. They died within steps of their door or a neighbor’s door.  So, next winter, keep your house keys on your person and make sure the door locks are well oiled.”

    Paul Pierett

  3. Part of my work follows Mr. D’Aleo’s work on sunspot minimums. The following are comments I sent out this morning,

    “The years of 1973 and 1974 were record breaking tornadoes years.

    This year has seen the same per Channel 28 News and Weather last night, here in Florida.  Actually, this year may go down as the worst per the weatherman.

    From 1963 to 1975 was a cool sunspot cycle and became the 3rd coolest period, per my work, since 1886.  5 years later in 1979, the USA’s average winter temperatures dropped to 27 degrees,F. 

    That same year, the Arctic reached a Maximum extent since NASA began to measure the Arctic, which was limited since their start by other priorities.

    Since 2006, all Average USA temperatures have been cooling.  The winters began cooling in 2000 and the annual and summer average temperatures began cooling in 2006.  Thus, the USA began its global cooling in 2006.

    No cherry picking data here.  This is straight off of the NOAA.

    If the 1963 to 1975 sunspot cycle pattern of cooling is true, then next year will be another record breaking tornado year and the Arctic should be showing some size increase in 4 to 5 years.  That will reflect in significant winters in the coming few years.

    The period of 1976 to 1980 brought some coldest average temperatures known to the generations born after WWII.  This is after this cooling cycle and in the start of the next cycle. 

    This leads me to think this is a climate lag that pushed conditions into the next cycle caused by the green house gases and the overall warmth of the earth.  Think of an engine cooling after a run.  It takes a while for all the parts to cool down.  After restart, it takes a while for all the parts to heat up again.

    What will be different is the solar minimum, which is the lack of global warming cycles that Global Warming Alarmist unknowingly complained about, will extend out to 2030 and climate lag will extend out to 2035.  We only know historically that solar minimums winters “Thin the Herd.”

    We can expect our drought to stay in place and our Florida lakes to dry up a little each year through 2035.  Hurricanes will stay a threat and diminish in numbers over the years.

    Fewer hurricanes and tropical storms will mean less rain for us here in Florida and east of the plains.  Somewhere in the next 20 years may be another Dust Bowl, maybe around 2030.

    For those up north, most people who froze this last winter were locked out of the house and were poorly dressed, such as a house coat. They died within steps of their door or a neighbor’s door.  So, next winter, keep your house keys on your person and make sure the door locks are well oiled.

  4. How soon before the AGW alarmists point to this and say, with AGW, we will see more of these super storm outbreaks?

    The chart I have in my recollection, is the yearly US tornado frequency for like 100 years. The trend was noisy, but slightly declining.

    Any clues where to find this defensive data in preparation for the AGW claims?

  5. Citizens,
    These events are solar activity (+Lunar modulation) driven and were as predicted for ~26-27th April in our long range forecast for USA issued 3 April.
    See tweet and link therein about the month’s tornados etc and ending in ~26-27th:
    #WeatherAction simultaneous double hit #USA #tornados & Major #earthquake trials http://bit.ly/ef6jKA #Quakes + extreme weather same family
    The article is as about to be carried in our May forecast bulletin.

    Thanks Piers Corbyn

  6. I heard a radio personality (well, “personality” might be a stretch) ranted that all these storms and tornadoes are evidence of global warming. Not one shred of evidence was presented in support of that rant. He did compare the tobacco industry with the “global warming” industry and how they are foisting these costs on us. It scares me that he still has a radio show. Now that SETI is closing down, we need to start searching for intelligent life on our own planet.

  7. I searched “Tuscaloosa Tornado Video” and found some remarkable footage.

    I’ve always wanted to see a tornado in real life, but now I don’t any more. Video is close enough for me.

    It’s ironic that the “storm chasers” sometimes miss the biggest storms, and the best shots come from someone just heading down to the market for some milk, or a student peeking out the window of a dorm.

    It is amazing how complex these things are, with little vortesese snaking up the sides of a huge rotating monster. The noun “Funnel” just doesn’t do a tornado justice. But, as always, it is a case of the more deeply you look, the more you marvel, and the less of a know-it-all you think you are.

  8. Ryan Maue says:
    April 28, 2011 at 10:15 am

    Very impressive Ryan – thanks for the animations. I watched the activity on the Weather Channel last night. What was remarkable was the non-stop nature of the thunderstorm bands – they just seemed to keep coming and coming. And as the radar images showed (and as confirmed by Dr. Spencer in northern Alabama) many places got hit multiple times with severe storms and/or tornadoes. Meteorologists will certainly be studying this event for some time to come.

  9. While Roy is offline the RC mob have decided to do a rerun of Roy’s work. Slime balls.

  10. CJames

    Thanks !
    That was exactly the graph I was remembering.

    Even if you omit the 1972(?) spike, I still see a noisy weak trend down.
    Certainly not a trend up.

    -J

  11. “ranted that all these storms and tornadoes are evidence of global warming.”

    Funny, as a layman, I see this as evidence that the massive body of water to the west, aka the Pacific Ocean, is in its cold PDO phase. Ergo it is generating colder air masses, (relative to those generated in the recent past and the Gulf of Mex), which follow the prevailing winds across the country. They then bump into the warm air masses being generated by a warm Gulf of Mex. and voila, one has significant temp. differentials which of course leads to significant pressure differentials. As all air flow is generated by pressure differential, the greater the pressure differential, the greater the potential for high winds and tornadoes.

    But Mother Nature refuses to pay taxes so it can’t be her fault.

    Then again, I’m just a layman who listens to the Joe’s and Anthony. Not an expert radio talking head

  12. There are some spectacular shots of these storm, the Washington Post has a bunch of them linked. There was one of a storm chaser driving like 60mph right into one, it crossed about 150 yards in front of his car.

    There were shots of absolutely massive wedges near Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. I’m a weather geek and watch just about anything about tornadoes, yesterday’s certain take the cake for anything I’ve ever seen.

    We had warnings in PA and two massive storms passed to either side of our town. No twisters, luckily, but some awesomely ominous skies.

  13. Caleb says:
    April 28, 2011 at 11:59 am

    I searched “Tuscaloosa Tornado Video” and found some remarkable footage.

    I’ve always wanted to see a tornado in real life, but now I don’t any more. Video is close enough for me.

    It’s ironic that the “storm chasers” sometimes miss the biggest storms, and the best shots come from someone just heading down to the market for some milk, or a student peeking out the window of a dorm.

    It is amazing how complex these things are, with little vortesese snaking up the sides of a huge rotating monster. The noun “Funnel” just doesn’t do a tornado justice. But, as always, it is a case of the more deeply you look, the more you marvel, and the less of a know-it-all you think you are.

    I’ve been in and near many tornado’s in my 67 years. I live in the path that this front traveled, and the tornado’s hit within 5 miles of my house in Monroe County, MS. The storm fronts, with the embedded twisters, were moving at speeds nearing 70mph (112kph) . A small historic town near me (Smithville, MS ) was nearly totally demolished, including brick buildings that had been standing for 150 years. Power was out for 14 hours in a 4 county area preceding and during the storms, and is still out in some areas here, leading to no warning sirens, no water after the towers were drained, and tons of frozen and refrigerated foods in stores having to be dumped. Many people killed, missing or injured, including small kids & elderly.

    People who have never experienced this kind of weather have no concept of how violent and downright evil they are.

  14. Thanks Dr. Spencer. Thoughts and Prayers deployed.
    Yes already there are folks who are doing the “sinners in
    the hands of an angry Gaia” bit.
    This does not serve them well….

  15. Dr Spencer,

    I know this isn’t a religious crowd, and neither am I, but God bless and protect you and everyone else caught up in all that.

    My brother lives off of Browns Ferry Rd. He and his family are fine and their brick home had little damage. They are attempting to get gas in their car and drive here to SC today and spend the week with mom and dad.

  16. Having grown up in north Alabama, I can testify that tornadoes are part of the local culture, at least for rural people. Back in the Fifties, each household had a homemade storm shelter that was rather robust. The storm shelters were created as bunkers in hills and usually had concrete block walls with benches. Trips to the storm shelter were many every spring and local tornado damage was commonplace. News of local damage spread quickly and everyone visited to offer assistance, though just as often these trips turned out to be trips for gawking.

    The great tornado that occupied the memories of everyone that I knew as a youngster was the tornado that “blew away” Tupelo, Mississippi. Looking at the information above, I guess that event happened in 1953. Lore has it that every physician in a sixty mile radius of Tupelo responded to the calls for assistance.

  17. I have seen snippets of footage of some of these monster tornadoes. Fearsome, deadly things, indeed. It is scant comfort to those affected, but there are many people around the world thinking of them and praying for them.
    I have read that people used to have (still have?) storm cellars to which they could retreat during such cataclysmic events. Are such cellars still used? Are such retreats of practical use?
    Regarding this advice given in a post above, regarding precautions to be taken in very cold weather: “… make sure the door locks are well oiled.”
    That is almost certain to get you locked out. Oil solidifies in very cold weather, rendering some exposed mechanisms, such as door locks, useless. On locks never use oil, always use powdered graphite. It lubricates well in very low temperatures, as long as the lubricated surfaces are kept clear of all traces of moisture.

  18. This from http://www.freerepublic.com, repeating a story reported at the Times Free Press. It amplifies what he briefly mentioned above about the Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant. It’s on the Tennessee River, northwest of Huntsville. No word about damage to the science exhibits, buildings and rockets on display outside at the Huntsville Space Museum.

    “TVA loses all power transmission lines … Browns Ferry Nuclear plant forced into emergency shutdown”

    Times Free Press ^ | April 28, 2011 | Pam Sohn

    http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2011/apr/28/tva-losses-all-power-transmission-lines-alabama-an/

    Wednesday’s storms took out all of TVA’s electric power transmission lines in Mississippi and North Alabama, and forced Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant unto diesel backup power and into emergency and automatic cold shutdown.

    Bill McCollum, the chief operating officer of Tennessee Valley Authority, said it may be weeks before power can be restored to all of the 300,000 customers whose power is supplied by the federal utility.

    “With the level of damage we have, it will be — we hope it will be days until we get most of the customers back on, but it will be weeks before we’ve fully repaired all of the damage,” he said.

    McCollum said the reactors, now being cooled by backup diesel power, are safe.

    He said the spent fuel pools also are being cooled by backup diesel power and are safe.

    The transmission lines are the monster power lines that carry electricity from TVA power plants to power distributors such as EPB and Huntsville Utilities.”

  19. Classic Nina.

    OK, here’s more bad news. Got another trough settling into the Great Basin. The lows will keep spinning into the Southern Plains for the foreseeable future.

  20. Update from my previous post:

    I spoke to my brother, and he managed to find gas and get out of Huntsville. Now he’s stuck on the freeway turned parking lot near Birmingham. On his way out of town there were numerous buildings fully destroyed or gone, and signs of damage everywhere. His garage door was the only apparent damage to his home, but his tropical fish tanks are surely doomed as well as the food in his fridge. A small price to pay, and he’s thankfull as am I.

  21. This is a good story, but I have to question the use of “Post Mortem” as a headline. Such word play in a case where many lives have been lost doesn’t square with the generally respectful tone of this site.

    REPLY: You know, you are absolutely right, and it wasn’t intended to be anything other than a typical label for such a review. It was unintentional. I’ll change the headline and thank you for pointing it out. – Anthony

  22. Everybody that has suffered losses from these monster storms is in our prayers (no offense intended to those that don’t pray). And we hope for a quick recovery for everybody.

    Currently running on a backup generator up here along the shore of Lake Ontario, we had a wicked wind storm this afternoon, gusts recorded in Niagara Falls NY at 83 mph. 35,000 without power. But no reported deaths (Thank God, again no offense).

    A huge tree did fall exactly between an outdoor play area and a school building, nobody hurt.

    Everybody is in our thoughts, be safe.

    Kevin.

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