UPDATE: I’ve added a firsthand account from Dr. Roy Spencer below.
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).
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.
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:
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”.
UPDATE: Dr. Roy Spencer reports his experiences on his blog:
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.