Over the past few days, severe weather – including a series of tornadoes – has been roaring across the Midwest. These powerful storms have caused widespread damage and claimed the lives of at least two people.
According to the NWS, thirty-eight tornadoes have been confirmed so far across ten states. The strongest was rated EF-4, the second highest ranking on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. With winds raging between 166 and 200 mph, it devastated the area around Katie, Oklahoma on Monday afternoon. This was the first EF-4 twister of 2016.
On Wednesday, another round of severe storms brought accumulating hail to Omaha, Nebraska. More than twelve inches piled up on the ground, requiring snowplows to clear the streets.
Year to date, this tornado season has been fairly quiet. But, as this latest outbreak shows, it only takes one storm to devastate a community. May is typically the most active month of the year for severe weather in the US.
An EF-4 tornado touches down near Katie, Oklahoma. Credit: KJRH
A tornado outbreak barreled across the mid-west on Thursday night. The strongest of these twisters caused widespread destruction, two deaths, and at least twenty injuries in the neighboring towns of Fairdale and Rochelle in northern Illinois.
The National Weather Service has given the deadly tornado a preliminary rating of EF-4, the second highest ranking on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. Measuring a half-mile wide with winds near 200mph, the wedge shaped twister is reported to have traveled nearly thirty miles on the ground.
Local officials in Fairdale say the storm affected every home in the community with eighteen swept completely off their foundations. The tornado also destroyed many trees and power lines across the area and even toppled a tractor-trailer on Interstate-39.
Tornadoes of this intensity are not that common in northern Illinois. The NWS says Thursday’s storm was the strongest tornado on record (since 1950) for the two counties where Fairdale and Rochelle are located – DeKalb County and Ogle County, respectively.
Year to date, tornado season – which typically begins to ramp up in March – has been fairly quiet. But, as this latest storm shows, it only takes one tornado to devastate a community.
Tornado Damage. Image Credit: Rockford Fire Dept.
Spring is the season most commonly associated with twisters in the United States. Autumn, however, can be just as dangerous and is known as the “second season” for tornadoes.
According to NOAA, approximately 1200 tornadoes touch down in the US every year. While most occur in “Tornado Alley”, in the central part of the country, activity there tends to peak in May. The second season is most active in the mid-south, an area often referred to as “Dixie Alley”.
During the transitional months of autumn, the jet stream frequently dips south bringing cooler air into the region. At the same time, warm, moist air is flowing in from the Gulf of Mexico. When these two different air masses meet, the local weather can get very active. In fact, some of the largest tornado outbreaks of any month have occurred in October and November.
A tornado tore through the town of Smithfield in upstate New York on Tuesday. It caused widespread damage and claimed the lives of four people.
Carving out a 2.5-mile path of destruction, this deadly twister toppled trees and leveled homes. With winds ranging from 111-mph to 135-mph, it was rated EF-2 by the National Weather Service. While tornadoes in New York are not very common, they are not unheard of. In fact, two twisters touched down in NYC in 2012.
Tuesday’s tornado, according to NOAA, was the second deadliest in NY history. It was only outranked by a storm that struck Orange County in November 1989 that caused nine fatalities.
Storm damage in Smithfield, NY. Credit: Syracuse.com
Barreling across northeastern Nebraska on Monday, a pair of twin tornadoes leveled the small farming town of Pilger, NE. The so-called “sisters” claimed the lives of two people and injured numerous others.
The two wedge tornadoes were reported to have been on the ground for nearly an hour and traveled along parallel pathways getting as close as one mile apart. With winds ranging between 166 and 200 mph, the National Weather Service has rated both twisters EF-4. That is the second highest ranking on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.
Massive twin tornadoes are rare events. Experts say, if one thunderstorm spawns two separate twisters simultaneously, one usually dissipates or is overtaken by the other. The size, strength, and longevity of Monday’s tornadoes were extremely unusual.
With warm, moist air lingering over the region, violent weather returned to Nebraska on Tuesday. A multi-vortex tornado was spotted in Coleridge, NE, but that storm has not yet been rated. More severe weather, including possible tornadoes, is expected in the area again on Wednesday.
Rare twin tornadoes tear across Nebraska. Image Credit: KEYC
After getting off to a slow start, the severe weather season has kicked into overdrive. A multi-day tornado outbreak has been wreaking havoc across the southern and central United States since Sunday. Widespread destruction, power outages, and a mounting death toll have been reported across several states. Some of the hardest hit areas include Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama.
According to local authorities, the twister that hit Vilonia and Mayflower, Arkansas on Sunday night was on the ground for 29.2 miles and claimed the lives of at least 16 people. With winds in excess of 136 mph, the NWS has assigned it a preliminary rating of EF-3. On Monday, the same deadly storm system moved into Mississippi and Alabama and generated even more tornadoes. Local officials there say hundreds of homes were destroyed and at least a dozen people were killed. The strongest storm in this outbreak so far was an EF-4 (preliminary rating) that touched down in Louisville, Mississippi. With winds ranging between 166 and 200 mph, it was also the strongest tornado to form in the U.S. to date this year.
Tornadoes are par for the course in this part of the country in spring, but the longevity of this outbreak is unusual. With warm, moist air moving up from the Gulf of Mexico and feeding into a very slow moving low-pressure system, the threat of severe weather continues to linger.
Tornado ravaged Vilonia, Arkansas. Image Credit: EpochTimes/AP
Spring is usually the height of severe weather season in the United States. This year, however, it has been slow going – at least so far.
According to NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, there have only been 20 tornadoes rated EF-1 or higher to date in 2014. On average, we usually see 157 storms by this point in the season. Of the twisters that did form, none were rated EF-3 or stronger. That is fairly weak by tornado standards, which are measured from EF-0 to EF-5 on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale.
With colder than average temperatures dominating most of the country recently, storm development – which needs warm moist air and explosive convection – has been limited. That said, a slow start does not necessarily mean a slow season. It only takes one strong storm to devastate an area. Last year, for example, was a below average season, but it still produced an EF-5 that leveled Moore, OK.
May is typically the most active month of the year for tornadoes in the US.
Data Source: NOAA
Severe weather, including a massive series of tornadoes, roared across the American Midwest on Sunday. These powerful storms caused widespread damage and knocked out power to tens of thousands of people. Numerous injuries and at least eight fatalities have been reported so far.
NWS survey teams are currently on the ground evaluating the damage, but early reports estimate that several dozen twisters touched down across seven states. The two strongest have been preliminarily rated EF-4, the second highest ranking on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. With winds raging between 166 and 200 mph, they devastated the towns of Washington and New Minden, both in Illinois. Officials say these were the strongest and deadliest November tornadoes on record in the state.
This historic outbreak was the result of an explosive mix of atmospheric conditions, including instability generated by the collision of a cold front with warm, moist air moving up from the south. In addition, the combination of a powerful jet stream aloft and a strong area of low pressure near the ground – with winds blowing in the opposite direction – helped generate spin in the atmosphere.
While autumn, the so-called second season for tornadoes, has been known to produce severe storms, they usually occur in the warmer climates of the Southeast and Gulf Coast. Twisters further north, especially powerful ones, are very rare for this time of year.
Damage from tornadoes near Washington, IL Image Credit: A. Koury
Image Credit: NOAA
Extreme weather battered much of the United States this past week. From heavy snow and tornadoes in the plains to a tropical storm in the Gulf and blustery Santa Ana winds in California, this country saw it all in just six days.
Starting on Tuesday, a pre-season winter storm dumped massive amounts of snow across Wyoming and South Dakota. Some places, like Deadwood, SD received as much as 48 inches.
On Wednesday, the NWS named Tropical Storm Karen. Moving north across the Gulf of Mexico, it threatened coastal communities from Louisiana to Florida with heavy rain and storm surge flooding. Luckily, however, the storm was downgraded to a rainstorm by the time it came ashore.
By Friday, the cold air that produced the blizzard in the northern plains collided with warm moist air to the east and unleashed severe thunderstorms across the region. They, in turn, spawned numerous tornadoes. One of the hardest hit areas was Wayne, NE where an EF-4 twister with winds measured up to 170-mph tore through the town. While widespread property damage and numerous injuries were reported, there were no fatalities.
Over the weekend, powerful Santa Ana winds blasted southern California with gusts reaching 90-mph in some areas. These warm, dry winds helped fuel a large wildfire in San Diego County.
While extreme weather events are not unusual in this country, having such a large number and wide variety happen more-or-less at once is very rare.
A massive twister struck the town of El Reno, OK on Friday. Measuring 2.6 miles across, it was the widest tornado ever recorded.
According the National Weather Service, the winds of this violent storm reached as high as 295 mph. On the ground for forty minutes, it traveled more than sixteen miles. This powerful twister and the flooding rains associated with it claimed the lives of nineteen people, including three storm chasers.
Initially classified as an EF-3, the NWS upgraded this storm to an EF-5 – the highest ranking on the Enhanced Fujita Scale – after evaluating the damage. This was the second EF-5 tornado to strike Oklahoma in less than two weeks. The other leveled the nearby city of Moore.
Since 1950, according to NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, sixty EF-5/F-5 tornadoes have struck the United States. Eight of these touched down in Oklahoma.