Friday, April 29, 2011

One of the Deadliest Tornado Outbreaks Ever

The death toll from this past Wednesday's tornado outbreak has now reached 318, as of this blog entry. That makes this week's tornado outbreak the deadliest on record in the past 50 years, surpassing the 307 deaths that occured with the Super Outbreak of April 3, 1974.

The image to your left shows the storm reports from Wednesday morning through Thursday morning.

Every red triangle on the map represents a tornado report. What's unclear is how many seperate tornadoes there were. Often times, there are duplicate reports as the same tornado could have caused damage in different towns and in different states.

The April 27-28, 2011, tornado outbreak is the deadliest since the outbreak of March 21, 1932, when 332 people lost their lives.

It should be noted that the deadliest outbreak off all time in recorded history was back on March 18, 1925, with 747 fatalities that spanned 7 states.

According to NOAA, the National Weather Service (NWS) issued severe weather outlooks five days in advance of the severe weather outbreak. They also issued tornado watches hours in advance, and tornado warnings with an average lead time of 24 minutes.

When I look back on the events that took place this week, it is mind-numbing and jaw dropping to say the least. You would never think that in a day where we have great weather technology, advanced warning systems, and strict building codes, we would see so much death and destruction.

The one big thing that stood out to me is that these long tracked, long-lived tornadoes moved through highly populated cities, such as Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, Alabama. If you put an EF4 or EF5 tornado through a city with a population of at least a quarter of a million people, there will be a huge amount of casualties, regardless of lead warning time.

Most of the deaths were from residents who lived in mobile homes and shelters that were not strong enough to withstand the brute force of winds over 200 mph. This is why we tell you to abandon mobile homes immediately.

One question that will get asked in the future is "What can we do better to save lives?" Many meteorologists in my profession will want to focus in on research as to why tornadoes form and how can we increase warning time?

The fact that there was plenty of lead time for this outbreak means that it is almost a mute point to want to question that mindset. I personally feel we have to look at the social impacts as to how we can construct homes and storm shelters to assure the safety of everyone. My advice to people living in mobile homes or weak structures would be this: have a storm shelter built. Yes, you may lose your home in a future storms, but you could save your life.