After days of severe weather producing tornadoes over a large portion of the country, it looks like things are beginning to wind down across the southern and eastern portions of the United States. In the past 24 hours alone, more than 140 tornadoes were reported. It is likely that number will fall dramatically after experts fan out to determine exactly how many tornadoes formed. Even so, this outbreak will likely come close to the Super Outbreak of 1974 when more than 130 tornadoes touched down, killing more than 300. The red dots on the graphic to the left show the reported tornado strikes on Wednesday.
At least 77 people have died in Wednesday’s storms, making it one of the deadliest tornado outbreaks in years. When figuring in deadly storms from the rest of the week, the death toll will certainly pass the 100 mark with hundreds of others injured. It’s not something we see too often as warning lead times and tornado detection has improved dramatically over the last 30 years.
Even so, this storm system was massive, and the tornadoes widespread, making it impossible for everyone to stay out of harm’s way. The final impact of this week’s devastating weather will take some time to assess. Storm surveys in the coming days will help give us an idea of just how many tornadoes there were and how strong their winds were.
There are some similarities between this outbreak and the Super Outbreak of 1974. The first and most important is La Nina, the occasional cooling of waters in the Pacific Ocean. This cooling creates a shift in weather patterns that often produces violent tornado outbreaks in the U.S. In both 1974 and 2011, these outbreaks occurred at the tale end of a La Nina’s cycle.
So far the tornado that struck portions of central Alabama is catching much of the attention because more than 50 deaths occurred in the state, many tied to this well documented tornadoes. To the right is a video of the tornado as it passed dangerously close to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, AL. And down below is another video of the same tornado. In this footage you will clearly see the large amounts of debris in the air that indicates the massive amount of damage the tornado did.
In the weeks ahead, we’ll undoubtedly see more videos of these storms as many storm chasers and storm spotters did a fantastic job in tracking and documenting these monsters.
For now it’s time to let the experts do their job and assess the damage of these storms. We’ll continue to provide updates as they come in and the growing scope of this disaster becomes clearer.