After one of the largest tornado outbreaks in recorded history, the National Weather Service is trying to determine how strong each tornado was. Wednesday’s tornado outbreak killed more than 300 across six states, making it one of the deadliest tornado outbreaks in US history. With so much destruction, the work that lies ahead for communities and meteorologists is daunting.
Normally, a storm survey will only need to take a look at a building or two, or at worst a town or two. This storm survey will cover dozens of towns and many damage paths. Normally, a storm survey will take just a day or two. But in the hardest hit areas it’s expected to take much longer. The National Weather Service in Birmingham is warning it could take weeks for them to finish their work and complete their reports on every storm track.
At this hour, the NWS In Birmingham has only reported three tornadoes with winds of 140mph or stronger. They’re categorization on the Enhanced Fujita Scale is not final, but for now these three surveyed tornadoes are rated as EF-3 tornadoes “or higher.” What this means is these tornadoes will likely be upgraded to a 4 or 5 before all is said and done.
Further to the west, in northern Mississippi, storm surveyors have confirmed one tornado was an EF-5, the maximum rating for a tornado. With winds in excess of 200mph, this marks the first confirmed EF-5 tornado since Parkersburg, IA was decimated by a monster twister nearly 3 years ago. I was in northeast Iowa chasing that storm and I can’t imagine taking the level of destruction in Parkersburg and spreading it out over multiple areas. That’s what many communities are facing right now to our south.
In the one confirmed EF-5 tornado in Mississippi, 14 people were killed in and near the town of Smithville. The tornado was on the ground for less than 3 miles but was half a mile wide and produced some of the strongest winds ever seen on Planet Earth. At least three other tornadoes touched down in this area of northern Missisippi, early reports are that those tornadoes were rated between an EF-1 and EF-3.
Today, President Obama is taking a look at the destruction first hand. As President, he will get a perspective of this storm most of us will never get. My hope is that the impact this has on the President will be enough to make sure these people get the help they need. Recovering from tornadoes is difficult, but it is not impossible. Communities like Parkersburg, IA and Greensburg, KS show that communities can bounce back quickly with the right help and the hard work of those affected by the storm.
We’ll continue to follow the latest developments from the south, but I’m hopeful that we’ll soon return to forecasting weather here in Iowa. Because we all know big storms do not stop others from coming in the future.