Deadly Tornadoes Symptomatic of Strong ‘Transition Season’ Weather

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Deadly Tornadoes

Tornadoes raked the Midwest and South today for the second time this week. At least three people were killed in Indiana, and towns in four states were hard-hit.

Throughout the day, sightings of funnel clouds, like this one in Alabama, kept coming. One of the worst hit late this afternoon, blasting two towns in Southern Indiana. A sheriff reported the town of Marysville, home to 1,900 people, was completely gone and nearby Henryville was nearly as bad. Other storms also caused damage north of Louisville, Kentucky, near Chattanooga, and just outside Huntsville, Ala in Bradley County, Kentucky, near Chattanooga, high winds tore down the wall of a hardware store and knocked over several tractor-trailers. When it hit, I mean, the noise is unbelievable.

You know everything is moving. The pressure is just unbelievable. I mean, stuff started flying around the room where I was. I could feel the stuff blowing into my face, and begin to pray quickly. In Alabama, a number of houses and a middle school were severely damaged in Meridian Ville, but thousands of students there and in other states had been sent home in advance. Earlier this week, another round of tornadoes had wrecked much of Harrisburg, Ill, and killed 13 people in several states. A short time ago, I spoke to Major Chuck Adams of the Clark County Sheriff’s Department in Southern Indiana.

First reported, Jeff, in Marysville was certainly called in from citizens, with them certain them just stating that Marysville was completely gone. I do have two officers that have been in the Marysville area since that time, and there is some severe damage and things like that, but certainly not as bad as first reported. We are concentrating most of our efforts right now to a little northern town. It seems like our damage has stretched from the far western part of the county all the way to the eastern part, probably about a 25-mile stretch, if you have to drive that. But it looks like Henryville, which is approximately 19 miles north of Louisville, seems to be our heavily most heavily hit.

The Henryville High School had been struck with heavy damage. There were students inside. But since the time, I have spoken with my school resource officer that’s assigned to that high school, and all the students were evacuated with minor injuries, just a few cuts, and abrasions, but no injuries whatsoever to any of the students that were life-threatening.

However, the forecasts from the NOAA Storm Prediction Center were right on target a few days ago. Very worrisome when we see storms developing so rapidly in the morning hours, when we know the day will unfold in such a way as to bring this devastation. And our thoughts go out to those people in the area affected. And then within that larger circulation are these thunderstorms that move rapidly across the landscape. The Lower Ohio Valley and Midwest really were the areas today most at risk for tornadoes and obviously, we saw long-track, damaging tornadoes with part of a larger cyclone.

It’s really the transition season. We still have the wind speeds in the atmosphere that are very common in the winter months, very powerful wind speeds in the upper levels of the atmosphere, the jet stream level, deep low-pressure systems that we see bring blizzard conditions across parts of the Northern Plains the last couple of days.

But to the south of those blizzard conditions, where you have the warm air and moisture that starts to increase as we move into the springtime months, that brings together the ingredients needed for thunderstorm development, and then the wind shear brings another ingredient that is needed for violent tornadoes, unfortunately. When we see violent weather like this, almost all of these events are rather unusual. So early in March in the last dozen years or so, we have seen events along these lines maybe four times in the last dozen years. So you can kind of see a return frequency on something like this perhaps every three to five years.

How much warning is there when something like this is coming? How much ahead of time would the residents know that what might be about to hit them? We had that first event at midweek and that kind of set the stage for this more significant event today. We were looking at the weather conditions for about the last five days, looking at this Friday as being the particularly dangerous situation with these tornadoes. We ramp up our forecasts because certainty is never really there with these events. But you become a little more certain about the potential as you go forward in time and early this morning, we knew this was going to be a bad day.

We issued particularly dangerous situation watches and public outlooks, basically spelling out the threat that existed in this area. So, is your sense that your tracking ability is better and the ability on the ground to get the word out has become better over the years? It has. There is no question about that. The systems that are in place to give people the warnings they need to take appropriate action in advance of these storms are in place. Many of these cities and towns do have siren systems, but there’s also NOAA weather radio, the broadcast media, and emergency management partners that work with the National Weather Service, a pretty good group and a pretty good team to get the word out ahead of this dangerous weather.

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