Saturday, April 30, 2011

How to Help the Victims

I'm partial to The Salvation Army and Catholic Charities based on their past work and low overhead (almost everything gets to the intended recipients) but all of these are worthy charities:

The Red Cross has two shelters set up in Tuscaloosa, temporary homes to 240 people so far. The relief organization provided meals for more than 600 people on Friday and is requesting more financial support. Donate to the Red Cross online, text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10, or call 1-800-REDCROSS (1-800-733-2767) to give money or schedule a blood donation.
The Salvation Army has spread out all over the South, helping with sustenance for tornado survivors in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. Donate on the Salvation Army’s website Text “GIVE” to 80888 to make a $10 donation, or you can call 1-800-SAL-ARMY (1-800-725-2769) and designate “April 2011 Tornado Outbreak”.
Save the Children is providing food, doctors and education for kids, and the organization is accepting donations at the Save the Children website. The organization will also accept donations by phone at 800 728-3843 during business hours.
World Vision, a Christian humanitarian group, focuses on children, aiming to lessen the emotional shock from the devastating tornado outbreak. Find out more or donate at the World Vision website, or call 1-866-56-CHILD (24453).
Catholic Charities are accepting donations for tornado victims at the Catholic Charities website, or you can donate by calling 1-800-919-9338.

The Other Disaster

The tornadoes have crowded the major flooding off this blog, so lets catch up. In green are the various flood warnings out:

With rivers still rising, we would have enough problems. Unfortunately, additional heavy rains are on the way in these areas. This is a forecast of 7.3 inches of additional rain in the areas where flooding is already occurring. This forecast is valid from 7pm this evening until 7pm Tuesday.
Click to enlarge maps.
The situation in the Lower Mississippi Valley drainage area is going to get worse before it gets better.

The Wall Street Journal has a superb article about flooding in this region today. If the link does not work because you do not have a subscription just Google "battling nature on the river" and you can legitimately read the article. The author of the article, John Barry, wrote a book about the 1937 flood that explains how that event not just transformed the region but changed America. I recommend it.

UPDATE, 4PM Saturday

Bill Hooke on Tornadoes

I've been fortunate to call Dr. Bill Hooke a friend for several decades. A genuine gentleman and scholar, I would like to direct you to an interesting perspective on the recent tornadoes from his blog. Just click here.

Hat tip: Roger Pielke, Jr.

How Powerful Were These Tornadoes?

From Fox News, Smithville, MS
I'm always glad to try to answer questions from my readers but I wish to mention again that all of the surveys of damage and tornado paths are not completed so it is very difficult to make definitive statements about this month's tornadoes versus, say, the Superoutbreak of 1974 (where the surveys obviously are completed).  Again, I have been asked why is the death toll was so very high, now ranking with the 1974 "Superoutbreak."

Here is an illustration: the Smithville, MS tornado (above) has been rated EF-5. This tornado was so strong it pulled up the pavement and tore out a culvert. This type of damage is extremely rare. Maybe one tornado in 1,000 reaches this destructive power. When you are dealing with tornadoes of this violence, there are very few places that offer adequate shelter (i.e., even a basement would be unsafe), thus the extremely high death toll. As far as I am able to determine (again with the caveat that the studies are nowhere near complete) the forecasts and warnings were very good.

Nothing Like Terrible Suffering to Bring the Climate Hucksters Out

I was asked yesterday why I had not posted "Think Progress'" (a liberal, pro-global warming group) unscientific attempt to tie Wednesday's tragedy to 'global warming' on this blog. I replied that I was so disgusted by it that I didn't want to give them the publicity.

This morning, I heard from Al Gore in the form of this ad in my email:
Without reproducing the whole thing, there is the clear implication that global warming causes worse storms. So, while I'm at it, here is Think Progress' vile pitch:

Aside from being in horrible taste, is there any substance to their contention that global warming caused these storms?  No.

Scroll down three postings and you will find a graph I created (using data from the pro-global warming British Climate Research Unit or CRU) that compares global temperatures during the previous worst two tornado outbreaks in the South and the similar "Superoutbreak" of tornadoes in 1974 that affected the South and Midwest. You'll see that temperatures during these similar outbreaks were cooler than today's. If warm global temperatures were required to spawn Wednesday's tornadoes, these earlier tornado outbreaks could not have occurred. 

If that graph does not convince you there is no linkage between the tornadoes and 'global warming,' allow me to point out that earth's atmospheric temperatures, according to the latest measurements, are colder than the 1981-2010 average! 
So let me state it again: There is no link between 'global warming' and the recent tornadoes. 

Because there are more than 5,000 new readers of this blog this week, I want to briefly state my position on global warming: It is probably a net small problem. I say "net" because there are positive aspects of a warmer climate that, to an extent, balance the negatives (i.e., more global food production due to longer growing seasons and more atmospheric CO2).

I do not rule out the possibility that Al Gore and the IPCC might be correct that it is a major problem. However, temperatures are running below their projections, apparently due to the La Nina, a change in ocean status known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and the last few years of an unusually quiet sun. The IPCC, in its reports, claims that the warming effect of carbon dioxide would overwhelm those other factors. So far, they are incorrect. If the cooling trend continues another 2-4 years, I believe it is fair to judge that IPCC's hypothesis is falsified.

However, if temperatures rise back (in spite of the factors listed above) to the levels predicted by the IPCC, then there is cause for real worry. At that point, I would join those calling for major mitigating measures. I also agree with my friend Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr. that finding much less expensive de-carboned energy sources makes a lot of sense. I agree that using the atmosphere as a sewer may lead to other negatives that we cannot anticipate at this time. Developing those sources will take time.

In the meantime, since temperatures have been more or less flat for the past dozen years, there is no 'climate crisis.' We can afford to see how this plays out the next several years before spending -- literally -- trillions of dollars.

A Super Supercell

Since I am still getting questions, let me do another posting regarding this week's historic tornado outbreak.

Supercells are the strongest form of thunderstorm. One of the supercells from Wednesday was truly extraordinary.
Brian Tang, National Center for Atmospheric Research via Facebook
Click to enlarge.
This is the supercell thunderstorm that lasted more than eight hours and spawned the huge tornadoes that struck Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and Rome, GA.
Preliminary map of tornado tracks
These are the tracks of the tornadoes in the South Wednesday and Wednesday night. I have pointed an arrow to the tornado track caused by the supercell above.

The number, path length, and intensity of the tornadoes is extraordinary.  Here is a similar map of the "Superoutbreak" of April 3-4, 1974.

While the number of tornadoes in 1974 was greater, the path length appears more or less similar.

There is some concern about how this survey has been conducted. Click here if that topic is of interest.

Here is a video of the tornado in Tuscaloosa (note: rough language). On the car radio, you hear the voice of expert meteorologist James Spann of the ABC TV station in Birmingham providing excellent and highly specific warnings as the tornado approached. I have chosen to add this video because of those contending that warning of tornadoes is a "crapshoot" (see below). The warnings of these storms were excellent. The tornado comes into the video at about 4:35.

One thing I have not talked much about was the Doppler radar signatures. Here they were when the tornado was in Tuscaloosa. Reds/pinks are winds blowing away from the radar while greens and blues are blowing toward the radar. At 5:10pm, wind values were maxed out.

I marked the center of rotational winds at 5:10pm and at approximately five minute intervals prior to its arrival in Tuscaloosa. As is usually the case, the Doppler signatures made tracking the tornadoes much easier.

But, even though technology makes it easier, working a tornado outbreak like the four we have had this month is extremely stressful for the meteorologists who must make the warning decisions. Want an amazing statistic? Our WeatherData meteorologists issued 3,263 warnings to our clients from Sunday through Thursday! While I have been praising the National Weather Service (because it warns the public) I want to thank our WeatherData/AccuWeather team for their extraordinary work and dedication to our clients.  

Friday, April 29, 2011

Storm Chasers Killed?

I have waited to post this but now several sources, including this one, are reporting that a car filled with teenagers and video equipment was found in Tuscaloosa. The occupants died and it is believed they were storm chasing.

I have also had the video below (from YouTube) for nearly two weeks of amateurs driving into a tornado. From the audio, they seem to be chasing the storm. At the :36 mark, you can hear what sounds like an adult voice say, "let's go!" in the background as they accelerate into the storm.

The video was taken at Dunn, NC Saturday, April 16, 2011. I haven't posted it until now because I was afraid it might inadvertently encourage people to engage in this behavior. As far as I'm concerned, driving into the immediate vicinity of a tornado (whether penetrating the tornado was intentional or not) is recklessness in the extreme.

This blog, on numerous occasions, has warned of the extreme danger of storm chasing unless you are thoroughly trained and know what you are doing. If you want to see storms, sign up with one of the tour companies that will take you out safely.

Amateur storm chasing is nothing but a formula for disaster. 

Upcoming the Next Seven Days

Sierra just before the interview started.
One our favorite programs at The Smith House is "It's All Good" with Sierra Scott. It is a half hour program on the Kansas CW (KSCW TV) in prime time, 7:30pm Sundays, that focuses on good news stories.

Very pleased to report that I'm going to be featured on the show Sunday evening. For those in Kansas and northern Oklahoma, I hope you can tune in.

I'm also doing a book signing and Q&A about severe storms a week from tonight (May 6) at the Barnes & Noble in Bradley Fair, 21st and Rock Rd., in Wichita. It will start at 7pm. Warnings, which is written like a mystery novel, takes the reader inside the world of severe storm warnings. It is a fast-paced read that will give you a new insight on what meteorologists have been dealing with the past month. The knowledge it conveys about the warning system might just save your life.

Leave it to the NY Times to Write an Inaccurate and Insensitive Article

I had planned on moving on to other topics today. There is little more to say about the tornadoes of the last three weeks until the investigations are completed. As I was going through my email this morning, a reader sent me a link to this article in The New York Times:  

Predicting Tornadoes: It’s Still Guessing Game

I thought my book Warnings pretty well makes the case that we have become highly skilled at forecasting tornadoes. With regard to the recent tornadoes this article and, especially, this article convincingly make the case that these tornadoes were very well forecast.

The Times' article begins with this statement:

The cruelty of this particular April, in the number of tornadoes recorded, is without equal in the United States.

This may or may not be true. The statement is at least premature. The NWS Storm Prediction Center March 8th changed its methodology which allows more reports of tornadoes and other severe storms to be logged (see first note here). We don't know yet whether this is a record April.

Tornadoes in particular, researchers say, straddle the line between the known and the profoundly unknowable.
“There’s a large crapshoot aspect,” said Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. 

It is correct that we do not fully understand the physics of tornadogenesis but we understand the conditions under which large tornadoes (like Wednesday's) form so we can forecast them and issue warnings for them with high accuracy. If you don't believe it, just scroll back through the forecasts of the last three weeks on this blog or, for Wednesday's storms go here or here for just two examples. It is hardly a "crapshoot."

Nevertheless, scientists can only guess when and where tornadoes will actually strike.

That statement is so silly I will not bother to comment. The superb forecasts and warnings of the past month easily refute it.

The next paragraphs are, I suspect, the real motivation for this article:

When technology can predict oncoming storm tracks and conditions with greater certainty than ever, and scientists assert with growing unanimity a human impact on climate, what is a natural act of God and what is more correctly the province of humans themselves? Where is the place of psychic shelter in an age when the lines between fate and human action are blurred?
The prevalence of hurricanes, droughts and floods has been linked in many climate models to the impact of a warming planet. Such a connection is more tentative when it comes to twisters.

Ah, 'climate change.' The article goes on to discuss the Times' linking of these tornadoes to climate change. This linkage can be easily refuted.

This is a graph of world temperatures complied by the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (global warming advocates). I have placed arrows pointing to the temperatures in 1884 (the "Enigma Outbreak" which killed as many as 1,200 in the South), the 1936 Tupelo/Gainesville tornadoes (which killed 800+), the "Superoutbreak" of tornadoes in 1974, and Wednesday's. Note that these tornado outbreaks -- which killed even more people -- all occurred with cooler atmospheric temperatures. It is absurd to link Wednesday's tornadoes to current world temperatures!

The article goes on to babble,

If scientists cannot be sure — or trusted, as doubters of climate change might say — then where should an ordinary person on the ground turn for solace or strength in the raging maw of a storm?

Can't be "trusted"? As an atmospheric scientist, I resent this. Meteorologists have worked tirelessly over the last month to provide excellent forecasts and warnings of these storms that have been credited with having hundreds of lives.

Few publications can go off the rails like the Times when they want to find an excuse to write about 'climate change.' It would be nice if, occasionally, they got their facts right.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Two Day Tornado Summary

Red dots = tornado report. Blue = damaging wind.
Green = large hail. Black triangle is very large hail.


I'm pleased to report that the tornado-producing system has moved out into the Atlantic.  This nightmare is over.

Brown Gashes on an Otherwise Green Earth

You'll want to click to enlarge this image.

This from the AQUA earth-monitoring satellite. These tornadoes were so large they left visible brown gashes on the Alabama countryside. To help you find the gashes, storm chaser Aaron Kennedy put yellow lines parallel to the tornado's tracks. I have added the arrows.  The city of Tuscaloosa is between the "a" and my first arrow. The path across Birmingham was largely covered by clouds when the satellite passed over.

ADDITION: Excellent photo coverage from The Boston Globe.

The Question of the Day

Posted on this blog early Monday morning. I predicted more than 100 tornadoes would occur.
I'm changing planes at O'Hare at the moment and just saw that the death toll is up to 250 per The Wall Street Journal and 272 per CNN. It is difficult to write this due to the shock that so many were killed when the forecasts and warnings were so good. That dichotomy is the question of the day.

I have already given two interviews to reporters wanting me to comment on why so many people were killed. I wish I didn't have to answer the question, it seems premature when people are still digging out of the wreckage. We'll know the answer in a few months after meteorologists and social scientists do their post-storm assessments. That said, people want answers and understandably so. Tornado season is only halfway done and we don't want to lose any more precious lives if we can avoid it.

Both reporters were already familiar that the forecasts and warnings of yesterday's storms were quite good. So, "what happened/what went wrong?", they asked. Here is some of what I believe is true, pending formal investigation.

  • This was a historic event. It appears (not sure yet) to be the worst tornado outbreak, in terms of number of F-4 and F-5 tornadoes (the upper 2% in damage potential) since April 3, 1974. It also appears similar to the "Enigma Outbreak" (same geographic area) of February, 1884. The latter is estimated to have killed as many as 1,200. 
  • When dealing with F-4 and F-5 tornadoes, there is no assurance of survival. For example, in Greensburg, KS in 2007, eight of the 9 people killed (out of the 1,500 in the tornado's path) were in shelter, including basements. The South has relatively few basements and many tens of thousands were in the path of these tornadoes. The bathtub offers reasonable protection for the far more common F-1 to F-3 tornadoes. It offers little protection during F-4 and F-5 tornadoes where everything is swept away. 
  • Earlier tornadoes knocked out the communications infrastructure. This is a problem I have not previously encountered. It was first reported by a Birmingham TV station today. There are reports that because of the multiplicity of tornadoes, the power had been lost in the first wave of storms and so TV, internet, etc., were not available when the second wave occurred. These people likely did not get the warning. We do not yet know how widespread this problem was.
  • Mobile homes. We talked about this less than two weeks ago. I was in Charlotte a week ago today and was told by insurance industry people that the tie-down laws are not enforced (no requirement for inspection upon occupancy). I have seen video of mobile homes that were not tied down and were without wind skirting. They also told me few mobile home parks had shelters. If true, this is a deadly combination. In the April 15-16, 2011 tornadoes from Misssissippi to North Carolina, 86% of the deaths were in mobile homes. 
While I believe all of the above is correct, it is impossible to know at this point exactly why so many lost their lives. I'm hopeful that weather science will come up with the answers and we will be able to build upon the already excellent warning system.  

For now, please contribute to the charities helping the victims of these storms and keep them in your prayers. 

Tornado Watches Still Out

3:30pm EDT:

Lightning + Ocean + Sunset = Beautiful Photo

To enjoy, click here.

10:10am EDT Update

Watches now in effect. Blue = severe thunderstorm. Red = tornado.

Currently, AccuWeather region radar shows three lines of thunderstorms.

There is only one tornado warning in effect, just north of Richmond.

CNN Reports 173 Dead

This is staggering.

While it is too soon to be sure, based on the meteorological parameters, I think we are going to find that this is the largest number of "path miles" of F-3, F-4, and F-5 tornadoes since the "Superoutbreak" of April 3-4, 1974.

I base that on the fact that the "significant tornado index," which is designed to indicate when tornadoes of F-2 or greater intensity will occur, had the highest numbers I have ever seen yesterday. For comparison, during the recent North Carolina outbreak, the index was running around six. The Good Friday St. Louis today was also around 6.  Much of yesterday in Mississippi and Alabama the index was running around 12-14.

Here is a map that shows the geographic extent of the outbreak,

and, here is a map showing the concentration of tornadoes in the South:

I'll have more on this as we learn more through the day today.

Watches Still in Effect

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wall Street Journal Reports 72 Dead

Final Live-Blog Report of the Night

Above map is the tornado warnings in effect at 11:56pm Eastern (red). Maroon = flash flood warnings. Amber = severe thunderstorm warnings. Green = various flood warnings.

The immediate tornado threat for Atlanta (i.e., until 1am Eastern) has lessened as those cells have weakened. However, there is a chance the thunderstorms in east central Alabama could strengthen and move into Atlanta later in the night.

This is my last live-blog report of the night. Hope they have been helpful.  Go to for continuing coverage throughout the night.

Video of the Birmingham Tornado

The above is a frame capture from the video available here.

Tuscaloosa Tornado Video

The University of Alabama campus sustained damage from this tornado.

Live coverage of the tornado as it occurred here.  The young meteorologist did a great job under the circumstances.

Atlanta Update

The purple polygon is a tornado warning southwest of Atlanta. The tornado indication is near Newman, GA at 11:21pm EDT. I have circled downtown Atlanta and put a rectangle at the approximately location of the Atlanta Airport.

Huntsville Area Update

Huntsville area has taken a hit with a report of severe damage at Dadesville, GA. There is a report that power has been lost at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant.  Phone servie is out in northern Georgia.

Horrible Death Toll

The Associated Press is reporting that 64 have been killed by today's storms. In Alabama, 450,000 homes and businesses are without power -- a huge number.

Tornadoes North and South of Atlanta Metro

There are tornado warnings north and south of the Atlanta Metro area with the positions of the likely tornadoes indicated by arrows.

However, Atlanta should not let its guard down.  There are other strong thunderstorms upstream in Alabama that could still possibly produce a tornado in Atlanta later in the night.

Carolinas and Virginia Update

Here are the tornado warnings (red) and flash flood warnings (maroon) as of 10:21pm EDT:

AccuWeather regional radar shows intense supercells quite capable of producing tornadoes:

While there are tornado warnings out on a number of storms, the arrows indicate the three most likely to produce major tornadoes.

Threat Shifting East

The wide view of AccuWeather radar shows the supercell that produced the devastating tornadoes in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham is till going strong (arrow) and a tornado warning is still in effect along its path.

There is a tornado warning in effect (purple polygon) with a hook echo on this thunderstorm northwest of Atlanta (lower right in image):
Strong thunderstorms are southwest of Atlanta and residents should keep a close eye on them as they approach.

Middle Atlantic Tornado Threat

Virginia continues under a tornado watch and tornado warnings are in effect for each of the cells I have highlighted. They are moving northeast

Now Video Blogging at AccuWeather.Com

Here is a link.

The threat is rapidly shifting into northwest Georgia (tornadic thunderstorm west of Roswell), western North Carolina and far northeast Tennessee.

A report recapping the outbreak to 9pm EDT.

Tornado Warnings from Virginia to Mississippi

At 9:06pm EDT. Red = tornado warning.  Maroon = flash flood warning. There is a tornado warning near between Richmond and D.C. then then numerous warnings from western Virginia to southwest Alabama. The threat is starting to shift into Georgia where a "particularly dangerous situation tornado watch" is in effect.

Note: I'm doing special video reports on

Large Tornado Moving into Shelby, Co., Ala. at 6:59pm

National Weather Service's Birmingham office has taken shelter. Warning responsibility being handled by NWS Mobile.

HISTORIC TORNADO OUTBREAK - PDS Tornado Watch for Atlanta and Greenville-Spartanburg

The geographic extent of the tornado watches in effect for this tornado outbreak will rival the "Superoutbreak" of April 3-4, 1974.

There is a new PDS tornado watch until 2am EDT for Atlanta and Greenville-Spartanburg.

This is rapidly transitioning to an "after dark" tornado outbreak which -- statistically -- triples the likelihood of fatalities. Keep up on the weather as thunderstorms approach in any of the tornado watches. 

Here are the reports of tornadoes from 7am CDT to 7pm CDT:


Wide View of Tornado Threat

Tornado warning just southeast of Washington, D.C. (upper right corner of image). Other tornado warnings in south central Virginia.

There is a second developing tornado threatening Jefferson Co. and Birmingham.  Most all of the large, isolated supercells in eastern Tennessee, Alabama and eastern Mississippi have tornado warnings on them. The tornado index in MS-AL are the highest values since the index was created.

Tornado in North Birmhingham

Confirmed: Large tornado through the west and north part of the Birmingham area...the threat continues northeast of Birmingham

The tornado has "leveled homes" in Hueytown and passed very near Little Italy and Driftacks. It is now near Hooper City moving northeast. The debris ball is circled at left with the maxed out Doppler winds (circled at right). This is a major tornado.  Time: 6:04pm

Tornado Moving into Birmingham

5:41pm radar. Debris ball circled and downtown Birmingham circled. I've added an arrow showing the movement of the tornado. A debris ball = debris lofted into the air by the tornado.

Debris Ball Southwest of Birmingham

UPDATE 5:33PM Central Time. Tornado warning for Jefferson Co. and Birmingham. 

Debris ball is getting ready to move into SW Jefferson Co. It is moving toward North Johns, Bessemer, and into the Birmingham Metro Area if it continues on the ground.

UPDATE:  5:32PM Central time: I'm shocked there is no warning of any kind for Jefferson Co., Alabama. This tornado is getting uncomfortably close the southwest part of Jeff Co. and I suggest being prepared to take cover. The debris ball at this time is about 2 mi. SE of Burchfield. I'll post a new image momentarily.

Click to enlarge

A pronounced "debris ball" -- a signature of a tornado on the ground -- is southwest of Birminham (between Hold and Cottondale) and moving northeast. This is a terribly dangerous situation!

The debris ball is caused by the tornado lofting debris into the air where it reflects high amounts of the radar's energy.

In the Words of the NWS Storm Prediction Center...

"An extremely dangerous, life-threatening situation continues to unfold this afternoon across a large part of MS and AL...with adjacent portions of TN and NW GA also expected to become a concern late this afternoon and evening."

The Birmingham radar is downright ominous at the moment (4:42pm CDT) with two hook echos, one southwest of Birmingham:
click to enlarge

Hooks (tornado signatures) are circled, arrows indicate the previous paths of the hooks indicating perhaps long-track tornadoes.
Tornado warnings are in effect for these areas!

This is Getting Scary

Tornado warnings out on numerous thunderstorms in the South. The hook echoes at 2:51pm Central are indicated with arrows, the circled thunderstorm between Birmingham and Huntsville (circled) is looking increasingly suspicious.

Tornado watches now out for the East Coast states.

This truly is a "particularly dangerous situation."

PDS Tornado Watch - Alabama

Here We Go Again - PDS Tornado Watch for Mississippi

If you didn't know what a PDS tornado watch ("particularly dangerous situation") was before the 2011 tornado season, unfortunately you do now.  A PDS has just been issued in Mississippi.
This a truly a dangerous situation. If you are in northeast Louisiana or in Mississippi, please keep up on the weather this afternoon and evening!