Second Anniversary of April 27, 2011 Record Tornado Outbreak

A record tornado outbreak occurred two years ago today. Three hundred sixteen died in the South.

The death toll was high in spite of excellent forecasts and warnings for two reasons: The tornadoes were unusually strong and hit populated areas (in a region with relatively few basements) and line of thunderstorms occurred in the morning that knocked out power for hundreds of thousands before the violent tornadoes arrived in the afternoon. Without power, tornado sirens, NOAA weather radio and commercial radio stations were off the air (in places). And, even if the local TV station was on the air, if a person in the path didn't have power, there was no way to watch TV or monitor the internet.

The morning storms were so strong, they misled some people into thinking it was the tornado event broadcast meteorologists had been forecasting the night before. With the lack of power, that confusion made effective warnings even more challenging.

Here is an example of the forecast of the tornadoes broadcast the night before and during the tornado outbreak. It is worth watching the entire video as an example of television meteorology at its best.

The dramatic video below, taken in Tuscaloosa, illustrates the problem of warning people when there is no power. Even though cars have their headlights on, note that none of the buildings have lights on. There is no tornado siren to be heard.

Some good is coming from this day from research being conducted in its wake.

Congratulations for all of the excellent work by the National Weather Service, broadcast meteorologists, emergency management, and first responders. All saved lives that horrible day.


  1. Here are some thoughts from legendary Alabama TV met James Spann:

    Spann states that the Birmingham NWS has cut their false alarm ratio for tornado warnings IN HALF since 2011... if so, then that is a major success story that deserves wider publicity.



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