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April 22, 2011 / Dave Gorham

Could the Tornado Swarm of 1974 Be Repeated Next Week?

Is a tornado outbreak possible next week? Now that’s a headline that will catch just about everyone’s attention, especially after the recent severe weather we’ve seen. Last week I posted two separate blog entries about the deadly storms that ripped through parts of the Plains and Southeast. North Carolina was especially hard hit last weekend and at least 45 people (21 in North Carolina) across six states lost their lives. Even though parts of the Plains and Texas could certainly use the rain because of the drought they’re in, no one ever hopes for severe weather and unfortunately that looks to be the case next week.

Severe storms (areas indicated in red) will be possible across the eastern half of the country early next week. There’s increasing concern that there could be an outbreak of tornadoes with the greatest risk from the northern Deep South into the Ohio Valley. Image: ImpactWeather StormWatch

Long-range forecasts continue to indicate a threat of severe weather across the eastern half of the nation during the middle and end of next week. Showers and thunderstorms are forecast to push from the Midwest and Deep South eastward to the East Coast Wednesday into Friday as low pressure and a cold front pushes across the region. Even though it’s still too early to tell how widespread this severe weather outbreak could become, be advised that several ingredients are coming together which could result in areas of concentrated wind damage associated with violent tornadoes and very intense squall lines. In addition to the wind, large hail will be a concern along with intense lightning and very heavy rainfall.

The current pattern is shaping up to be strikingly similar to the April 3-4, 1974 tornado outbreak extending from the central Deep South through the Ohio Valley.

The Superoutbreak of April 3-4, 1974. There were 148 tornadoes in 24 hours. Image: The University of Chicago.

Let’s compare the 500 millibar charts for both the 1974 outbreak and the pattern setting up next week.

 The 500mb pattern from the super outbreak of April, 1974.

 The 500mb pattern for April 26, 2011.

Magnified view of the 500mb pattern from April, 1974.

Magnified view of 500mb pattern for April 26, 2011.

Notice the similarities between the 1974 super outbreak and the pattern shaping up for April 26. The jet core, which contains the fastest winds, is quite a bit stronger at the 500 millibar level for the super outbreak with average wind speeds between 90-110 knots from the Permian Basin to eastern OK.  On April 26, the jet core is 50-70 knots at the 500 millibar level from the Permian Basin to the Ohio Valley, with a jet max near 90 knots over northern AR. 

This is definitely something we’ll keep a close eye on over the next few days. There is increasing concern that we could see a major tornado outbreak between the 25th and 27th across the northern Deep South through the Ohio Valley.

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