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April 28, 2011 / Dave Gorham

Tragic Day in the Deep South

UPDATE (Friday, April 29): The tornado outbreak that devastated parts of the Deep South on Wednesday hit close to home, literally. Dozen of tornadoes killed nearly 300 people across 6 southern states, including at least 210 in Alabama alone. If you’re an avid reader of YourWeatherBlog you already know I call Birmingham home, even though I’ve lived in Houston for several years. On Wednesday, I found myself glued to the TV and internet all afternoon and evening watching the storms as they tracked across Alabama. I became especially alarmed when a PDS Tornado Watch, or a Potentially Dangerous Situation, was issued for parts of Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee.  We saw this coming a week ago and even warned of it again earlier this week.

This is an image you’re glad you don’t see every day. I took this picture with my phone while watching live severe weather coverage.

Wednesday was a tragically historic day of tornadic activity and other severe weather across central Alabama. There were two waves of severe weather that rolled across the area. The first was during the early morning hours across the northern and central part of the state producing damaging straight line winds up to 100 mph and isolated tornadoes.  Trees and power lines were toppled all up and down my parents’ road and they have been without power since yesterday morning. My aunt’s house in Moody also had some damage from the straightline winds. The second wave of severe weather involved numerous supercell thunderstorms and produced strong to violent long-lived tornadoes across the northern two-thirds of Alabama with widespread and catastrophic damage in several areas. According to the National Weather Service in Mississippi, a tornado that struck Smithville on Wednesday was a rare EF-5 storm with peak winds of 205 mph. The last such tornado recorded in the United States struck May 25, 2008 in Parkersburg, Iowa.

The National Weather Service will be surveying the damage. Image: NWS Birmingham

Alabama was by far the hardest hit state with at least 210 confirmed deaths. And, sadly, the count will probably continue to climb as rescue crews advance. One of the hardest hit areas beside the metro Birmingham area was the city of Tuscaloosa, which is home to the University of Alabama. More than 93,000 residents/students live there and at least 36 people were killed and over 100 injured. The supercell system that produced the tornado that touched down just south of downtown Tuscaloosa was the same one that roared through Birmingham about 6 p.m.

Photo: WBRC

Survey crews will continue to assess the damage today and, thankfully, some quiet weather is in store for them over the next couple of days.

Image: Storm Prediction Center

This month is likely to go down in history as one of if not the most active April seasons ever.  These two graphics (see below) show two active tornadoes, using technology that allows meteorologists the ability to peer inside the storms and visualize in a 3D view.  Abnormally warm moist air has been clashing the past few days with colder, drier air from Canada, in combination with upper level disturbances. In yesterday’s tornado outbreak, there were 160 tornado reports across the eastern U.S. from New York state to the Deep South.

Tornado signature south of Tupelo, MS on Wednesday, April 27 around 3:45 p.m. (Central time).

Tornado signature west of Moulton, AL on Wednesday, April 27. Images: Gibson Ridge Software

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