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May 25, 2011 / Dave Gorham

Violent Tornadoes, Floods, and Wildfires…What’s Next? I’m Scared to Ask.

Part I of II: A large, violent storm struck the central U.S. yesterday killing at least 13 people across Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas. The El Reno mesonet site, which is located about 25 miles due west of Oklahoma City, took a direct hit from this large/violent tornado. As this particular tornado passed over the site a wind gust of 150.8 mph was recorded. Survey crews are hard at work today assessing the damage. Unfortunately, this is the second time in a matter of days that catastrophic and deadly tornadoes have hit the central U.S.

Here’s the Meteogram for El Reno yesterday. Image: El Reno Mesonet

Storm reports from Tuesday, May 24th. The red dots indicate reported tornadoes. Image: SPC

Sadly on Sunday, a monster tornado classified as a rare EF-5, hit Joplin, Missouri killing at least 125 people and injuring over 750. Search and rescue crews continue to look for people as more than 1,500 have been reported missing. This was the country’s deadliest single tornado in more than 50 years. In the city of approximately 50,000, as many as 2,000 buildings were destroyed and 10,000 damaged. Officials say the storm was a rare “multi-vortex” tornado, with two or more small and intense centers of rotation orbiting the larger funnel.

The past several months the weather has been extremely active. We’ve seen anything from a record number of tornadoes to record flooding along the Mississippi. In Texas we’ve been dealing with wildfires as a result of the on-going exceptional drought (see the image below) that is occurring across parts of Texas, New Mexico and western Louisiana. The Houston area, for example, is currently over 12.21 inches below normal in terms of rainfall.

Image: U.S. Drought Monitor

Although we could certainly use the rain here in Texas, those along the Mississippi River faced the opposite problem. There and upstream they had too much rain within a short period of time which caused major flooding. Thousands of homes and businesses were damaged by the record flood. Even though the floodwaters have been falling, the damage has been done. Another round of heavy rain is in store for the flood-impacted areas of the mid Mississippi and Ohio River Valley over the next day or two as a strong storm system pushes eastward. River levels and flood control structures will continue to be at risk due to this persistent threat of heavy rainfall and increased runoff.

Image: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

[The New Madrid Floodway was constructed quickly after the Great Flood of 1927. The Morganza Floodway allows the Mississippi River to flow into the Atchafalaya Basin, in effect the more natural flow of the Mississippi River. The last (and first) time the gates of the Morganza were opened was 1973. More on the West Atchafalaya Floodway can be read here. The Bonnet Carré  Spillway controls waterflow from the Mississippi into (or out of) Lake Pontchartrain.]

Not even a month ago, a large and violent tornado outbreak occurred from April 25 to 28, which is now widely known as the 2011 Super Outbreak. Destructive tornadoes ripped through parts of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. A total of 327 tornadoes were confirmed across 21 states and 344 people were killed as a result of the outbreak.

Today, those living along the Ohio and Mississippi Valley need to keep a close eye on the storms moving over their area. Dangerous thunderstorms are expected to develop across this region as a strong low pressure system moves eastward. Thunderstorms are expected to increase in intensity and coverage this afternoon across the Ozark Plateau of Missouri and Arkansas. These thunderstorms will shift eastward across the mid Mississippi River Valley and into the western Ohio Valley by the evening and overnight hours. The Storm Prediction Center has issued a high risk alert for widespread severe thunderstorms across eastern Missouri, northeastern Arkansas, western Tennessee, western Kentucky, southern Illinois, and southwestern Indiana later this afternoon and evening. The main threats will be dangerous lightning, strong wind gusts in excess of 60-70 mph, large hail and destructive tornadoes.

There’s a high risk for widespread severe thunderstorms across areas indicated in pink. A moderate risk for severe storms is indicated in red. Image: SPC

High risk for severe thunderstorms today is indicated in red. Image: ImpactWeather StormWatch

This powerful storm system will continue moving eastward as we head towards the weekend, but the upper level dynamics in association with this system will decrease later in the week. However, isolated strong to severe thunderstorms can still be expected over portions of the eastern U.S. through Friday.

Severe weather outlook for Thursday. Image: ImpactWeather StormWatch

Severe weather outlook for Friday. Image: ImpactWeather StormWatch

In addition to the severe weather threat, periods of moderate to heavy rainfall will be likely from the Central Plains eastward through the Midwest and Lower Great Lakes through the second half of the week. General rainfall amounts will range from 1 to 3 inches; however, isolated heavier rainfall totals in excess of 2 to 4 inches will be possible over portions of the already flood-impacted areas of the mid Mississippi and Ohio River Valley. River levels and flood control structures will continue to be at risk due to this persistent threat of heavy rainfall and increased runoff.

Here’s a look at the projected rainfall today through Saturday, May 28th. Image: ImpactWeather StormWatch

Every time I hear about a natural disaster my heart goes out to all those affected. There’s lots of ways we all can help those in need. Here’s some information on how you can donate to the recent disasters right here at home, in the U.S.A.

Donations for Missouri Disaster Relief

The Salvation Army: Joplin Relief Efforts Cell phone users may text “JOPLIN” to 80888 to make a $10 donation.

Heart of Missouri United Way

Samaritan’s Purse: Disaster Relief in Joplin

Missouri: How to Help

Birmingham Humane Society: Tornado Relief

University of Alabama: Tornado Relief

Alabama Tornado Relief: How You Can Help

American Red Cross

Texas Wildfire Relief

**Note: With all charities and non-profits, make sure any site you visit is properly registered and trustworthy before blindly sending money. Make sure your help does the most good possible.

Part II (tomorrow): Violent Weather La Niña’s Fault? And What About Hurricane Season?

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