WeatherWhys Blog

Spring storms unleash powerful damage

Spring storms unleash powerful damage
In this April 17, 2011 photo, Jeffery Lee looks at a photograph in the middle of debris that was once his friend's home in Fayetteville, N.C., after a tornado hit the area on Saturday. (AP Photo/The Fayetteville Observer, Andrew Craft)

A couple of Wednesdays ago,  a cold front came through Kern County. It turned 10 degrees cooler in Bakersfield, but that same system moved east to eventually kill 45 people in what would become the biggest tornado outbreak the US has witnessed in years.

A couple of Wednesdays ago,  a cold front came through Kern County. It turned 10 degrees cooler in Bakersfield, but that same system moved east to eventually kill 45 people in what would become the biggest tornado outbreak the US has witnessed in years.

Every season has its character and its intensity. Certainly, we in the central valley know about summer with blistering heat. Winter in much of the country can bring paralyzing snowstorms and blizzards. But of all the periods of time on a calendar, springtime has that potential to take the most intense elements of all seasons to produce life threatening thunderstorms. Such was the case late last week. The polar jet stream cut a trajectory across the southern plains after flowing over the eastern Pacific and California. Once this river of fast moving air in the sky’s upper reaches exited the Rocky Mountains area, it curved north. This provoked heat and humidity from the Gulf of Mexico to stream northward, spiraling into an ever deepening low pressure system over Kansas. Surface barometric pressure dropped dramatically as hot and dry winds started to rush in from the southwestern part of Texas. Cold air still perched over Nebraska was engaged to move south and the perfect toxic mix of elements came together for an atmospheric plague on Oklahoma.

I remember watching the first tornado develop on radar Thursday afternoon, April 14, about 3 PM Pacific Time. It spun up just south of Paul’s Valley, Oklahoma and exhibited a classic tornado signature on the imagery. That was the beginning. By Saturday evening, 322 tornadoes had ravaged the country from Oklahoma to Virginia. So far this year, a total of 563 tornadoes have touched down. The 3-year average to date is 296 and the average for an entire calendar year is 1376. Obviously we are way ahead of schedule considering May is usually the busiest tornado month of the year. 50 people have been killed by tornadoes this year so far, 45 during this most recent outbreak. The 3-year average is 64 tornado related deaths annually. Additionally, just a few weeks ago on April 4th an astounding total of 1476 severe storm reports were tabulated by the Storm Prediction Center. This was, to my understanding a one-day record. It also occurred on the 37th anniversary of the Super Outbreak of April 3-4, 1974 during which 148 tornadoes touched down in 13 states. 310 people were killed in the U.S. and 8 in Canada. 7 of those tornadoes were rated F5, the most severe. This was one of only a handful with over 100 confirmed tornadoes, including a 180 tornado outbreak May 4-6, 2003 and 115 tornadoes during Hurricane Beulah in 1967. Additional tornadic activity has raged over the heartland of America with the first powerful EF-4 tornado of the year striking the St. Louis International Airport on Good Friday. Amazingly, no one was killed. It was the first time since 1967 St. Louis has taken the brunt of a tornado. Damage may surpass $1 Billion- in this year of the tornado.