April 27-30 Severe Weather Event

5 05 2014

The first major severe weather outbreak of 2014 and with it came the largest tornado outbreak of 2014 so far.  This event was seen a week out and was watched carefully each day and each run of the different forecast models.  Needless to say, when a major severe weather outbreak that includes a good chance of tornadoes is going to happen the models are good enough now to find it several days ahead.  But let’s get to the meat and bones of this since this is not about how good models are getting.

As mentioned, we saw this event coming together pretty early on where moderate risks started being highlighted for areas 3 days out.  Usually not a good sign because most of the time when that happens those areas will eventually have a high risk embedded in them on the Day 1 or 2 Outlook which is exactly what happened for this event.  Here are all the storm reports from the entire event from April 27th to April 30th.

A grand total of 929 reports of severe weather within that time period.  Almost 200 of which were tornadoes and the largest being wind damage which nearly covers 400 of the reports.  The neat thing about this map is that you can almost see each day without highlighting each one as the 27th was more Arkansas, Missouri, and Great Plains; the 28th and part of the 29th more Mississippi and Alabama; and the rest of the 29th and 30th more North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio.  As interesting as this is, we need to face the fact that the big talk about this event is not the hail and strong winds but the tornadoes.  We knew tornadoes would be rearing their ugly heads into this with a good chance of them being very strong.  As much as we knew this we were hoping for something less life threatening than what we were anticipating.  Here is a map of all the tornadoes throughout the same time period with the highlighted days.

The red dots, indicating tornado reports, are outlined by colors designating each day they occurred except the one tornado report way over in Washington State as it had nothing to do with the event.  The green outline indicates all those that occurred on the 27th.  What’s more noticeable is the number of red dots lined up in Arkansas that were various reports of the deadly EF-4 tornado that tore through Vilonia, Saltillo, and Mayflower.  This was the longest tracking tornado out of the entire event and most destructive and, sadly, deadliest tornado out of the bunch with a death toll of 15.

Now moving on to the 28th and the morning of the 29th where it impacted our home state and our sister state.  This day has the most tornadoes reported from this storm out of the 3 days which is very easily seen from the above map.  More interesting than the number is the tornado paths.  The Southeast is very notorious for having long tracked tornadoes that come from one stubborn supercell that is strong enough and rotating strongly enough to keep a consistent tornado on the ground regardless of the topography.  This time it wasn’t the case.  These were strong, short-lived tornadoes from persistent supercells that kept on spitting them out.  There are some ideas on why this happened, but that will be mentioned on another blog when we compare this event to the April 27th, 2011 event since it occurred practically 3 years prior to this event.  What we remember out of the 28th was the Louisville, MS EF-4; Richland, MS EF-3; Tupelo, MS EF-3; and the Crawford, AL EF-3.  The first three are pretty obvious due to clear radar signatures and where they landed as Tupelo is the largest city in Northeast Mississippi, Richland is part of the Jackson Metro, and Louisville is fairly close to Mississippi State University.  Interesting fact, some debris fell onto the campus from the Louisville Tornado which is about 25 miles away from the city.  The Crawford Tornado was much more unique as it was embedded with a cluster of thunderstorms and not easily seen on radar.  It was a very quick and violent spin-up that nearly didn’t get caught in time, but due to our excellent meteorologists at the Birmingham National Weather Service they caught it just in time.

Finally, the system spawned some more tornadoes in eastern North Carolina and Florida, but were not near as strong as the ones in Alabama and Mississippi.  We cannot forget the oddball tornado that occurred in Illinois that did not cause any damage.

A total of 45 tornadoes have been reported in Mississippi and Alabama throughout the event.  There was 1 EF-4, 9 EF-3, 7 EF-2, 24 EF-1, and 4 EF-0.  With the type of atmospheric environment that these tornadoes were in, we, the StormTEAM 4 meteorologists, expected more weaker tornadoes e.i. EF-1 and EF-0 than stronger ones.  As a matter of fact, we knew no EF-5’s were going to come out of this with a small chance of 1 or 2 EF-4 tornadoes, a decent possibility of EF-2’s and EF-3’s, and a high probability of EF-1’s and EF-0’s.  Why these numbers is because this system was not built with the right structure to handle EF-5’s and a large number of EF-4’s.  However, it was structured enough to handle some EF-2’s and EF-3’s and definitely built for anything weaker than those.

When the tornadoes were done we thought that was the end of the life threatening weather.  We were sorely wrong.  This system kept on pulling moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and created a continuous line of thunderstorms in Southwest Alabama and the western portions of the Florida Panhandle where historic flooding occurred.  Multiple places received over 20″ of rain just within a 24 hour period and several other places received 15-20 inches.  Several problems aroused where rivers reached major flood stages and streets were flooded with over a foot of water.  Another area that had flooding issues was northern Alabama due to 3 days of persistent rainfall.  The amounts were not near as much as what was seen along the Gulf Coast, but the problems that were caused by the rain was the same.

All in all, lives were changed.  Some lost their lives in the floods because they thought they could drive through it.  Others lost their lives due to the tornadoes.  One life was lost while trying to protect his girlfriend from the tornado that went through Tuscaloosa and another life was lost in Vilonia, AR when the large EF-4 ravaged his home.  The sad thing about the student in Vilonia was that he was texting his mom before it hit and even told her goodbye because he knew he wasn’t going to make it.

-Senior Meteorologist Michael Vasquez, StormTEAM 4 / Gamma 9  Weather