The March 2, 2012 tornado outbreak, which ravaged the Tennessee Valley, the Ohio Valley, and parts of the South, will go down in the record books as one of the worst, if not the worst, March tornado events on record.
And, as if to add insult to injury, several inches of snow fell over southern Indiana and Kentucky Sunday night, challenging the clean-up effort.
A lot has been written about Friday’s outbreak. Here’s a guide to some of the most significant information.
How many tornadoes touched down and how strong were they?
NOAA’s current count of confirmed twisters is 45 and will surely rise as storm surveys are completed.
Here is the curent breakdown by state:
AL-7 GA-5 IN-3 KY-9 MS-1 OH-6 NC-2 SC-1 TN-8 VA-1 WV-2
The number of actual tornado reports comes in at 128, but is probably an overestimate due to double counting.
13 tornadoes of intensity EF-3 or higher have been confirmed in seven states (AL, KY, GA, TN, IN, OH, WV).
The strongest confirmed tornado was the EF-4 storm that destroyed the town of Henryville, Indiana. Peak winds were estimated at 170 mph, so strong that “large factory cleared to its foundation slab with anchoring bolts bent in direction of storm.”
Link: List of tornadoes by intensity and state (EverythingWX)
How big and unusual was the outlook, historically?
Although NOAA has confirmed 45 twisters, the Weather Channel’s severe weather expert, Dr. Greg Forbes, has determined 71 tornadoes touched down Friday, March 2. If that many are confirmed, it would easily trump March 31, 1990 (59 tornadoes) as the most on record during March in a single day.
1063 severe weather reports were filed, the most since May 25, 2011.
The Post’s Joel Achenbach, in his article on the outbreak published Sunday, wrote: “A March tornado outbreak of similar scope to [Friday] occurs roughly once a decade.”
While very large, the outbreak was just half as big as the super outbreak of April 27-28, 2011. 1,445 tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings were issued in the April 2011 outbreak compared to 692 such warnings on March 2-3, 2012.
CapitalClimate blogged that the two EF-3 tornadoes that struck Eastern Kentucky were the first tornadoes on record that strong to occur in three counties there.
How many people died?
The current death toll is 39.
Here is the breakdown by state:
21-KY, 13-IN, 3-OH, 1-AL, (1-GA indirect death)
How well was the outbreak forecast?
In the short term, NOAA did an excellent job highlighting the risk of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, as well the potential for large, long-track tornadoes. The image above shows how closely the concentration of warnings coincided with areas noted as having the highest risk.
Even three days before the outbreak occurred, NOAA’s SPC highlighted this same region as having a slight risk, and stated in its outlook on February 29:
VERY STRONG LOW-LEVEL AND DEEP-LAYER SHEAR...ESPECIALLY DURING EVENING OVER PORTIONS KY/TN AND NRN MS/NWRN AL...INDICATE FIRST FEW HOURS OF CONVECTIVE REGIME MAY INVOLVE FAST-MOVING ... SUPERCELLS AND ACCORDINGLY ENHANCED TORNADO POTENTIAL.
The National Weather Service (NWS) has caught some heat for not issuing a tornado warning for an EF-2 tornado that touched down in Cabarrus and Mecklenburg Counties in North Carolina. WCNC.com out of Charlotte got the following explanation from Neil Dixon of the NWS:
“We’re using state of the art equipment the best we can, but unfortunately these events are so brief. Even though it was on the ground for about 3.2 miles, it was traveling at a very rapid rate of speed.”
Tornado outbreak linked to climate change?
The Post’s Achenbach, in his recap of the outbreak, noted any link between climate change and tornadoes is not well-established:
The connection between climate change and tornado formation and intensity is a subject of ongoing research. A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture and can lead to greater deluges, but meteorologists have not established a causal connection between climate change and twisters. “We don’t particularly have strong expectations for changes in tornado occurrence with climate change,” Harold Brooks, research meteorologist with NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory, said Saturday.
On the other hand, meteorologist Jeff Masters provided the following perspective in USA Today:
“This year’s unusually mild winter has led to ocean temperatures across the Gulf of Mexico that are approximately 1 degrees C (1.8 degrees F) above average,” says meteorologist Jeff Masters of the Weather Underground. This places it among the top ten warmest values on record for this time of year, going back to the 1800s, he says.
On his blog Masters wrote: “One thing that climate change may be doing, though, is shifting the season earlier in the year. . . . This year’s early start to tornado season is consistent with what we would expect from a warming climate.”
Family saved - “We survived”, video on YouTube: This is one of the stories of an amazing hero, who risked everything to save his family in the near destruction of Henryville Indiana on 03/02/2012.
Most dramatic videos
Footage of the EF-4 tornado that completely destroyed Henryville, Indiana:
From West Liberty, Kentucky of the EF-3 twister that severely damaged the town:
For a comprehensive collection of tornado videos from this outbreak, visit USTornadoes.com
The March 2 - 3 tornado outbreak: one EF-4, 39 deaths (Jeff Masters)
Recap of deadly U.S. tornado outbreak February 28-March 3, 2012 (Matt Daniels, Earth Sky)