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Tornado outbreak: recap of deadly March 2 storms in Tennessee and Ohio Valley, South

A school bus is lodged in a home where it came to rest after being tossed by Friday's tornado in Henryville, Ind., Monday, March 5, 2012. ) (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

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.

Link: Slide show of snow-covered tornado debris

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

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?

Risk outlooks issued on February 29 and March 2 (left). Tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings issued March 2 (right) (NOAA, adapted by CWG)

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:


Via NOAA: A rotation track map generated using data from NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla. These data are derived from running algorithms on radar from across the NEXRAD network, producing a 2-dimensional graphic of areas where strong rotation tracked.

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. 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?

Mindy Nye, 18, of Henryville, Ind., looks through the debris on Sunday, March 4, 2012, for her 18-month-old son Nathan's baby book, after a tornado destroyed her home on Friday. (Brynn Anderson/AP)

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.”

Heart-breaking stories

Angel Babcock, Indiana toddler found after tornado, dies in hospital

Woman engaged for only 1 day, loses fiancé in EF-3 tornado in Indiana


7-year-old sucked from bed during NC tornado, dropped on interstate

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

Worth reading...

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)

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.


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