State of the Season: March 21st, 2018

2018 has been a fairly quiet year, both in terms of chase opportunities and overall tornadoes. Currently, the US is nearing 80 tornadoes so far this year, which is below average. Two people have died from tornadoes so far, both on February 24th (1 in Arkansas and 1 in Kentucky). On March 19th, a Moderate risk of severe weather was issued with a 15% significant tornado risk outlined, mostly for northern Alabama. The first EF3 tornado in the US since May 16th, 2017 touched down in Calhoun County, Alabama and struck Jacksonville, causing considerable damage at Jacksonville State University. Although this tornado and several weaker ones damaged populated areas, fortunately no one was killed that day. In terms of chasing, it’s been a pretty lean first three months. In fact, it’s only been in the last week that any chasers caught any remotely interesting storms. On both March 16th and 17th, there were some photogenic supercells in central Texas. Then, on the 19th, some chasers had good video of an EF1 tornado that struck Russellville, Alabama. Compared to last year, which had the significant event on February 28th and several other chase days, we’ve seen a slower start to the chase season.

Starting this weekend, a seemingly more active pattern for chasing will develop across the southern Plains states. An upper-air trough will move into the southwestern US, setting the stage for several days of active weather for KS/OK/TX. Sunday may be the day with the most potential, especially across Oklahoma, but other days may prove fruitful for chasers. Right now, I have my eye on Monday, which looks very similar to my last real chase, April 19th, 2017. Hopefully, I’ll get to try out my new camera in the field very soon.

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2017 in retrospect and a look ahead to 2018

With the 2017 chase season very likely wrapped up, I want to look back at how abysmal the year was for me. I had one real chase with just some structure to show for it. On the only other good chase days of the year nearby (May 18th and 19th), I was busy and unable to chase. May 18th (a High Risk bust in KS/OK) produced a brief tornado in Wabaunsee County, and May 19th featured multiple tornadoes in the heart of the Flint Hills. Go figure. Although 2017 has had 1,363 confirmed tornadoes so far (the most since 2011), there were only a few that were chase-worthy, and Kansas especially underperformed in terms of memorable tornadoes. I made a post at the beginning of 2017 about analog years and how 2017 might end up looking like, and had 1999, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009, and 2012 as possibilities. 2009 and 2012 seemed to be similar years in terms of chasing, as there were very few chase-worthy events, especially here in Kansas. I’ll be making a post about the Top 5 Chase Days in 2017 later, but to give you a hint, only one was in May, which is the prime chasing month. Suffice to say, the 2017 chase season was quite disappointing for everyone, but for me in particular.

Now, let’s see what 2018 has in store.

The analogs seems to be conflicted, with some very good Plains years next to some terrible ones. Through the winter of 2016-17, we had a weak La Nina with a positive PDO. This upcoming winter looks to have a weak Nina with a neutral to perhaps negative PDO. The PDO going negative would be the best news for next year so far. The difference between the two winters is where the La Nina is located. Last winter, it was a “Modoki” Nina, where the coolest surface waters are closer to the central Pacific. This time, the coolest waters are much further east. It is hard to determine the effects this will have on our weather, but it could lead to a colder winter for areas north of the Mason-Dixon line, with warm and dry conditions for the Southeast.

Last winter was very active in terms of tornado events, with significant outbreaks occurring on November 29th-30th, 2016, January 21st-22nd, 2017, February 7th, and February 28th-March 1st. It was one of the most active cold seasons in recent memory. This winter does not look quite as active at the moment. There was a decent event on November 5th in Indiana and Ohio, but the rest of the month looks quiet for now. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was an event somewhere in the December 5th-20th timeframe, as the persistent eastern troughing may take a break, leading to a tornado-friendly west trough/east ridge configuration. However, it appears that an eastern trough through the winter may be common, with cold conditions for the eastern half of the country.

The question is this: How long does the eastern troughing hold? Does it break down in February or does it hold into late March or early April? This is one of the keys to the tornado season. The longer it holds, the less likely we are to have a good chase season. I feel that March and April will be the deciding months to the season; if the early part of the season is active, it will be a successful season, as it is entirely possible that May is anemic again.

My top 5 analogs for the season are: 1990, 1991, 2002, 2013, 2014. Brett Roberts, a storm chaser, created a ranking for chase seasons based on several factors (http://skyinmotion.com/weather/chase_season_rankings/). Using his rankings, we can group these in the three groups: Great, OK, and Bad.

1990 and 1991, and 2013 were great chase years. 1990 and 1991 both featured all-time great chase events, with both March 13, 1990 and April 26, 1991 among the most impressive Plains outbreaks on record. Both years also had other good events to keep chasers busy. 2013 featured one of the best 15 day stretches of chasing ever (May 15th-31st) with the 15th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 27th, 28th, and 31st all featuring well-documented strong/violent tornadoes. Although Roberts has 2013 as below average, the May 15th-31st stretch makes it into my “great” category. It’s interesting to note that the 2013 tornado season was far below average until late May, and the chase season was terrible both prior to May 15th and after May 31st. Any chaser would take 1990, 1991, or 2013 in a heartbeat, and in fact, on Roberts’ rankings, 1990 and 1991 were two of the four best years in chasing.

2014 was an OK chase year. The year was very quiet until April 27th, which had the infamous Vilonia, AR tornado, along with several more chaseable tornadoes in SE KS. May 2014 was abysmal. However, June 16th-18th made up for it. The mesmerizing Pilger, NE tornado family of June 16th was an unparalleled spectacle. June 17th featured a monstrous, slow-moving tornado near Coleridge, NE, while June 18th had multiple tornadoes in eastern SD, including the scary-yet-beautiful Alpena, SD EF4. If you chased June 16th-18th, it was a great year, but if you didn’t, it was an awful year.

2002 was pretty bad. April 17th featured a decent event in NW OK, but most of the month of April was pretty quiet. May 5th and 7th both had good events in KS and TX, but again, it was not the best month. June 23rd had the only violent tornado on the Plains, near Aberdeen, SD. Overall, 2002 was pretty quiet with a few decent events here and there, making it into the “bad” category.

As of now, my thoughts for both the cold season and the Plains chase season are as follows: mid-December could see a tornado event, perhaps in the mid-Mississippi valley. January will be largely quiet, with a return to tornadic activity in February, but probably not too significant. March and April could be pretty active, while May could be below average. June will be a month to watch, as above-average activity may make the season. Overall, I’m not very optimistic about 2018, but until June, hope remains.

Looking ahead: 2017 Chase/Tornado Season

As March begins, the Plains chase season is just around the corner. I haven’t posted anything in a while, mostly because there hasn’t been much weather of interest around here. Since we are getting closer to the Plains tornado season, I thought I would share my thoughts on what has already been a big 2017 tornado season and my chase prospects for the spring/summer.

2017 has got off to a big start. The U.S. has been hit by multiple significant tornado events in January and February. This may sound odd, but the U.S. gets plenty of wintertime tornado events. Outbreaks like February 5, 2008 (Super Tuesday) and the Enigma Outbreak of 1884 are examples of major winter outbreaks. However, the volume of tornadoes these past two months has been impressive. According to the SPC Inflation Adjusted Annual Tornado Trend graph, there have been 209 inflation-adjusted tornado reports this year. This is fairly close to the record-level of 275 for March 3rd. The events of January 21-23rd and the recent February 28-March 1st outbreak were particularly impressive, and unfortunately, killed 24 people combined. Georgia in particular was hard hit on January 22nd, with 16 killed in that state on from two tornadoes. The Adel, Georgia area tornado was rated EF3 as it struck a mobile home park around 2 am, killing 11 through its path. Hattiesburg, Mississippi was hit hard in the early morning of January 21st, and Albany, Georgia suffered a similar fate on January 22md. February 28th saw multiple strong and long-track tornadoes across Illinois, Missouri and Indiana especially, with four killed. That day also produced Kansas’ first two tornadoes of the year.

Outbreaks aside, perhaps the most impressive detail of the 2017 season thus far has been the volume of events. There have been strong tornadoes and modest outbreaks almost weekly to this point. We have been locked into an active pattern for basically the entire winter (counting November and December 2016, which saw some events) and it doesn’t look like there is a major pattern change coming, either. But what does this all mean for the rest of the tornado season, and the Plains chase season in particular?

I should point out that by no means am I an expert in seasonal forecasting. It is a very difficult and relatively new area of research, and I don’t envy those who try to forecast seasonally. However, it appears to me that there are some factors that one can look at to try to determine seasonal tornado activity. ENSO state (El Nino/La Nina) is one, as well as the PDO, AMO, MJO phase, and various others. Many people seem to think that ENSO is the most important; El Nino results in generally less activity and La Nina more activity. It is true that strong La Nina events tend to produce large outbreaks in the Midwest and Southeast especially, but diving into some past events, it appears to me that El Nino, La Nina and Neutral states seem to produce similarly in the Plains. With my limited knowledge, it seems that the PDO seems to be more important. The PDO is the temperature of ocean waters in some areas of the North Pacific ocean; cooler waters (-PDO) appear to help tornado activity. While there have been big chase years with a +PDO, in general it appears that tornado activity is somewhat lessened.

Since 2012, we have been in a record +PDO. It’s not much of a surprise, then, that tornado numbers and significance have been pretty low since then. In fact, the last major, synoptically-evident (obvious for days that there would be an outbreak) was on April 14th, 2012. There have been good chase periods since then, such as May 15-31st, 2013, or May 21st-25th, 2016, but in general, the southern and central Plains has been in a lull period. The PDO has been gradually returning towards a neutral state, and may be heading towards a negative state. We shall see if this helps the chase season or not.

Analogs are an important forecasting technique. Look at the years similar to this one, and try to see if those years had a lot of tornadoes or not. Looking at ENSO, PDO, and other indices and patterns, there are some years that come up. Here are six that I think are good matches for 2017:

1999, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2012

There are some stark differences in terms of chase seasons with these. Three were all-time great chase seasons, one was decent, and two were pretty terrible. Time to look at each in-depth.

1999, 2004 and 2008 were great tornado seasons featuring multiple significant Plains events. These three years went down as some of the best chase seasons ever. All had La Nina to some degree, and 1999 and 2008 contained very active January-February periods. If 2017 is anything like one of these years, buckle up for a lot of chasing.

2012 was an OK year. Early on, there were several events to keep chasers occupied in late March and early April. April 14th, 2012 is one of the biggest tornado outbreaks on record in the Plains, with ~90 tornadoes in one day, and many strong/violent long track tornadoes across Kansas and Oklahoma. However, after April 14th, there was very little of significance. May 19th and May 25th were good chase days, but overall, Plains activity was pretty low. If 2017 is like 2012, expect there to be some unhappy chasers, but there will be at least some chases to keep me occupied.

2006 and 2009 were bad. Both years were fairly similar to this year with a weak La Nina or near Neutral. Both years also had some early-season events (March 9-13, 2006 and February 10, 2009) that would have been good chase days, but overall, there was very little to chase. May 2009 was plagued by lines of storms rather than individual supercells, and 2006 only had one tornado of note in the Plains (Westminster, Texas on May 9th). If 2017 is like 2006 or 2009, I will be very bored.

Now, what do I think will happen? I suspect that we won’t see a terrible year like 2006. It’s hard to tell if our chase season will be great or just decent. I could easily see a 2012-like season with early activity shutting off in mid-April. I could also see a 2008 type year with numerous significant Plains events. Perhaps most likely solution is a 2004-type year, with more numbers than significance (which I will gladly take). Either way, I’m really looking forward to this year.

Tornado Outbreak February 23-24, 2016 Analysis

From February 23-24, 2016, the biggest tornado outbreak of the year so far, as well as one of the largest February outbreaks on record took place. At this time, 7 people have died as a result of 61 tornadoes in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Damage surveys are underway, and this will be updated to reflect that. At this time, there are at least four EF3 tornadoes confirmed, with many weaker ones as well. One struck an RV park near Convent, Louisiana and killed two people during the afternoon of the 23rd, one caused major damage in Pensacola, Florida, one killed a person near Appomattox, Virginia on the afternoon of the 24th, and one caused major damage and numerous injuries near Tappahannock, Virginia. This will be an in-depth look at the event, looking from a synoptic perspective and a look at individual storms and tornadoes.

Late February 22 through February 23

A shortwave trough arrived in the Central U.S. on Monday, February 22. This induced a surface low to develop in Northern Mexico and Southwest Texas late that night. A Slight Risk of severe weather was issued for Southwest and South-central Texas, for the threat of damaging winds and some hail. There was substantial mid-level shear to organize storms; however, low-level shear and instability were not yet conducive for tornadoes. Storms began to fire in Southwest Texas near the Rio Grande. A substantial MCS developed, and impacted Del Rio, Texas, among other areas.radar1

Bowing line segment Feb 22 east of San Angelo, TX

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Strong MCS Southeast of Del Rio, TX. This complex produced large hail and some damaging winds in South Texas. Note white colors on radar, where likely very large hail is occurring.

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First Tornado Warning of the outbreak in Southern Texas; this storm did not produce a tornado.

Severe storms continued to impact Texas through the early morning hours on February 23. A MCV (Mesoscale Convective Vortex, or meso low) developed and moved across the Gulf towards Louisiana. This mesoscale feature later played a substantial role in tornadoes in Louisiana and Mississippi. A bowing line segment moved south of Houston, TX and produced a brief tornado west of Galveston.

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Distinct TVS, where a brief EF0 tornado occurred at this time. Path length: 2 miles.
From NWS Houston: “brief, narrow tornado destroyed three sheds and damaged three homes.”

The SPC had outlined a Moderate Risk on February 23 (the first MOD of the year) for Southeast Louisiana, Southern Mississippi, Southern Alabama and the Western Florida Panhandle. This included a 15% hatched tornado risk (which is quite high). The SPC had even considered adding a High Risk at one point, but that did not happen. There were many tornadoes within this risk area, some strong/intense, and unfortunately, two killer tornadoes. The SPC, along with local WFO’s, did an excellent job conveying the importance of the situation, and I believe saved many lives. In fact, the NWS New Orleans office lost radar from a lightning strike as a tornadic supercell was heading directly towards the office (must have been quite scary!) and seemingly produced a tornado within miles of the office. While at least 3 people lost their lives on February 23, excellent forecasts along with timely watches and warnings likely reduced the number from what could have been more.

The first tornadoes of the day took place in the New Orleans metro. As the remnants of the early morning storms in Texas moved into the western Gulf of Mexico and West Louisiana, two tornadic supercells quickly developed in the warm sector in Southeast Louisiana. As the storms moved into the western parts of the New Orleans metro, one storm moved from St. Charles Parish into Jefferson Parish around 11 am Central time. A tornado was reported in St. Charles Parish (unconfirmed at this time), and as a new circulation developed in the storm, a tornado was confirmed in the western parts of Kenner.

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The supercell which has the Tornado Warning produced at least one tornado in Kenner before moving over Lake Pontchartrain.

The tornado did some minor damage before moving north into Lake Pontchartrain. As the cells moved over Lake Pontchartrain, an impressive sight unfolded before the eyes of several people. Three waterspouts were seen moving towards the north shore of the lake; it’s unknown at this point if they reached the shore.

Around 12 pm CST, a supercell moved from Iberville Parish, Louisiana through Ascension and Livingston Parishes. A confirmed EF0 tornado hit near White Castle in Iberville Parish, doing intermittent damage along a 3 mile track. The circulation reformed, and an EF0 tornado then struck Prairieville, Louisiana in Ascension Parish.

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Velocity display of the supercell after an EF0 tornado struck Prairieville, Louisiana

A gym sustained serious damage from this tornado while people were still exercising inside (none were hurt). The tornado lifted soon afterwards. Just southwest of the town of Livingston in Livingston Parish, the supercell produced yet another tornado. This tornado was considerably stronger than the two preceding it, and was rated EF2, the first strong tornado of the outbreak. At its widest, the tornado was 1/3rd of a mile wide and heavily damaged many structures and trees in the town of Livingston. Fortunately, nobody was hurt by this tornado. The supercell produced yet another weak tornado near the town of Montpelier in St. Helena Parish.

Around 3 pm, another complex of storms moved into Southeast Louisiana from the Gulf. A brief tornado occurred near White Castle in Iberville Parish (the second in the same area) and produced some  minor damage.

Paincourtville-Convent, Louisiana EF3

To the southwest of that storm, a supercell moved into Assumption Parish and a large tornado touched down southwest of Paincourtville. This tornado was likely heavily rain-wrapped through its existence. The already-strong tornado heavily damaged or destroyed several businesses and an apartment complex south of Paincourtville.

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Debris signature evident near Paincourtville, Louisiana

The tornado continued northeastward and heavily damaged many homes. The second level of a well-built brick house was almost removed, which was awarded an EF3 rating, making this the first EF3+ tornado of the outbreak and the second of the year. The tornado damaged two homes near the Mississippi River and some intense tree damage was noted before the tornado crossed the river. The worst was still to come.

As the 300+ yard wide tornado crossed the Mississippi River, it slammed into the Sugar Hill RV Park. Numerous RVs and trailers were obliterated as the now high-end EF2 tornado tore through the area. Unfortunately, two people were killed and 75 were injured to some degree, including 7 critically. This was the second killer tornado of the year. The tornado began to weaken, still damaging trees and a home before lifting near Interstate 10.

Storms then intensified in far Southern Mississippi, and two EF-1 tornadoes touched down in Pearl River County. The tornadoes damaged trees and a few structures, with nobody injured. More weak tornadoes were confirmed in Washington Parish, Louisiana/Marion County, Mississippi, and Lamar County, Mississippi, mainly from a line segment with QLCS circulations. However, the rotating comma head of the line segment produced a strong EF2 tornado in Lamar County, Mississippi near Purvis. This tornado destroyed a mobile home, killing one person and damaging other structures and trees on a 5.6 mile track.

The same supercell that produced the Paincourtville tornado continued northeastward and likely produced a waterspout over Lake Pontchartrain. This waterspout came ashore near Akers in St. John the Baptist Parish and crossed Interstate 55. Some minor tree damage was noted, and the tornado was rated EF0. As this supercell moved over Lake Pontchartrain, another supercell developed on its southwest flank and moved northeastward through St. John the Baptist Parish. A tornado touched down west of the town of Laplace and produced substantial damage along its path. Trees were snapped and homes received minor damage before the tornado strengthened as it struck the Riverland Heights subdivision. Many homes had their roofs damaged and some roofs were removed. A narrow stretch of EF2 damaged was noted as the tornado moved through the Cambridge area. Many residences were heavily damaged. The tornado continued to strengthen as it moved through subdivisions in Laplace. After producing heavy damage in Laplace, the tornado crossed both Interstate 10 and Interstate 55 and dissipated. Overall, the tornado injured 17 people, but luckily no-one was killed.

Further east, a small thunderstorm tracked northward through West-central Alabama. It produced a brief tornado near Reform in Pickens County around 4:30 pm, and another brief tornado near Hackleburg in Marion County around 6 pm. These tornadoes did minimal damage to some structures, but mostly damaged trees.

The original Paincourtville supercell produced yet another waterspout that came ashore in Madisonville in St. Tammany Parish. This tornado was very weak and produced minimal damage along a .5 mile track, garnering a rating of EF0. Another supercell developed on the flanks of the Laplace supercell and produced an EF0 tornado in Lacombe in St. Tammany Parish. The tornado damaged a plant nursery, several mobile homes, and trees before producing minor damage to homes and dissipating.

A line segment in Central Mississippi produced a brief tornado in Yazoo County. As the system of storms consisting mainly of QLCS-type line segments pushed through Southern Mississippi, many brief/weak tornadoes were recorded, mostly in Greene and Wayne Counties.

Pensacola, Florida EF3

A large and impressive supercell storm was detected by radar over the Gulf of Mexico south of Mobile Bay before 6:30 pm. This supercell was moving northeastward towards Gulf Shores, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida.radar5.png

Supercell thunderstorm offshore of Gulf Shores, Alabama. It is likely producing a large waterspout at this time.

The storm exhibited very impressive rotation, and was likely a cyclical supercell producing large waterspouts. In fact, there was a debris signature shown on this storm, despite the fact that it was over water. The situation became very worrisome as a likely waterspout was approaching Orange Beach, Alabama. Thankfully, it weakened considerably just miles offshore. However, the storm wasn’t done.

As the storm moved onshore, it moved northeastward into Escambia County, Florida. The rotation restrengthened as the supercell was over a large, populated area, and dropped a strong tornado near the Pensacola International Airport on the northeast side of Pensacola. The tornado ripped roofs off of houses, snapped power poles and extensively damaged trees while moving northeast. The tornado crossed I-10, and damaged many trees in the area. EF2 damage was noted as two houses had their roofs removed. At the Mooring Apartments, major damage occurred as the second floors of two buildings were gutted. The General Electric plant had a warehouse destroyed, and two units of the Grand Baroques Townhouses were destroyed. Likely near peak intensity, the EF3 tornado moved across Escambia Bay, and reached the other shore in Santa Rosa County. Some debris from the GE plant was found on the western shore of Escambia Bay. The tornado weakened considerably in Santa Rosa County, producing some EF1 damage before dissipating.

While an intense tornado had moved through a heavily populated area, only three people were injured, and miraculously, nobody was killed. Had the tornado touched down earlier and cut through more of Pensacola, this would likely not be the case.

Overnight, more tornadoes were recorded in Southeast Alabama and Southwest Georgia. These were mostly weak and brief, but there was some damage on the northwest side of Dothan, Alabama.

February 24

As the system ejected north and east, the deep surface low moved from Northern Mississippi towards Cincinnati, Ohio. A warm front pushed the cold air damming that was present in the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic, creating an impressive thermal boundary that was to serve a nefarious purpose later (locations not far from each other had 20+ degree temperature and dewpoint changes).  The SPC issued a Moderate Risk again, this time for Central Virginia into Central and Eastern North Carolina, with a Slight Risk in Central Florida as well. The cold front extended from the Appalachians to off the west coast of Florida, sparking intense thunderstorm activity in the Gulf of Mexico. These storms moved eastward into the Florida Peninsula near Tampa Bay, spawning a few tornadoes. Near Duette, Florida, in Manatee County (where an EF2 tornado killed two people on January 17) an EF1 tornado snapped trees along an 8 mile path. A brief tornado touched down in western Virginia and damaged homes, snapped trees, and blew a mobile home off its foundation. Another brief tornado touched down in Wayne County, North Carolina and damaged trees, mobile homes, and a turkey barn.

This tornadic thunderstorm produced two brief tornadoes in the Port Charlotte, Florida vicinity.

A thunderstorm complex moved into Charlotte County, Florida and produced two brief tornadoes. The second of the two, an EF1, damaged over 30 homes, a few of which received major damage.

In Southeast Virginia, what would be the deadliest tornado of the outbreak touched down just west of the town of Waverly in Sussex County at 2:35 pm. As the tornado struck the town, two mobile homes were destroyed, killing three people in one of them. Many homes and businesses also received damage along a 9 mile path. The tornado was rated EF1, showing that it doesn’t take a very strong tornado to be deadly. This tornado was also the first deadly tornado in Virginia in February, but unfortunately, not the last.

Near the town of Colerain, North Carolina (which was hit very hard on April 16, 2011, when an EF3 tornado killed 12 in the town) a brief EF0 tornado touched down. In far Northern South Carolina, another EF0 damaged trees in Chesterfield County. Further north, things were only getting worse.

Evergreen, Virginia EF3

Just before 3:30 pm, a supercell thunderstorm produced a tornado in Campbell County, Virginia. At first, the tornado was weak, damaging trees and outbuildings before strengthening to an EF2 near Chap. The tornado damaged structures and outbuildings as it moved northeastward through Appomattox County. A poorly built home was destroyed before the tornado struck Evergreen at EF3 strength. A small home was leveled, and some outbuildings and mobile homes were obliterated. The tornado tore a roof off a home near Holiday Lake State Park before it lifted. Overall, one person was killed and 7 injured along a 17 mile path. This tornado was the first EF3+ tornado to occur in Virginia in the month of February, but again, it wouldn’t be the last.

As storms moved into the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina metro, a brief tornado touched down in northwest Durham in a wooded area, where extensive tree damage occurred. Further north, an EF0 tornado damaged trees and homes in Fluvanna County, Virginia. Around 4:30 pm, a strong tornado touched down northeast of Oxford, North Carolina, in Granville County. The EF2 tornado damaged many trees and destroyed outbuildings  on a 5 mile path from Granville County into Vance County. The same supercell produced another tornado in Mecklenburg County, Virginia. Many trees were downed and some homes received minor damage from this EF1 tornado.

Tappahannock, Virginia EF3

As most of the activity was seemingly winding down around 6:30 pm, a strong, long-tracked tornado touched down in King and Queen County, in eastern Virginia. Initially at high-end EF1 strength, the tornado strengthened into a large EF3 tornado near Dunbrooke, where three unanchored homes and two mobile homes were swept away. West of Tappahannock, the tornado weakened slightly to EF2 strength, but many homes were heavily damaged and outbuildings were destroyed. The tornado then crossed the Rappahannock River and moved into Naylors Beach. Some small homes were destroyed, and a large home lost most of its second floor. Through the rest of the path, EF1 damage to homes, trees and outbuildings was observed before the tornado dissipated. Overall, 25 people were injured along a 30 mile path. The two EF3 tornadoes were the first EF3+ tornadoes in Virginia in February, and the first EF3+ tornadoes in Virginia since the Glade Spring, Virginia EF3 on April 27,2011.

Even further north, a powerful MCS was moving through eastern Pennsylvania and Maryland at more than 70 mph. The MCS spawned two tornadoes; the first an EF2 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. This tornado heavily damaged nearly 50 buildings, including a large Amish schoolhouse which was destroyed, and a building with 100 people in it attending an auction which had its roof torn off. In addition, a van with many passengers was blown into a field, but luckily no-one was hurt. This was only the second tornado recorded in Pennsylvania in the month of February. Another tornado touched down in Bradford County, Pennsylvania which damaged a few homes and many trees. Two more brief tornadoes were confirmed in Virginia before the storm system moved northeast. It is also interesting to note some of the storm motions; towards the end of the event, as storms moved through the Northeast, some warnings indicated the storms were moving in excess of 100 mph.

Looking back at the first major outbreak of the year yields some interesting notes. This outbreak pushes the U.S. far above average for the year. In fact, it has been one of the most active January-February periods of recent memory. There are signs that March could continue this trend. The four EF3 tornadoes recorded during the two day period are also interesting. Last year did not have four EF3+ tornadoes until May 6, 2015. 2015 also did not have 9 tornado-related fatalities until May 25. While the first day of the outbreak was not unusual for February, the second day of the outbreak was quite unusual for February, as multiple tornadoes, including some strong, touched down across Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. All in all, 2016 is off to a fast start, and it could stay that way for March.

 

Slight Severe Threat for Monday, February 15, 2016

On 2/15/16, there appears to be some potential for severe weather over southern Mississippi and southwestern Alabama, with the activity possibly including eastern and southern Louisiana and into the western Florida panhandle. At this time, the SPC has the area roughly from New Orleans eastward to Pensacola, Florida and northward to Hattiesburg, Mississippi included in a Slight risk for severe weather. At this time, (the day before) the threat does not look as substantial as Groundhog Day did, where there were a few strong tornadoes across eastern Mississippi and western Alabama. However, that does not mean folks in these areas should let their guard down. Before I go further into forecasts, I will say that I would not be surprised to see a couple tornadoes in this area tomorrow.

Much still remains to be seen with this system, and like many cold-season severe events, makes a tough forecast. There is still considerable model spread at this point, with the evolution of a central and eastern US trough and associated cyclogenesis and warm air advection. The NAM, as usual, is the most aggressive with instability and overall severe threat. However, the NAM has done fairly well as of late, and needs to be considered. If the NAM pans out, there could easily be a few tornadoes tomorrow. Once the HRRR comes into play here, we will start to get a better idea of what will happen tomorrow.

The above picture shows the STP values for 3 pm Monday from the 4km NAM model. While these values are not off the charts, and do not show too much potential for strong tornadoes, a couple tornadoes are possible. 

This is a forecast sounding from near Meridian, Mississippi around 3 pm Monday. The CAPE is likely overdone, but the shear profiles are there for tornadoes. Lapse rates will be sufficient for organized storms. It appears that the main threat in Mississippi may be further south of Meridian, from Hattiesburg southward. Analysis of the forecast reflectivity and updraft helicity tracks shows potential for both supercells and QLCS structures. I won’t be chasing, but if I lived in the area, I would keep an eye on the sky.

All in all, I would be surprised if this goes higher than a Slight Risk. Even if this were to validate on the higher end of the forecast, (NAM) I doubt we would see an outbreak. With that said, at this point I believe there is a pretty good possibility that there will be 1+ tornado, and it’s possible we see 4+. I think a good number right now is 3 tornadoes.