A look back at the Super Tornado Outbreak of 2011.
As a Meteorologist this is something that I think will be imprinted in my mind permenantly. Here's the setup.
A very strong low pressure system settled over the Central Plains and stalled out a that last week in April of 2011.
This system was a conbination of severe weather ingredients all coming together is the perfect amount, at just the right time, it was a so-called “Perfect Storm.” Plenty of low level warm moist in from the Gulf, a strong cold front, as well as an upper level disturbance and a strong jetstream in just the right place. This system slowly moved over the Southeast area which is typically known as “Dixie Alley.” On Wednesday April 27th this storm produced four EF-5 tornadoes through that area and moved through northern Georgia into Eastern Tennessee by Wednesday evening.
After producing several tornadoes in south western Virgina, including an EF-3 tornado that went over I-81 in Glade Springs, the massive storm was headed for the Valley.
Strong thunderstorms moved in by midnight. WHSV was on the air all night tracking these storms.
The first tornado which is also the strongest in the DC/Baltimore area was an EF-2 tornado that started in Fulks Run of Rockinham county, traveled over a ridge and through farms.
The tornado weakened a bit as it moved through Shenandoah county ending in St. Luke, just west of Toms Brook. This was the hardest hit area, leveling a chicken farm, and damaging homes in the Orkney Springs area. Miracously only two people were injured.
This tornado struck at 2:12 am, and traveled 26 miles, an amazing distance for a tornado, especially in our area. The path was 400 yards wide. Maximum winds are estimated at about 130 mph. It was on the ground for almost 30 minutes.
At the same time an EF-1 tornado started in Churchville and traveled through Swoope. The path was 4 miles long with maximum winds of about 100 mph. The tornado hit the ground at 2:17am and was only on the ground for 6 minutes, however it caused some extensive damage in that short amount of time.
At exacly 3am another tornado touched the ground in Linvill, an EF-1 Tornado with maximum winds of 90 mph. It was only on the ground for a couple of minutes, but traveled about a mile.
At 3:45 an the fourth tornado struck in northern Shenandoah county, through Middletown. A weaker EF-0 tornado with winds of about 70 mph, which is actually near hurricane force winds I may add. This one traveled a little more than 4 hours.
The last tornado of the night struck at 3:55am. This is the one I remember waking up to in a panic as the storm moved over eastern Harrisonburg. The tornado struck the Keezleton area and caused a tree to fall into a home on Boyers Rd. This tornado was classified as an EF-1 with winds of 90 mph and traveled nearly three miles.
By 4am the Valley was left with just weakening storms, but several areas of damage.
Between April 27th-28th the US saw 344 tornadoes with nearly as many deaths. Most of those in the south east. An unbelieveable four EF-5 tornadoes, a rare event. This storm is an example of textbook ingredients coming together at the right time. The environment these days was extremely favorable for large destructive tornadoes.
The lessons out of this? Well first Meteorologists across the county knew that this was going to be a bad outbreak. In the Valley we had about a day's advance notice to prepare the public for the storms, and what you needed to know to kee you safe.
Unfortunately it hit our area overnight while many people were sleeping, that's never a good scenario. However, has this happeneded in the late afternoon storms may have been stronger and we could have seen more tornadoes. That's a “what-if” case.
It's also because of so many strong EF-4 and EF-5 tornadoes that the National Weather Service has recently started issuing tornado warnings with descriptive terms like “catastrophic tornado” and “deadly tornado.” This in hopes of making sure people know how serious a potential situation is.