World and Nation

Deadly Tornado Outbreak

Deadly Tornado Outbreak

The deadliest tornado outbreak in the United States since 1985 occurred this past Tuesday and Wednesday, killing at least 50 people in a region spanning 5 southern states. While the extensive loss of life cannot be attributed to meteorological factors alone, the rare phenomenon of long-track supercell thunderstorms certainty did play a major role.

A supercell is a type of thunderstorm that rotates about a vertical axis. Sometimes that rotational wind field, through a poorly understood process, can be tapped to produce a tornado. Usually, supercells cannot cover much ground before they dissipate on their own or are absorbed into a larger complex of storms. However, with a sufficient push from the large-scale wind field and without molestation from other nearby storms, supercells can travel well over 100 miles (161 km).

Three tornadic supercells managed to produce such long tracks in this week’s outbreak. By themselves, these three thunderstorms spawned the tornadoes that caused the vast majority of deaths and the most extensive property destruction.

Today: Mostly cloudy, snow showers possible early. High 35°F (2°C).

Tonight: Partly cloudy. Low 26°F (-3°C).

Tomorrow: Increasing clouds, chance of showers late. High 42°F (6°C).

Tomorrow night: Light rain likely. Low 32°F (0°C).

Sunday: Mostly cloudy, windy, with a chance of snow showers. High 37°F (3°C).

Monday: Mostly sunny. High 32°F (0°C).