“The Great Outbreak of 2011”

Hey, all big outbreaks need a name don’t they?  While I’m not advocating that my subject line be the name of this outbreak – something had to go there.

I got into the fire dispatch office at 7 a.m. CDT on Wednesday the 27th.  I just got home some 20 hours later.  As I write, nine tornado warnings are in effect for portions of New York, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia.  It has been a long wind-down from what may possibly be a historic tornado event that extended from Arkansas and Louisiana northeastward into New York.  Spin the axis of this event counter-clockwise about 45 degrees and it would cover similar areas of the “1974 Super Outbreak”.

Work was just slow enough today to allow me to watch the majority of this event unfold.  A few things come to mind:

1. Wow.

2. I don’t think I’ve ever watched so many significant “live” tornadoes.

3. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many radar presentations that suggested very bad things were happening.

4. The death toll is muddy (somewhere between 60 and 80), but I said about midway through the event that any toll in double figures would make this a good day.

5. I don’t think it will have been a good day when the final numbers appear.

6. The forecast was excellent by all participants.

7. I’ve never seen SPC use an exclamation mark in a Mesoscale Discussion before.

8. I’ve never seen the words “Tornado Emergency” used so much… and all of them warranted.

9. I didn’t vary my internet television watching very much.  ABC 33/40 out of Birmingham was outstanding in their coverage.

10. Birmingham was extremely lucky.

11. When the final death toll is tallied, will we be telling ourselves that it could have been much worse or asking ourselves why it was so high?

12. I’m tired, and I didn’t have anything to do but watch.  Watching however, was like watching a bad car wreck happen over and over and over.

Tornadoes – some killer tornadoes – were happening well before sunrise.  They are apparently occurring now.  Depending on what time frame you use to get your 24 hours… might we have broken the record of the 1974 Super Outbreak?

One thing is for sure, a lot of the photos from 1974 look really similar to the ones we saw on Wednesday.

We have come a long way in forecasting such events.  The newer technology of radar and dissemination of information completely dwarfs what was in place in 1974.  But in 1974, there were 315 people that were killed and many large cities that took direct hits by violent tornadoes.  My initial take is that fewer large cities took violent hits in this event, yet we have only managed to cut the death toll by two thirds (if the number of fatalities exceeds 100 which I believe it will).  More people in urban areas?  More people in rural areas?  More people unlucky? Weaker structures?

Three things helped today… it was a well forecast event that had more than adequate warning lead time (best I can tell)… most of the tornadoes seemed well exposed from rain – visible for miles… and the event occurred during the daylight hours.  Of course, there were several things that hurt as well… the speed of the storms… the fact that while yes, it was daylight, it was also during the evening rush period when many were getting out of work and school.

The bottom line is, when the final event summary is prepared, I would like to see details on the fatalities.  As much information that can be provided.

1. Did they know about the potential?

2. Did they know about the warning?

3. How much lead time did they get and how did they get it?

4. What action did they take when they got the warning?

5. Did they underestimate the intensity of the tornadoes?

6. Were they trying to get to shelter?

7. Was shelter available?

8. Did they know that actions they were taking were the right ones?

9. Had they been educated about the dangers of tornadoes and what to do to prevent injury?

10. Did they feel like they had enough time to finish their drive thru order before it hit?

11.

12.

13.

I know that you can’t take large tornadoes through populated areas without killing a few people.  There are going to be the unlucky ones that do everything right and still manage to become a statistic.  But, should we still be killing over a hundred people in a tornado event these days?  Have we maxed out our potential in saving lives?  Or, is this just a simple case of when hundreds of people and a violent tornado meet at the same spot in the road… a lot of them are going to die.

This one is going to stick with me for a long time.  Events like this are going to happen again.  But, while it may be next week, it could just as easy be many, many years – possibly even after I’m gone.  So, the possibility of a once in a lifetime event combined with the ability of watching it unfold, has definitely left its mark on me.  For all the good things that were done, I would sure like to know what went wrong for so many people.

I spent hours and hours collecting radar data from the event which will eventually be posted on my severe weather events blog at http://okweatherwatch.com/severe2011/ .

It will take quite a bit of time going through the 113 radar images where I thought tornadoes were occurring that I’ve saved… and it will take a long time for all the survey information to get sorted out.  Hopefully by the end, I will have a few answers to some of my questions as well.

During a time when the National Weather Service is facing huge cuts in budget… I hope that every office that was involved in this event from its start a couple of days ago – until the last tornado leaves the east coast tomorrow – is able to do the type of survey on every event to do this system justice.

Sometimes… it’s not how good the shot is….

 

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Sometimes it’s just what’s in the shot.  In this case, a very average lightning photo looking north from my front porch at about 6 a.m. this morning.  We had a nice downpour which produced almost one inch of rain… then a combination of light rain and drizzle for most of the day which has brought our total up to 1.16 as of 9:45 p.m.  There was even some small hail at 5:55 a.m.  What appears to be dust on the sensor on the right side of the image are raindrops frozen by the lightning strikes.

To say it was much needed is an understatement.  Most of what is in the gardens now hasn’t seen rain since it was planted.  It was being kept alive by daily watering only.  Now, we expect that there will be an explosion of growth during the next week… especially if we can clear out some days and warm back into the 70′s and 80′s.

Oooo, pretty colors!

If you live in central Oklahoma, you know it’s dry.  I believe that sometimes – drought just leads to drought.  We are all hurting on water as gardens and crops struggle to survive and we watch the nightly wildfire on the news that has gobbled up another couple of thousand acres.

Severe thunderstorms over the past couple of weeks have primarily occurred east and south of Oklahoma City… with a batch in the northern part of the state on the 8th.  Radar rainfall estimates over the past 36 hours have been impressive in eastern and southern Oklahoma:

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And, the 30 day Mesonet rainfall shows portions of eastern Oklahoma doing fairly well with regard to rain:

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But, much of central and western Oklahoma continues with extreme drought conditions that have lasted a lot longer than just this month.  In Okarche, the lack of rainfall has been record setting.  2010 came in at 10.41 inches below normal.  Over the last nine months… Okarche has recorded 9.33 inches of precipitation.  This is somewhat of a cherry picked nine months, but still… 9.33 inches of rain in nine months when we are supposed to get over 36 inches of rain in 12 months?!

Deep moisture has moved into parts of Oklahoma and we have seen a steady increase in the number of thunderstorms (mainly east and south of the metro area).  There are model hints that heavy rain could visit Okarche during the next 48 hours.  But, these are only hints and most of the precipitation is forecast to remain to our east.

With only a week of April left… here is how the March/April record driest periods stand:

1. 2011 – 0.23 (0.23 in March and a Trace in April)

2. 2001 – 0.96 (0.49 in March and 0.47 in April)

3. 1996 – 0.97 (0.76 in March and 0.21 in April)

4. 2005 – 1.04 (0.63 in March and 0.41 in April)

The period of record covers 30 years.

Garden report #2

The battle continues in the garden.  First, it was temperatures that dropped to below zero, and as much as eight degrees below zero this last Winter.  Then it’s been drought.  Now recently, we went through a 12 hour period where winds gusted as high as 58 m.p.h., and at times were sustained at 54 m.p.h.

In our brief experience with a large garden, we have realized at just how resilient plants and trees that are native – or semi-native – to Oklahoma can be.  A big effort was put into the garden today with clean up from the last wind storm and anticipation of the next.

Overall, we had about a 10 percent loss.  The only replacement today was of the pepper plants which took a good beating.  We are holding out another week or so on the tomato plants and will just shoot some fertilizer and water to them on a regular basis.

On a positive note, items which we thought we lost over the winter have started showing good signs of life.  Our Savannah Holly, Rosemary and Carolina Jasmine seemed to have weathered the storms.

Most of today’s work included picking up debris from the last big blow of wind.  Damn, it would sure be nice to see some wet weather around here.  We do look to be on the edge of an explosion of roses sometime during the near future.

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Other images can be found at http://www.pbase.com/okweatherwatch/garden

The Big Blow of 2011

An extremely powerful storm system produced several tornadoes in eastern Oklahoma on the 14th… some of which caused deaths.  Today (15th), this system is responsible for widespread major severe events from Arkansas to Alabama.  It will be many, many days before the number of tornadoes, injuries, deaths, and destroyed homes will be able to be counted up.

For western Oklahoma… the wind started early and lasted a good 12 hours in most places.  A couple of mesonet sites recorded peak winds over 70 m.p.h.  Gusts over 58 m.p.h. (the speed which makes a thunderstorm severe) occurred in almost every county west of I-35.  There were numerous reports of overturned vehicles…some minor structure damage and power outages.  The wind also made fire fighting conditions tough in several areas of the state as the drought helped to keep fire danger extreme.

In Okarche, the peak gust today was 58 m.p.h.  Shortly after 7 p.m. – we had a one minute average of 54 m.p.h.!

A garden report will be forthcoming this weekend.  Trying to water this evening was very difficult with gusts still occurring over 45 m.p.h.  It was also quite depressing seeing what is likely to be a considerable amount of loss after the giant steps forward we had made during the previous couple of weeks.

Colored counties over western Oklahoma saw winds in excess of 58 m.p.h.

Colored counties over western Oklahoma saw winds in excess of 58 m.p.h.

A slap in the face…

The drought rolls on in Oklahoma.  This morning, a narrow (very narrow) line of showers formed along the dryline just west of Oklahoma City… this produced about a five minute period of rain which almost covered the ground with water.  Our April total in Okarche will now be bumped up to a trace!

That should be it for today… the dryline will surge eastward and we will be left with dry air and strong west winds for the day.

Fire danger is extreme and there will be many uncontrolled fires in western Oklahoma and Texas this afternoon.  We are likely to see the sky become obscured later today with a combination of smoke and dust.

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Fire Weather Extreme / Severe Potential Low

A very strong storm system will be moving rapidly across the state Sunday and Monday.  On Sunday, the biggest concern is likely to be fire weather conditions which will become extreme over the western part of the state.  Most parameters indicate that fires in this area by afternoon will be uncontrollable, should they start.

Severe thunderstorms are likely to form in southeast Kansas and Missouri… and there is a chance that a few storms could form along the dryline in central Oklahoma.  The most likely area for severe weather in the state will be after dark – along the cold front as it passes through the eastern part of the state.

Monday will be seasonably cool with very strong north winds during the first part of the day.  Winds that will gust to over 40 m.p.h. in the wake of the cold front will quickly weaken by sunset and Oklahoma will find things surprisingly tranquil – but chilly.  The cold air intrusion will be short-lived and temperatures will return to near or above normal by Tuesday.

With regard to fire weather conditions… the area remains in a state of drought.  There are signs that the lowest levels of vegetation are beginning to green up as we move through the first few days of spring, but there remains a lot of dead vegetation (knee deep in many areas) above it.  We are still several weeks away from having the new growth overtake the dead and humidity values sustaining a high enough value to make a difference.  The bottom line is that we will continue to see plenty of wildfire video on the news in the days to come.

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