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May 28, 2008

160+ tornadoes in less than a week: Why?

Posted: 12:23 PM ET

(Updated from its original posting on the AC360 Blog)

In all my years as a professional meteorologist and spending my younger years living in tornado alley, I have never witnessed anything near the unpredictable, awesome power of the tornado that crawled across Hennessey, OK on Saturday.

A tornado rips through Hennessey, Oklahoma, on Saturday destroying a hog farm in Kingfisher County.

I was watching north central Oklahoma for the threat of tornadoes and a warning was issued for Kingfisher and Garfield counties.

Next thing I know, my newsroom executive producer is running over telling me to get hooked up, we have live chopper shots of a possible tornado; they want me on the air.

We broke into programming just before 3:30p.m. EDT. Along with our CNN audience, I witnessed a large rotating wall cloud with a slight lowering. It turned into a funnel that gradually lowered to the ground and became a large, violent tornado.

It was a classic looking “stovepipe” tornado, meaning it was very straight, up and down. The clarity of the funnel was amazing. It was in the middle of a field.

Moments later, it leveled a hog farm. The roof was peeled away and debris was flying everywhere. It was an eerie feeling seeing this happen live, not knowing the status of the people that could have been in the building.

A minute later, the tornado lifts. (It turns out, there were 6 employees that were in the barn, who ran into a brick office building and all were uninjured. Most of the pigs and piglets survived, too!)

We rewind the tape, and show the tornado bearing down on the barn. Next thing we know, another tornado has formed and is on the ground. Back to live aerials.

This happened 11 more times, and miraculously the tornadoes never hit any other structures. Due to the slow movement of the parent storm, Lake Carl Blackwell was evacuated, and I-35 was shut down to allow the tornado to pass.

This undoubtedly helped save lives. Most tornadoes move much faster than this, usually somewhere between 30-40mph. They can rip along as fast as 65 mph.

The storm was a persistent supercell that didn’t stop rotating until 6 hours after the first touchdown.

The pictures were likely so good and Helicopter Pilot Mason Dunn of KWTV in Oklahoma City was likely able to stay with the storm so long, because it was out there all by itself and was moving so slowly.

There were no other storms to try and avoid or make the air more turbulent. It was an LP storm, or Low Precipitation, so, the tornado wasn’t wrapped in rain providing clear shot.

Dunn knew what he was doing. He’s a legend in the Oklahoma City area. He was in contact with his meteorologist back at the TV station the entire time.

Dunn says he has been chasing tornadoes for about 20 years, and was in awe of what he saw. I’ve had a lot of people ask me since Saturday why would he do this, isn’t it unsafe?

Won’t this draw people to the tornado instead of encouraging them to seek shelter? What Dunn and KWTV did, was a tremendous community service. Because he is trained and knew where to safely shoot the tornado, many people knew exactly where the tornado was and where it was going, giving them the best information possible to keep them safe.

Of course there is always a risk, and Dunn said despite being about 2 miles from the storm, he could feel the pull of the tornado and had to work to stay far enough away from it.

Saturday’s tornado was just one of more than 150 twisters that ripped through the nation’s midsection over 5 day’s time.

It all started on Thursday with the monster in Colorado. Friday, Kansas was hardest hit including an EF4 tornado that flattened 3 houses in Quinter. The winds were nearly 200mph! Saturday…the Hennessey tornado, and then Sunday, 5 miles from the home I grew up in, a tornado struck and caused catastrophic damage in Hugo, MN, a suburb or the Twin Cities.

A two year old was killed, that child’s sibling is in critical condition, and their Mom and Dad are in the hospital with injuries. All this, despite ample warning that the tornado was on the way, and the sirens were blaring.

Sometimes it just breaks your heart to know that no matter what you do, no matter what you say, no matter how great the meteorologists in Minnesota are, no matter how much we understand the science of storms, no matter how great Doppler radar is, how great technology is… sometimes, there’s just nothing you can do except pray.

150 homes damaged, 50 destroyed.

The Holiday weekend had many Minnesotans at their cabins (that’s Lake Home to the rest of you), and authorities say the death toll and number of injuries would have likely been much worse otherwise.

This same evening, a massive tornado struck and demolished about half of the city of Parkersburg, IA. 8 people are dead from that storm. From the video I’ve seen, it doesn’t get much worse than this.

Monday, we were staring down day 5 of tornadoes.  With a bit of a respite Tuesday and Wednesday, we're expecting things to pick up again on Thursday. 

If all 167 tornadoes from the past 4 days verify, we will have seen as many tornadoes in the last 5 months as we would typically see in an entire calendar year. The same is true for the number of tornado related deaths.

Why? We don’t know for sure. Part of it is likely due to the jet stream pattern that is being influenced by La Nina (the unusual cooling of the equatorial waters in the Pacific that impacts the large scale circulation).

Another reason for our high numbers is due to all the tornadoes in February on Super Tuesday. It’s quite rare to have an outbreak like that in the middle of winter.

- Jacqui Jeras, CNN Meteorologist

Filed under: environment • meteorology • Tornadoes


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Dean   May 28th, 2008 12:45 pm ET

"Another reason for our high numbers is due to all the tornadoes in February on Super Tuesday. " Makes no sense to me as a reason. The reason we have a lot of tornadoes now is because we has a lot in Feb???


Dean   May 28th, 2008 12:47 pm ET

Global warming scientists have been predicting these kind of extreme weather events for years, and no mention of that?


KnuckleHead   May 28th, 2008 12:54 pm ET

I'm certain it's either global warming. If not then it's got to be President Bush's fault. Everything perceived problem these days can obviously be attributed to one or the other.


Shoestring   May 28th, 2008 1:07 pm ET

Maybe its just bad karma, like Sharon Stone has used as the fault for earthquakes in China!


Jerome   May 28th, 2008 1:16 pm ET

We are in a transition period from global warming to global cooling. Of course, with the words warming and cooling in the same sentence there will be tornados. ...and the reason "Global Warming" as you are referring to it was not mentioned is because it has no basis to be there.


Dean   May 28th, 2008 1:20 pm ET

Well, since GWB has kept us from making any headway in dealing with global warming, I'd have to agree...


Da Captain   May 28th, 2008 1:29 pm ET

147 tornadoes touched down in 13 U.S. states on 3 and 4 April, 1974 (48 hour period)

We've only been tracking since 1950... this isn't anything major... like hurricanes... the worst years being the 20s/30s... yet everyone freaks out because the last couple years have been higher than normal.


Daniel M.   May 28th, 2008 1:31 pm ET

I don't know what is causing the increased frequency of tornadoes...I do know that the threat seems more real to me now...I live in southern Illinois and we have seen one storm after another...many of them tornadic...This has been going on since December...There doesn't appear to be an off season for tornadoes anymore.


Dean   May 28th, 2008 1:44 pm ET

More opinion on another blog re feb tornadoes

http://www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/blogs/hurricanes-storms/tornadoes-global-warming-55020701


Adam   May 28th, 2008 2:10 pm ET

Dean, you are having trouble understanding that since there were a lot of funnels earlier that the total number at this point is high for the year? also, do your part to stop global warming if you are so worried and quit using electricity, stop driving, or maybe you shouldn't believe every little article you read on the internet.......


Larry Scott   May 28th, 2008 2:32 pm ET

There is a simple explanation for everything: Tornados, quakes, volcanic erruptions and the extreme weather. It is called Planet X and it is here. This will not be posted, of course, as the Bush administration and NASA are at the top of the cover up and CNN is participating in that cover up. In case you think Planet X is not real, I have personally seen it many times!


S Callahan   May 28th, 2008 5:28 pm ET

Putting my five cents in,
I thought it quite telling to hear you mention ,,despite it all.. sometimes
'all we can do is pray'. Well, from a faith driven viewt that is the intent of some of 'natural' events going on....God is waking up many people to his exisistence as being real, alive and moving, and is calling us back to him the only way we know how to listen.. In the Old Testament he speaks of cracking open the land and having the four winds come together. God is the Master Scientist and as much as some would like to stroke their egos about their brillance, which many have, those same persons fail to acknowlege their intelligence was instilled by God and in a wink of an eye he can take that all away. That is why you won't always have a scientific , or meterologic, explanation for an event..God is at work. People will say, yeah right..a 2 yr old died and the sibling is in intensive care.....but in the tragedy of events God has also shown his love and mercy sparing that 2 yr much suffering , and giving hope for the future to the one in intensive care.


ephiroll   May 28th, 2008 6:10 pm ET

As some dead guy put it: "Sh*t happens." And when you pack so many people on a planet, they're sure to be affected when it does. The entire human history, much less our fleeting lives, are nothing compared to the life of the Earth. We just can't imagine how powerful the Earth can be, and see the recent string of disasters as something special, when the only thing special about them is the number of people in their path and the speed news of the disaster is spread due to modern technology.

A thousand years ago the cyclone in Myanmar would have spawned a 'flood' legend among the survivors, now it's just headlines...


zeke   May 28th, 2008 7:21 pm ET

160 Tornadoes in a week! Why? We won't tell you until the very end of this column, and when we do, we'll be incredibly vague about it, because honestly... we don't know anything.


Mako Y   May 28th, 2008 9:20 pm ET

Great Blog. I, too, was watching the live feed from KWTV Channel 9, with Gary England (yet another legend of Oklahoma tornado lore) that afternoon into the evening.

What disappoints me, as a longtime Oklahoma resident is that people are so ignorant about the advancements made by those guys in Norman, try to make political hay, and ignore the real science of the observations.

160 Tornadoes in a week make me cringe. For an LP supercell to just hug that cold front is amaaaazing. Later on, as the coverage continued with KWTV, the updrafts moved a bit more inward and the rain wrapped itself around multiple vortexes, concealing where the tornado was hidden from view. This is a gold mine of observation.

Hats off to KWTV for flying a helicopter into a tornado. I suggest watching any time KWTV does a severe weather feed, and see how it compares to your local station. (If you're in a tornado-prone area)


dell   May 28th, 2008 9:47 pm ET

i'm not sure about the effects of HAARP...High Frequency Active Auroral Research. But I did read the UN statement about "unknown" effects and testing....and apparently other countries have the same sort of weather devices? This concerns people in Alaska and I live on a fault line...concerned...


Chris   May 29th, 2008 7:56 am ET

Well, my theory is that the LHC at Cern is cause at the present time. The cool down phase was suppose to start in early May which is a peek temp of 241C under ground. Physics + Weather that come together are starting to mess things up a bit! IF any ?s look up LARGE HADRON COLLIDER if you dont believe me.


Sean   May 29th, 2008 8:39 am ET

i assume since ice in south pole area was melting cause rise water level if possible cause enviroment change... Due change weather pattern over year... is it that cause???


Puddy Dunne   May 29th, 2008 9:13 am ET

Earthquakes in China: We knew God was unhappy with China’s human rights but their lack of pressure on Sudan broke the camels back.

Cyclone in Myanmar (Burma) – Well the government there is one of the biggest human rights offenders anywhere on earth.

California wildfires – nothing need be said there.

Tornado’s across the bible belt – A reminder to end the war in Iraq and don’t even consider letting Washington creep it’s way into Iran. The message to Hagee and Parsley.

Earthquakes in Peru and Colombia. Floods in Mexico, Floods in Midwest, Earthquake in Northern Midwest US. – Hmmm it seems to run the entire gauntlet of the the NAFTA superhighway the route designed for slave trading, arms dealing and drug running.

Inellegent Design? Oh most assuredly. The designer waved his hand and presto, a clear message to us all.

THE WEATHER CHANNEL can’t keep up. Look for serious issues coming soon to a European and Middle East theatre near you. See the sneak previews of coming atrocities for Hurricane season this year.

I predict an active season with 4 US landfall, two with 3+ saffir ratings. Texas- Beaumont landfall for Bush’s benefit and one to cut north over Guantanamo Bay and hit Florida Panhandle. The last one slams Mexico at Merida and Veracruz. Bad Karma there. A major drug distribution point.

Omnipotence at work. Sorry CNN meterologists, you got it wrong again.


dell   May 29th, 2008 9:52 am ET

OMG i don't know why people keep referring to Eris as planet x.....this is driving me nuts...i'm also looking into sun spots and the planetary alignment effects of 2012......


s callahan   May 29th, 2008 12:45 pm ET

Laugh if you want, It just boggles my mind why persons can not see that this earth ,and all that is in the universe is controlled by a Master designer (God) and that designer gave us free will to act but always with consequence (be it – or +). With that said, until man wakes up to that fact, and makes a heartfelt acknowledgement of God,,these events will continue in unusal ammounts. As said before he will crack open the lands and send the four winds. This is not just about a journey through his universe, this is about the journey of your soul. Think about it.


Pam   May 29th, 2008 1:30 pm ET

I think he meant the reason for the high number is including the number in February, not that the tornadoes then caused the tornadoes now.


david   May 29th, 2008 2:36 pm ET

The weather patterns have not shifted that much. We are seeing more tornadoes simply because we are understanding them and there are more people witnessing them. Has absolutely nothing to do with global warming...and to address an earlier comment about being in a transition period between global warming and global cooling – global warming has just begun. There is no global cooling. If you're referring to the movie "Day After Tomorrow", that is riddled with such fallacies and urban legends and has absolutely no basis in truth. Also, yes, we are seeing a higher number of storms this year and that is attributable to February when the meteorological events came together to cause such an outbreak. This is not an abnormal or extraordinary event that can be attributable to anything like global warming.


zeke   May 29th, 2008 3:33 pm ET

So the Earth will crack open and then send four different winds from the cracks in the Earth? What exactly are these winds going to do to us? What are they made of? How will magma within the Earth create these winds? Also, exactly what percentage of the Earth's poulation needs to acknowledge God's existence before we can avert this fate? If one person holds out, are we all screwed? That's not very fair in my opinion. And what amount of freewill did God give us? If we are required to believe in him, then apparently we don't have "complete" freewill. And does that mean we are all partially slaves? Is that God's intent? If God is all-powerful why doesn't he just force us all to believe in him? Why leave it up to our choice and then punish us for not doing it the right way? It's like a teacher giving a pop-quiz over material that hasn't been covered. Confused.


dave   May 29th, 2008 6:17 pm ET

Meanwhile...... back to the point.


Erica C   May 29th, 2008 6:28 pm ET

Sorry Dell, but I believe the planet x referred to is not Eris – tiny dwarf planet, but a theoretical brown dwarf companion to our own sun. There are claims that NASA has captured images of this with Spitzer and that its elliptical orbit will bring it through the solar system sometime near 2012 causing havoc with our weather and potentially kicking asteroids out of the kuiper belt.

Of more interest and concern to me would be the lack of information regarding the sun, sunspots, and the potential gravitational effects on the sun from the 2012 alignment with the center of the galaxy. A prolonged period of no sun spot activity might? have caused the little ice age.The Mayans were unaware of carbon dioxide and man-made global warming, but they did know the sun and the planets (on a side note we would probably possess this knowledge today if it were not for Religion declaring Mayan knowledge evil and then destroying it). Why did they choose Dec. 21 2012 as they day to end their calendar and further insinuate it would be a time of great change with food for half?


s callahan   May 29th, 2008 6:32 pm ET

Perhaps Zeke i didn't speak clear enough..
Yes, God does tell us he will crack open the earth (earthquakes)
Yes, God did tell us he would send his four winds (hurricans, torandos, fierce storms). NOT wind coming out of cracks
No I don't believe there is intent, nor that he makes you a slave.. .... but i can assure you..that in our belief God will put upon your mind and heart to think of things your own human self or mind can't understand.....including things of science.
What is the Gain for God to force you believe??..he already created you..he left you to choose what direction you wanted your soul to go..isa 3 Rev 11:13
i don't view this as God's punishment...i view it as God's anger (Rev 15:1) which is so deserving considering how we humans have made selfish choices to live....Haven't you ever been angry at your child, or family, yet never punished them for what you were angry about??
God is the one who maintains order in the Universe..it can be beyond our undertanding so it would be confusing. Just as you threw your opinion out , so did I . It may help you to understand alot of your quesitons by reading the Quest study Bible which addresses those questions. They are not new questions. for a side thought...God's intent is to love you.


jason   May 29th, 2008 6:35 pm ET

Are we ever going to move past the need for something to validate our lives? Take some responsibility for your actions. Global warming, increased atmospheric activity, earth quakes and every other natural event have been used to stir fear and try to wrestle the reins of self-evolution, exploration and discovery away from the individual since religion organized. The earth is in a constant struggle to balance heat and moisture, sometimes there is more, sometimes there is less. No one can completely discount the effects of global warming but, I for one, rest assured that what has been done is not the act of some ineffable deity but, of my own species. Sorry but, we are to blame and you are right about one thing, we better figure something out soon or we won't be leaving much of a planet to our children and we wouldn't recognize the planet that our grandchildren will inherit. I don't know what we be leaving to our children but, hopefully thier future won't be scoured away by our myopic stupidity.


Jerry, from Alaska.   May 29th, 2008 7:19 pm ET

There are all kinds of theories about the tornadoes, with most NOT HAVING A CLUE ABOUT THE TRUTH!! The TRUTH is that weather is going to keep getting Hoter and more villant in the next few years. The truth is that the Bible, inspired by God and written by men of God tells us this will happen! EVEN JESUS CHRIST IN MATTHEW 24 & 25 TELL OF THE STATE WE NOW LIVE IN & THAT IT WILL GET WORSE!! And thats the rest of the story. Jerry. Alaska.


Darren   May 29th, 2008 10:57 pm ET

"The reason we have a lot of tornadoes now is because we has a lot in Feb???"
No, the reason we have such high numbers of tornadoes and tornado deaths is because there was an abnormally high number on that day.


dave   May 29th, 2008 11:04 pm ET

oh no!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Dr RaTsTaR   May 30th, 2008 12:29 am ET

The Flying Spaghetti Monster is mad at all the Christians for not believing in him. He will inundate the world with pasta sauce and parmesan cheese if we do not change our ways.

Believe in the FSM or roast in hell.

Dr RaTsTaR


txtj   May 30th, 2008 7:40 am ET

if u note the line of severe storms u might note they on that earthquake fault zone that been so active ,.,.just like the carribian quakes r causing the making of a hurricane.,,.also note the quakes in the artic ,.its time for earth to move alittle again hold tight n glue u stuff up down um whereever


Da Captain   May 30th, 2008 12:23 pm ET

1950 – Nuclear Holocaust
1960 – Earth depleated of food by 1990 due to baby boomers
1970 – Global Cooling
1980 – AIDS will destory mankind
1990 – The Ozone Layer (CFCs will destroy mankind)
2000 – Global Warming will destroy mankind

I'm not to worried...


zeke   May 30th, 2008 12:26 pm ET

Ok Callahan, you win. If you don't mind, I'll save my 35 bucks. God loves me.


S Callahan   May 30th, 2008 12:52 pm ET

Da Captain is whitty again! 🙂
don't see things as doom and gloom though..and do not believe it's Global Warming..hmm maybe i should ..people make alot of money off that, huh?🙂

Zeke....just my view..sure you have yours..and he does


Patrick   May 30th, 2008 3:52 pm ET

"Warming..hmm maybe i should ..people make alot of money off that, huh?"

... and people don't make alot of money off of megachurches either eh?


James   May 30th, 2008 4:04 pm ET

Jesus jumped-up Christ. Reading comments on the stories in the Science Blog make me physically ill. The vast majority of you people have the science education of first graders on crack and Cheetos. Seriously, how about you people do the entire world a favor and SHUT UP about ANYTHING related to science or engineering. Your abject idiocy and willful ignorance is offensive to people around the world that spend their lives doing research and working in scientific fields. Quite frankly, you don't DESERVE to have a comment or an opinion. Your complete and total lack of even a scrap of knowledge disqualifies you from the right to an opinion.


S Callahan   May 30th, 2008 4:06 pm ET

nice Patrick!...lol i'm not the preacher...i just give it...lol
Truthfully, i don't buy the global warming crap...


Patrick   May 30th, 2008 7:41 pm ET

S...

You may not "buy" global warming.... but that is just a misnomer anyway. The technical reality is "climate change" and regardless of whether you believe it or not it is happening for whatever reason.

Sure it doesn't matter to your day to day life... except when disastrous weather strikes you or some area where your food is grown or your gasoline is produced/shipped.

Then you see it where it matters... your pocketbook.


jen   May 31st, 2008 7:42 pm ET

Drratstar
AAARRRGH
May you be touched by his noodly appendage!


Aussie Jane   June 1st, 2008 4:29 pm ET

Nemesis is a hypothetical red dwarf star or brown dwarf, orbiting the Sun at a distance of about 50,000 to 100,000 AU, somewhat beyond the Oort cloud. The existence of this star was postulated in an attempt to explain an inferred periodicity in the rate of biological extinction in the geological record. If Nemesis exists, it may be detected by the planned Pan-STARRS or LSST astronomical surveys, or similar future projects. If Nemesis is a brown dwarf, as proposed by Dr. Dan Whitmire and Albert A. Jackson IV, then the upcoming WISE mission (scheduled for November 2009) should easily find it. – (Wiki article)


Franko   June 6th, 2008 5:43 am ET

Stratosphere is cooling: http://i23.photobucket.com/albums/b370/gatemaster99/stratosphere.png

Land and oceans only slight cooling, so greater temperature difference.
Convection is proportional to the fourth power of temperature.
So more energy to the tornado heat engine ?

Maybe HAARP could warm up above to reduce the temperature difference directly above the tornado ?


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