What a week.
This will go down as one of the most violent weather weeks in history. The numbers will continue to trickle in and change slightly over the weekend, but it's clear we've just witnessed one of the top tornado outbreaks in U.S. history.
By many measures this outbreak will rival the April 1974 "Super Outbreak" when final numbers are tallied.
Of course telling a story by numbers doesn't even begin to describe the magnitude of what the people in Alabama and the South have experienced this week.
That said, here's where the numbers stand as of late Friday, and how that compares to the super outbreak of April 3-4 1974.
211 preliminary tornado reports Wednesday from SPC
148 tornadoes during the "Super Outbreak" in 1974
363 total number of preliminary SPC tornado reports this week
329 dead in Wednesday's outbreak (numbers may still change)
335 killed in "Super Outbreak" in 1974
700 approximate number killed in the Tri-State Tornado in March 1925
228 dead in Alabama Wednesday
200+ mile long path on the Tuscaloosa tornado (could rival Tri-State Tornado of 1925)
160 miles...the distance tornadoes carried some of the debris
Mind boggling event:
It's hard to even process the magnitude of this week's tornado madness. Just think about the impact of one tornado hitting your home. Now try and imagine hundreds of massive tornadoes tearing up entire towns, and big chunks of whole states. Well I guess we don't have to imagine. Cable TV at its best is showing us all the tragic pictures.
Why such complete destruction?
There are several factors that made the damage in Wednesday's "super outbreak" so complete. The most obvious is the sheer size and fury of the twisters. Storm surveys are still in progress, but it is clear that some of these massive tornadoes were EF-4 and EF-5 "monsters." Wind speeds were likely well over 200 mph with some of these violent twisters. Not much is going to survive those kinds of wind speeds.
While many of the tornadoes were racing at speeds of 55 to 60 mph, there were times when some of the tornadoes appeared to slow down. This increased the time that damaging winds and debris had to tear away at homes and buildings.
Blender effect? The sheer volume and size of debris chunks spinning inside the tornado vortex created a "blender effect" in which missiles of various shapes & sizes travelling over 100mph acted like the blades of a blender, chopping anything in the tornadoes path to pieces.
One thing that's still puzzling about the Tuscaloosa tornado is why so many who viewed the tornado form a distance described it as "silent."
We know that wind affects sound waves. Is it possible that the tornado's inflow winds were so strong that they "sucked" some of the sound back into the vortex?
Who knows...but it seems odd that you can't hear the tornado in the distance.
Trucks: Instant tornado shelters?
Looking at video of the aftermath one very intriguing thing is becoming clear. Some people survived these violent tornadoes in their vehicles. Some probaly died in vehicles too. But then again, a lot of people died in their homes.
CNN ran a story today on a family in Concord, AL who rode out a direct hit inside their Honda Ridgeline truck parked in their garage. Their home was destroyed and they described the damage to their basement as "un-survivable" as debris collapsed into the basement.
Other video shows some vehicles tossed around and crushed, but many truck cabs while damaged appear to have been survivable.
There has been some debate in the meteorological community recently and a few studies suggesting that people may actually be safer in (especially weaker) tornadoes inside a heavy vehicle or truck than in a mobile home or poorly constructed home. This is a "hot button" topic that needs more research.
One thing is clear, in a tornado life and death decisions are made in seconds. There is no "totally safe" place in a tornado. Sometimes survival is going to be the luck of the draw, or the actions you take in the seconds before the tornado hits.
One of the best questions to ask in a tornado crisis is how can you put as many hardened "walls" as possible between you and the tornado before the twister hits?
It could be under the stairs in your basement, it could be in your bathtub, or in a closet. The pictures from the Alabama tornadoes and other evidence suggests if you're caught in the open... it may actually be the floor of your car or truck.
The "official" advice is still to abandon your vehicle during a tornado, cover your head and lie in the lowest spot you can find.
After looking at the sheer volume of deadly flying debris strewn about by the tornadoes in the South, you have to wonder if you'd have better protection in a vehicle.
Air Mail: Debris land over 160 miles away
Forgive the light headline, but this is amazing.
Again the story from CNN.
Climate change link? Probably not
Single meteorological events like this are likely not attributable to climate change. Check out this piece form Huffington Post. If tornado heavyweights like Howie Bluestein and Josh Wurman agree you can't pin this one on climate change, that's good enough for me.
Tri-State Tornado still the deadliest:
Believe it or not, Wednesday was not even close to the deadliest day in tornado history. That title still belongs (and hopefully always will belong) to the Tri-State Tornado of March 1925.
Here are the top 10 deadliest single tornadoes in U.S. history from the Tornado Project Online.
Here are the top 15 tornado outbreaks according to meteorologist H. Michael Mogil.
01. SUPER OUTBREAK
* April 3-4, 1974
* Large part of the eastern U.S.
* 148 tornadoes in 24 hours
* more than 330 deaths
* 6,142 injuries
* Damage $600+ million
What's that you say? An earthquake in Minnesota? Yep. Believe it or not there are minor earthquakes centered in Minnesota from time to time.
Here's the data on the minor tremor that happened at 2:20am Friday near Alexandria.
Weekend Forecast: Changeable
What's that old saying about Minnesota weather? "If you don't like the weather just wait 15 minutes."
There's your weekend forecast in a nutshell.
An upper level low-surface cold front combo moves through Friday night into early Saturday.
Friday Night: Expect scattered showers, with a few embedded T-Storms into early Saturday morning. Low near 50.
Saturday: AM Showers. Mixed sun PM with a few passing showers possible late. Temps steady to falling in the 50s. Wins SW 8-18 mph.
Sunday: Looks sunny but breezy and cool. High near 52. WNW winds 10-22 mph & gusty.
Enjoy the weekend!
Blizzard warnings are expanding to include west metro counties including Carver and Wright. Near blizzard conditions with blowing snow and winds gusting over 30 mph are occurring Saturday morning, even in the metro.
Expect difficult travel for a few hours Saturday morning until the wind and snow subside.
Japan nuke explosion: Possible radiation release?
From Japan's NHK News:
"Tokyo Electric Power Company says an explosion was heard at one of its nuclear reactors in quake-hit Fukushima Prefecture. It says several workers were injured.
The power plant operator told a news conference on Saturday that it had been informed smoke was seen near the scene of the explosion, the Fukushima Number One power station.
The utility firm had been releasing air from the container of the reactor to lower pressure.
Pressure inside the container had been rising after the reactor's cooling system broke down due to power failure.
Radioactive substances have been detected near the reactor."
Winds near the reactor site in Fukushima are very light; meaning any plume of radiation would not disperse quickly. It is not yet known how severe the radioactive release will be.
***original post Friday at 3:53pm***
A powerful cold front is racing through Minnesota overnight into Saturday.
As the front sails through, a shot 2" to 4" of new snow will combine with winds of 25 to 40 mph to reduce visibilities to under 1/4 mile in the Red River Valley tonight and early Saturday. The winds will also be strong enough to pick up snow already on the ground and send it airborne, creating "ground blizzard" conditions.
Blizzard warnings have been issued by Grand Forks NWS.
Be prepared for blizzard conditions in the Red River Valley tonight & Saturday morning.
Anatomy of a megaquake & tsunami:
As posted here early Friday morning, Japan's 8.9 magnitude megaquake wat the 5th strongest in the world since 1900. The scenes of devastation from Honshu are both horrifying and unreal.
Believe me, with all of the weather drama that Minnesota can dish out, we've never seen anything like this. I can only imagine the shock and devastation the people of Japan are living through, and this is only the beginning if what will take years to rebuild.
You've seen the video, but there are also some amazing graphics that illustrate the power and reach of the tsunami.
NOAA Tsunami propagation animation: This incredible video animates the tsunami waves as the propagate throughout the Pacific basin.
NOAA maximum wave amplitude show energy streaming from epicenter.
You can find more information from the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center.
A major earthquake and massive tsunami devastated parts of eastern Japan Friday.
NOAA's Pacific Tsunami Warning Center says the magnitude of the quake was a massive 8.9 magnitude. The quake was centered near east coast of Honshu, Japan's largest island.
According to preliminary reports from the USGS, this may have been the 5th strongest quake in the world since 1900!
Here are the details from the USGS.
There are reports of a massive tsunami wave that has caused massive devastation as it inundated miles of land near the Pacific Ocean in eastern Japan. Here's the incredible video from MSNBC.
Tsunami warnings have been issued for Hawaii.The waves could reach Hawaii by about 3am Hawaii time, and could hit the USA West Coast early Friday morning. It is not known how severe the tsunami waves will be as they hit Hawaii or the USA west coast.
Here's the warning for Hawaii from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.
A TSUNAMI HAS BEEN GENERATED THAT COULD CAUSE DAMAGE ALONG
COASTLINES OF ALL ISLANDS IN THE STATE OF HAWAII. URGENT ACTION
SHOULD BE TAKEN TO PROTECT LIVES AND PROPERTY.
A TSUNAMI IS A SERIES OF LONG OCEAN WAVES. EACH INDIVIDUAL WAVE
CREST CAN LAST 5 TO 15 MINUTES OR MORE AND EXTENSIVELY FLOOD
COASTAL AREAS. THE DANGER CAN CONTINUE FOR MANY HOURS AFTER THE
INITIAL WAVE AS SUBSEQUENT WAVES ARRIVE. TSUNAMI WAVE HEIGHTS
CANNOT BE PREDICTED AND THE FIRST WAVE MAY NOT BE THE LARGEST.
TSUNAMI WAVES EFFICIENTLY WRAP AROUND ISLANDS. ALL SHORES ARE AT
RISK NO MATTER WHICH DIRECTION THEY FACE. THE TROUGH OF A TSUNAMI
WAVE MAY TEMPORARILY EXPOSE THE SEAFLOOR BUT THE AREA WILL
QUICKLY FLOOD AGAIN. EXTREMELY STRONG AND UNUSUAL NEARSHORE
CURRENTS CAN ACCOMPANY A TSUNAMI. DEBRIS PICKED UP AND CARRIED
BY A TSUNAMI AMPLIFIES ITS DESTRUCTIVE POWER. SIMULTANEOUS HIGH
TIDES OR HIGH SURF CAN SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASE THE TSUNAMI HAZARD.
THE ESTIMATED ARRIVAL TIME IN HAWAII OF THE FIRST TSUNAMI WAVE IS
0259 AM HST FRI 11 MAR 2011
MESSAGES WILL BE ISSUED HOURLY OR SOONER AS CONDITIONS WARRANT.
COASTAL AREAS BETWEEN AND INCLUDING THE CALIFORNIA-MEXICO
BORDER TO CHIGNIK BAY ALASKA
1214 AM PST FRI MAR 11 2011
...THE TSUNAMI WATCH CONTINUES IN EFFECT FOR THE COASTAL
AREAS OF CALIFORNIA - OREGON - WASHINGTON - BRITISH
COLUMBIA AND ALASKA FROM THE CALIFORNIA-MEXICO BORDER TO
CHIGNIK BAY ALASKA...
PERSONS IN TSUNAMI WATCH COASTAL AREAS SHOULD STAY ALERT FOR
TSUNAMI WATCHES ARE AN ADVANCE NOTICE TO AREAS THAT COULD BE
IMPACTED BY A TSUNAMI AT A LATER TIME. TSUNAMIS ARE A SERIES OF
WAVES POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS SEVERAL HOURS AFTER INITIAL ARRIVAL
TIME. ESTIMATED TIMES OF INITIAL WAVE ARRIVAL FOR SELECTED
SITES IN THE WATCH ARE PROVIDED BELOW.
KODIAK-AK 0351 AKST MAR 11 TOFINO-BC 0658 PST MAR 11
SEWARD-AK 0416 AKST MAR 11 NEAH BAY-WA 0710 PST MAR 11
ELFIN COVE-AK 0418 AKST MAR 11 CHARLESTON-OR 0715 PST MAR 11
YAKUTAT-AK 0425 AKST MAR 11 CRESCENT CITY-CA 0723 PST MAR 11
SITKA-AK 0425 AKST MAR 11 SEASIDE-OR 0724 PST MAR 11
VALDEZ-AK 0435 AKST MAR 11 WESTPORT-WA 0725 PST MAR 11
LANGARA-BC 0535 PST MAR 11 SAN FRANCISCO-CA 0808 PST MAR 11
CORDOVA-AK 0445 AKST MAR 11 SANTA BARBARA-CA 0817 PST MAR 11
HOMER-AK 0508 AKST MAR 11 SAN PEDRO-CA 0832 PST MAR 11
CRAIG-AK 0526 AKST MAR 11 LA JOLLA-CA 0841 PST MAR 11
FOR ARRIVAL TIMES AT ADDITIONAL LOCATIONS SEE
This is a major earthquake; to compare the Indonesian super quake that caused the massive deadly tsunami near Christmas 2004 was a magnitude 9.1.
Stay tuned to MPR for updates Friday.