Monday, January 23, 2012

Alabama Tornado Outbreak (Again)

Alabama was in the cross hairs of another severe weather outbreak last night, with at least 21 tornadoes from a line of severe weather that zipped through the state during the predawn hours of Monday. At least two died and approximately 100 were injured from that line of storms that raced through the state during the 2-6 AM timeframe.

The cause of the outbreak was the strong storm system that moved through the Great Lakes today, with a trailing cold front into the Deep South.  Warm and humid air for January had been bubbling across the South for the past few days, with temperatures in Alabama in the 60's and 70's on Sunday ahead of the front.   Thunderstorms broke out in Arkansas on Sunday evening and moved east through the night, spawning multiple tornado watches and touchdowns throughout the South as these storms moved through.

The worst of the outbreak was in Alabama though, generally near Birmingham and east during the 3-6 AM time frame.   During this, those severe thunderstorms increased in intensity and multiple strong tornadoes developed as the line continued its march.

The radar shot up above was from 4 AM and showed the line barreling down on Birmingham, with tornadic cells just northeast of the city (it's the one with the 68 near the red blob), with other thunderstorm cells to the southwest later poised to become severe.  One of those cells is outlined below on a screenshot from ABC 33 in Birmingham, with the venerable James Spann handling the severe weather play-by-play during the outbreak.

Damage from these storms was impressive, as this panoramic display shows from Center Point.   Another slideshow from the Birmingham News shows the destruction and some recovery efforts already taking place.   An amazing photo of what tornadoes can do (and sometimes not do) is from the town of Clay, specifically in the Steeplechase development where this tornado destroyed the one house in the picture below, yet left others pretty much unscathed.

Wintertime outbreaks of severe weather aren't overtly unusual; however, those outbreaks are typically wind-driven in nature and rarely feature over twenty tornadoes.  One of the more nasty severe weather outbreaks in winter in the South in recent years was the Super Tuesday Outbreak in 2008.  However, arguably the largest severe weather event in January was the January 1999 outbreak (150 tornadoes over a several day period).   Regardless, it was a nasty day in the Deep South and another round of clean up for an area that has already been slapped around far too many times in the last year by Mother Nature.