Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day Tornado Outbreak

As you may have heard, a tornado outbreak has occurred across parts of the Plains, Midwest, and Ohio and Tennessee Valleys since last night, causing significant damage and unfortunately some loss of life. From yesterday through late this afternoon, 21 tornado reports had been published to the Storm Prediction Center's Storm  Report page. The three most prolific ones look to have occurred in Branson, MO, Harveyville, KS, and Harrisburg, IL, the latter of the three being classified as an EF-4 tornado this afternoon by the NWS. Here's a link to the NWS storm reports from the Paducah, KY office, which covers Harrisburg.

Photo of EF-2 tornado damage from
Harveyville, KS, credit: NWS Topeka, KS
The Harveyville, KS tornado was rated an EF-2 and occurred last night just after 10 PM Eastern time. I don't believe there were any fatalities from this storm thankfully, but it produced a ton of damage and injured 12 people, according to the National Weather Service office in Topeka. They've produced a storm report with several damage photos and radar imagery, which you can access here.

Overnight, parts of Southern Missouri were hit very hard, an area that has seen enough severe weather in the last year to last forever. The area that appeared to be one of the hardest hit was the popular town of Branson, MO. Branson is a popular tourist destination so there are a lot of shops and theaters downtown. Unfortunately, a lot of the damage occurred there, and it appears that there is a lot of cleanup needed. The Branson/Tri-Lakes News has a photo gallery of damage pictures from the storm last night. The NWS Springfield is currently doing damage assessments and has plans to release some preliminary findings later this evening.

Clearly the most serious tornado occurred in Harrisburg, IL, which is located about 60 miles west of Evansville, IN in southern Illinois. Below this story there's a quick video of damage from there posted to YouTube. It looks similar to some of what we saw last spring, and indeed the NWS rated the Harrisburg tornado an EF-4 (same rating as the Tuscaloosa/Birmingham tornado last April). Sadly, this storm is responsible for at least six fatalities. Just another horrible story in a long line of them since last spring.

You can follow WSIL-TV which is based in Harrisburg for the latest information on this storm.

Worth noting, The Weather Channel actually put together a really nice page with radar imagery from some of the key storms, as well as an interactive map of storm reports. Also, as someone who likes to leverage the power of social media, don't forget that most of the National Weather Service forecast offices in the US are on Facebook. I've found that to be an interesting addition to my own news feed, especially during events like this. Just go to and find the office you're interested in following on the map and in most cases there's a banner near the top pointing you to their "fan" page. It will be interesting to follow the Ohio Valley and Midwest over the next few weeks as several potential severe weather events will be possible. While I highly doubt we even come close to matching the ferocity of 2011, it should still be busy.