- The National Weather Service is predicting a tornado outbreak on Tuesday. On Sunday, at least 116 people were killed when a tornado struck Joplin, Mo. (Mike Gullett) (Photo: Associated Press)
The wall of storms that toppled over the Midwest on Sunday led to nearly 800 reports of tornadoes, hailstones and knock-you-over wind. An EF-4 or EF-5 tornado transformed the town of Joplin, Mo., into a wasteland of crumpled buildings and debarked trees and overturned cars. At last count, 116 people had perished, making this tornado tied with the 1953 Flint, Mich., tornado for the single deadliest U.S. twister in almost six decades. (One survivor's video.)
One car looked like it had served as a target for a month in a batting cage; it was picked up by the tornado and battered with hail while in the air, according to this report by WWLP-TV, which also said that X-ray machines and medical papers from a hospital were found 60 miles away from town.
And today’s weather could be even worse, with severe storms in the forecast all over the country, including in Washington, D.C.
The Storm Prediction Center is seeing what it calls a “classic Plains tornadic outbreak” taking shape over Kansas and Oklahoma, with attendant tornado risks in northern Texas, southern Nebraska and southwestern Missouri (Joplin again). Searing heat driving temperatures into the 90s will create a critically unstable air mass that preps for a destructive storm system. The biggest threat is in the afternoon and early evening. Here is the SPC's probability map from Monday night, giving the Mid-Atlantic a slight risk of severe weather:
In D.C., a cold front drooping down from the north brings the chance of showers and thunderstorms Tuesday afternoon. It’s possible the region could get a taste of hail and strong gusts of wind that send your Supercan flying into tomorrow. (Latest forecast and Doppler.) A stationary front hovering nearby is casting a stormy shadow over the city; it's like ABC7’s extended-forecast tool has a curse on it, with lightning appearing every single day throughout the week. However, at this point a tornado in D.C. is not expected.
Some folks might consider that unusual, given the extremely active tornado season the country has been having. It’s like nature is gunning to bust all the records in 2011. Sunday’s storms brought the annual U.S. twister count to about 1,000, according to a preliminary National Weather Service count. That’s behind the all-time record of 1,817 in 2004, but a promising beginning to bust the yearly average of 1,274 tornadoes. The jaws of many meteorologists have yet to close after April’s stunning record of 875 tornadoes. The previous April record was 267 in 1974, a number that now seems piddling.
The tornado season is only now entering its peak, and already just under 500 people have succumbed to the twirling killers. That death toll is the highest on record through the month of May and second only to the highest annual death toll of 519 in 1953. Look at this harrying video of the twister growing from struggling funnel clouds into a debris-chucking wedge:
For comparison, an average year in the U.S. sees only 60 to 70 tornado-related deaths. (More 2011 tornado stats at NOAA.) In a conference call with reporters Monday, government meteorologists would not link the massive tornado outbreaks of late to climate change. But some scientists are warning that we should get used to this streak of extreme weather, as it represents the “new normal” weather.