The start of Meteorological Spring began with a deadly and likely historical tornado outbreak that we won’t soon forget.
Following the Leap day tornado outbreak that spawned 33 reported tornadoes and impacted seven different States, including Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee. Many of the same states braced for yet another round of severe weather just two days later. On Friday March 2nd all of the severe weather “ingredients” were there, which ultimately led to the devastating, destructive and likely historic March tornado outbreak. During the early morning hours Friday the SPC, “Storm Prediction Center” already had portions of the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys under a moderate risk.
Convective Outlook - Valid 02/1200Z-03/1200Z - NOAA/NWS
The main threat in this area was for a few long-track, strong tornadoes. Later that morning the SPC upgraded parts of southern Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee to a High Risk. High risks are reserved by the Storm Prediction Center for rare events and therefore they are only issued a few times each year.
Convective Outlook - Valid 02/1300Z-03/1200Z - NOAA/NWS
At 9:55 AM the SPC issued the first of three PDS Tornado Watches, “Particularly Dangerous Situation.” The first PDS focused on portions of central and southern Illinois, central and southern Indiana, western Kentucky, and southeast Missouri. The storm prediction center stated that “destructive tornadoes, large hail to 2.5 inches in diameter, wind gusts to 70 mph, and dangerous lighting are possible in these areas.” In all, on this day, the Storm Prediction Center issued three Severe Thunderstorm Watch Boxes, three PDS Tornado Watches, and seven Tornado Watch Boxes. There were 654 warnings issued by local National Weather Service offices, including Tornado, Severe Thunderstorm, and Flood warnings. The first of 279 total Tornado Warnings were issued at approximately 10:42AM for north-central Alabama and southeast Tennessee. In addition, there were more than 400 reports of large hail and nearly 300 damaging wind reports spread across nine different States.
Tornado reports (Photo: Weather Channel)
Below is one of many videos to come from this tornado outbreak. This particular video shows one of two separate tornadoes that hit the town of Henryville, IN within approximately 10 minutes of each other. One was confirmed as an EF4 and the other an EF1 by the National Weather Service in Louisville, KY. The EF-4 was on the ground for 18.5 miles and had a path width of one-third to one-half mile. The EF-4 tornado produced 5 fatalities and the EF1 produced two injuries but no fatalities. Here’s an article that contains a nice radar loop of the two super cells that produced these tornadoes.
The town of West Liberty, KY which is southwest of Henryville, KY and nearly due east of Lexington, KY was essentially wiped off the map by another monster EF3 that carved a 60 mile path of devastation and spanned up to 1 mile wide. Below are two videos which were shot by residents as this deadly tornado ripped through the small Kentucky town.
The largest U.S. March Tornado outbreak on record occurred on March 11-12th of 2006 when 74 tornadoes occurred. As of March 5, 2012 the preliminary tornado count from this outbreak was at 80, however this number is subject to change as the National Weather Service offices continues conducting their storm survey reports. To further put this outbreak in perspective, the 10 year average tornado count for the month of March is 87.