Severe Weather/Tornado Recap and Preparedness Weeks

This past weekend, the United States experienced its most deadly tornado outbreak since May of 2013, when a large tornado killed 24 people in the town of Moore, Oklahoma. On March 3, 2019, a series of tornadoes tracked across the U.S. Gulf Coast, impacting Alabama, Georgia, the Florida Panhandle, and western South Carolina.

Storm reports for March 3, 2019. Courtesy NOAA/Storm Prediction Center.

In 2018, there were just 10 fatalities as a result of tornadoes nationwide. The fatalities this past week all occurred as a strong tornado moved through Macon and Lee Counties in Alabama (east of Montgomery). The National Weather Service in Birmingham, Alabama compiled a series of statewide tornado statistics.
On average, there are 47 tornadoes per year across the state, most of which are relatively weak EF0 or EF1 tornadoes (click here for more information on the Enhanced Fujita Scale tornado rating system).

Alabama tornadoes per year. Courtesy: NOAA/National Weather Service, Birmingham, AL
Alabama tornadoes by EF Scale. Courtesy: NOAA/National Weather Service Birmingham, AL.

The Storm Prediction Center, the division of NOAA responsible for issuing convective outlooks and severe thunderstorm watches nationwide, noted that there was a 10% chance of tornado development within the ‘Enhanced Risk’ region of southern Alabama and western Georgia in convective outlook issued during the early morning hours of March 3. Ten percent? That doesn’t sound like a high number, but what that actually means is that there is at least a 10 percent chance of an EF2 to EF5 tornado occurring within 25 miles of any point in the hatched area on the map.

NOAA/Storm Prediction Center Convective Outlook for March 3, 2019.
NOAA/Storm Prediction Center Probabilistic Tornado Outlook for March 3, 2019.

As conditions became more favorable during the day for severe weather to develop, the Storm Prediction Center issued a Tornado Watch for parts of Mississippi and Alabama which was in effect from 12:00 PM to 6:00 PM.

Numerous severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings were issued by local National Weather Service offices across the Southeast as a line of intense thunderstorms moved eastward across the region. Numerous reports of damage were submitted to the National Weather Service.

National Weather Service forecasters conducted damage surveys on March 4th. Damage surveys assist forecasters in determining whether wind damage was caused by straight-line winds or tornadoes, estimating the maximum wind speeds and rating tornadoes on the EF scale. While most of the tornadoes that crossed the state on March 3 were rated between EF0 and EF2, the one which caused 23 fatalities in Macon and Lee counties was rated an EF4. Estimated peak winds in the tornado were 170 miles per hour, and the tornado was on the ground for approximately 26 miles. In addition to the 23 individuals who lost their lives as a result of the storm, 90 people also experienced injuries and numerous properties were damaged or destroyed. A full description of the damage survey can be found here.

National Weather Service Safety Weeks

A tragic weather event such as the one which occurred this week can leave people wondering, “Would I know what to do if this happened where I live? Do my loved ones and I know what to do if hazardous weather strikes?”
Each year, the National Weather Service conducts Seasonal Safety Campaigns. The hazards which are covered vary from region to region, but these week-long campaigns are designed to review important topics related to types of severe and hazardous conditions which may impact the public. You can find out the dates of Seasonal Safety Campaigns in your state by checking the link here. During Seasonal Safety Campaigns, be sure to visit your local National Weather Service office website for daily informational statements which you can use to discuss with your loved ones and stay safe during all types of weather.

As always, we encourage you to stay connected with us via Facebook for relevant weather posts and dissemination of NWS Weather Warnings as conditions warrant.

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