Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tuscaloosa: An Incredible Tornado Event

A very rare combination of all of the essential ingredients needed for incredibly explosive, tornadic storms came together for one afternoon yesterday across the deep south, triggering what will be considered one of, if not THE worst tornado outbreak in recorded history. While not confirmed yet, one particular storm sustained a mesocyclone/circulation/tornado continuously for almost 200 miles, from eastern Mississippi, across the state of Alabama, into northern Georgia, before the storm dissipated entirely, finally, southern North Carolina. This was the fateful storm/tornado that ravaged Tuscaloosa, AL, and went on another 50+ miles, tearing through the north side of Birmingham. It would go on to do more damage as it crossed northeast Alabama, and into northwest Georgia. The majority of the known fatalities from yesterday’s outbreak are from this one supercell thunderstorm. Truly amazing

I don’t think this video was taken by a trained spotter or storm chaser, but needless to say, he had a front row seat for one of the most jaw-dropping, terrifying sights he will ever see. (No , he doesn’t get hit by the tornado!). He is on the south side of Tuscaloosa (5:15-5:20 PM) in a commercial area (restaurants, mall, etc…), looking to his west-southwest at a very rare monster tornado.

At about the 5:00-5:15 mark in the video, after the tornado has passed his immediate area, he starts experiencing very strong winds blowing into the tornado (now to his east-northeast), and he turns the camera back to his south/southwest, thinking that it’s another tornado. The wind he was experiencing were actually what are known as Rear Flank Downdraft winds, or RFD, rapidly sinking cool air from the top of the storm on the back side of a mesocyclone, and one of the necessary ingredients for a tornado to form and sustain itself.

At about 6:30 in the video, his adrenaline really kicks in, as he realizes the extent of what has happened. That’s when fear sets in, because he knows he was sitting directly in the path of it before he (wisely) moved south.

A very intense, incredible video. This was a day that will be talked about for years as one of the worst natural disasters in our history. There were dozens of tornadoes just like this one yesterday. Very rugged, hilly, forested terrain, very rural areas with few resources, and very few structures with basements or true shelter, combined with the power and size of these tornadoes yesterday is unfortunately adding up to perhaps hundreds of lost lives. Heartbreaking.

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