The Heat Is Online

NOAA Logs US Tornado Record


(On May 16, ABC News announced that the first 16 days of May saw a record 450 tornadoes in the US -- WCVB-TV).

 May 13, 2003 -- The central United States experienced a record-breaking week of tornadoes from May 4 through May 10, when a preliminary number of 384 tornadoes occurred in 19 states and caused 42 deaths during the seven days, officials from the NOAA National Weather Service announced today. So far, five of those tornadoes have been rated as causing F4 damage (Fujita damage scale).

In the first 10 days in May, 412 tornado reports were received by the NOAA Storm Prediction Center, officials announced today. This preliminary count is the highest for the first 10 days in May since 1950, when record-keeping began, and wipes out the previous record of 177 tornadoes in 1999.

The previous most active week on record was May 12-18, 1995, when there were 171 tornadoes. During the Super Outbreak of April 3-4, 1974, 147 tornadoes were reported in 13 states over 16 hours. The most recent significant tornado outbreak, May 3-5, 1999, included 130 tornadoes that killed 48 people in Oklahoma and Kansas.

Forecasts and warnings have improved significantly in the past 30 years, which has helped save lives, according to NOAA National Weather Service Deputy Director John Jones. A total of 307 people were killed in the Super Outbreak, as compared with 42 this month.

In his remarks to members of Congress last Friday, Jones emphasized that NOAA National Weather Service employees on the front lines in forecast offices were "working non-stop through the week's dangerous weather events." He also pointed out that "the infusion of new science and technology along with a cadre of experienced forecasters in the field" helped the NWS issue warnings that undoubtedly saved many lives over the past week.

Jones added that NOAA partnerships with the research community, federal, state, local governments, and with the broadcast media, made it possible for timely NWS warnings to give people time to take shelter.

Four states have been declared Presidential disaster areas: Missouri, Kansas,
Tennessee, and Oklahoma.

In the Oklahoma City area, while 145 people were injured and one man died as a result of the tornadoes on Thursday and Friday, Governor Brad Henry praised the advance notice provided by the NOAA National Weather Service Forecast Office in Norman and the local television meteorologists.

"They did such a tremendous job of giving early warning to the residents of Oklahoma about these storms in such a manner that it enabled people to seek appropriate shelter," Henry said. "I believe that was a major factor contributing to the fact that we had only one fatality, and frankly, minimal serious injuries."

The NOAA National Weather Service office in Birmingham also received praise for its performance. C.R. Vaughan, fire marshal and emergency operations coordinator for the town of Cuba, Ala., said, "I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to the staff in the Birmingham office for their invaluable support during the most recent outbreaks of severe weather. We can only do so much in the field without the expert advice and information that each of you provide."

Last week, the NOAA National Weather Service deployed seven Quick Response Teams made up of wind damage experts to investigate tornado damage that appeared to be F3 or greater. This week, a service assessment team led by Jim Purpura, meteorologist-in-charge of the NWS Weather Forecast Office in Corpus Christi, Texas, has begun visiting the offices most involved in the outbreak to review NWS performance. Their report will be released in about 90 days.

Here are some highlights for the week, compiled by the Awareness Branch of the NOAA Office of Climate, Water, and Weather Services.

  • Sunday afternoon and night tornadoes did significant damage in at least seven Kansas and 39 Missouri counties. Pierce City, Mo., was demolished. Another tornado on the ground for 65 miles in western Tennessee hit Jackson (Madison County). Lead time for Madison County was 13 minutes. Flooding was reported in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama.
  • On Tuesday, tornadoes did extensive damage in De Soto (Jefferson County), Mo., and in portions of southern Illinois and western Kentucky. More flooding occurred in Tennessee and northern portions of Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Significant flooding was reported in Huntsville, Ala.
  • On Wednesday, supercells moved across northern Mississippi to western Georgia. Flooding occurred around Birmingham and wind damage was reported in the Atlanta area.
  • On Thursday, more than 100 were injured, one man died as a result of injuries and 300 homes were destroyed in Moore (Cleveland County), Okla. The tornado lead time was 21 minutes. Additional tornadoes occurred in northern and eastern Kansas with Lawrence especially hard hit. Seventeen tornado warnings were issued in this area with an average lead time of 25 minutes.
  • Multiple tornadoes occurred over several hours Friday night in Oklahoma. In the Oklahoma City area, a tornado damaged a Xerox plant and several schools. Five injuries were reported. Preliminary average lead times for the tornado warnings were 28 minutes.
  • On Saturday, flooding occurred in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area, in southern Hamilton County, Ohio, and northern Kenton County, Ky. Approximately 100 people were evacuated.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources. NOAA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.