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Question: Not much flooding here but winds and lightning took down many large branches and destroyed a new Japanese Maple I purchased just yesterday. Could there have been a tornado or something along Chatham/Orange county line? — Greg
Answer: The organization of the atmosphere and storms that were underway at that time were both much more favorable for "straight-line" wind gusts than for tornadoes, and it is very likely the damage you noted was due to these intense thunderstorm outflows. It's worth noting that thunderstorm downburst winds of this sort can reach wind speeds near 150 mph in rare instances, though less than 80 mph is much more common. Also, the winds can sometimes occur in a highly channeled fashion, leading to narrow swaths of damage surrounded by lower wind speeds, and the shear between the strongest wind and weaker winds to either side can lead to swirls and vortices that can mimic to some extent the kinds of damage patterns seen in tornadoes.
Jul. 1, 2015 | Tags: past weather, thunderstorms, tornadoes, winds
Question: I've lived in NC for 30 years. I've noticed a trend in severe weather in NC as it relates geographically to the fall line. It seems there is a statistically significant amount of storms (particularly with tornadoes) following paths south and east of the fall line separating the coastal plain and the Piedmont. Is this pattern recognized as influenced by the geography at all? Other than the mountains shearing passing storms, what would make the coastal plain that much more conducive of an environment versus areas a few miles west of the fall line? — Stan
Answer: It's worth noting that tornadoes can occur anywhere in our state, but the distribution you've noticed does have statistics in its favor, especially for more intense tornadoes, and does have some physical reasoning behind it. Several factors play a role, including the location of the area relative to the mountains, which can induce a "lee trough" that can set up along or just west of the fall line and act as a storm trigger in some cases. In addition, a "Piedmont trough" that is influenced by the differential heating of soils over the Sandhills region of the state and areas farther west that sometimes sets up on rather hot days. Probably a more important factor than either of those, however, is the presence of the Atlantic Ocean just not far south and east, and the intrusion of moist, warm marine air in the lower atmosphere that often precedes the arrival of the kinds of sharp upper-level troughs and attendant frontal boundaries that are most often associated with our tornadic outbreaks. The coastal front that can push inland in those situations provides both enhanced instability (through a combination of low-level warmth and humidity) and can also serve as a boundary that enhances low level wind shear that can be translated into rotation in storms that form in the vicinity of that boundary.
Jun. 14, 2015 | Tags: severe weather, tornadoes
Question: Last year on 5/15/14, an EF1 tornado passed one block away from my home. There was considerable property damage with many trees down. The only notice was Greg Fishel telling me to head for the basement on my phone. Back when I lived in the Midwest, there were sirens in every neighborhood to warn of severe weather. My question is; why don't we have sirens in the Triangle? — Mike Bethelzs
Answer: Compared to many populated areas in the midwest and parts of the plains, central North Carolina has historically had considerably fewer tornadoes, in particular of the more violent variety (there has never been a documented F5 or EF5 tornado in our state, for example) and this probably led to resources being directed to other things besides procuring and maintaining siren systems that would be rather rarely used in many communities. A few other considerations include the difficulty of hearing them inside homes, vehicles and businesses that, through the years, became increasingly buttoned up and resistant to sound from outdoors, the potential for confusion between weather sirens, volunteer fire department sirens and nuclear power plant/civil defense sirens, and the density of the siren network that would be required to overcome rolling terrain and thick tree cover that limits the distance a given siren could cover. In more recent times, the ubiquity of weather information available by way of radio, television, internet, home phone and cell phone has further reduced the call for sirens related to weather. Despite this, debate on the issue continues and a few locations in our state have added sirens in recent years, for use in flash flooding or severe weather events, and several college campuses have done the same.
May. 22, 2015 | Tags: spotters/skywarn, tornadoes
Question: How bad are 200-mph winds? — Antonio
Answer: It all depends on perspective. A 200-mph wind at jet stream level may be very beneficial in terms of fuel economy for an aircraft traveling in the same direction, although shear in the vicinity of the strong jet core might also produce some clear air turbulence. On the other, at or near ground level in a populated or built-up area, 200-mph winds can be extremely destructive. Such a wind speed rates at the top of the Enhanced Fujita EF-4 scale (and anything higher at EF-5) for tornado damage potential, representing a violent tornado capable of producing extreme damage. Likewise, for hurricanes, 200-mph is far up into the Category 5 level on the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale, and would be expected to result in "catastrophic" damage.
Apr. 7, 2015 | Tags: hurricanes, preparedness, tornadoes
Question: How many tornadoes have we had in North Carolina this year? — Josiah
Answer: All we can offer for now is a rough estimate that will likely be revised as more complete data is collected and posted by the Storm Prediction Center and National Climatic Data Center. Tornado reports initially come in the form of a product called local storm reports, for which a very up to date archive is readily available. However, in some cases these preliminary reports turn out to have been due to non-tornadic storms, or there may be several reports that all arise from a single tornado, so that the initial number of reports is usually an overestimate. Using that value, there were 40 tornado reports in NC for January through October 2014. The Storm Prediction Center applies a ratio of .85 as a rough correction factor to reduce potential duplicate reports, which would give an estimate of 34 tornadoes. A more accurate, final count for our state for 2014 will be available from SPC and NCDC by sometime in the spring of 2015, as by that time tornado damage survey reports from local NWS offices will have been collected and entered into databases that reflect, as near as is possible, the actual number of confirmed tornadoes.
Nov. 4, 2014 | Tags: past weather, tornadoes
Question: Was there any tornado activity reported the night of September 23-24th? During the night our front door was ripped off by a powerful wind that snaked up our stairs--sounded like a horde of very large animals running down the upstairs hall--was over quite quickly. — Leonne Harris
Answer: There were no tornado reports from that night, and there were also no "local storm reports" concerning wind damage from non-tornadic gusts. We also checked whether any warnings were issued that night, and it appears that none were. We also looked at several stations' wind reports, and found that while winds generally ran from the northeast at about 5-15 mph, there were some peak gusts in the 20-30 mph range associated with the bands of shower activity that passed through that night. Of course, very localized effects may have produced some higher winds that were not picked up at any of these stations, but based on the lack of tornado and wind reports, it appears your situation was very unusual for that night.
Oct. 2, 2014 | Tags: past weather, tornadoes, winds
Question: I saw a movie many years ago about a fictional outbreak of Tornadoes here in the USA. I can't remember the name, but I think I recall it starred John Schneider. In that movie, they were talking about the Tornadoes traveling in the opposite direction that a typical Tornado travels and also, their wind circulation was in the opposite direction of a normal tornado. Is this purely fiction, or does this type of thing really happen. — Gary
Answer: We think you're referring to a movie called "Night of the Tornadoes," which was apparently a fictional movie based on a real event, the Grand Island, NE tornado outbreak of June 3, 1980, in which seven tornadoes occurred within a powerful complex of thunderstorms in the vicinity of Grand Island over a three-hour period. This thunderstorm complex was quite unusual in its behavior. While there are a variety of possibilities that occasionally occur, most tornadoes in the U.S tend to travel along fairly straight lines, very often from southwest toward the northeast, and about 99 out of 100 have counterclockwise rotating winds, called "cyclonic" in the northern hemisphere. In the Grand Island outbreak, however, several tornadoes moved toward the west, northwest or southwest at times, a couple made sharp turns and one even made several loops along its path. In addition, of the seven tornadoes that evening, three were "anticyclonic" with winds that circled clockwise around the center. You can read a summary of this outbreak and see some tornado track maps and radar images at www.crh.noaa.gov/gid/?n=gi1980tornado. In this case, what sounds like a potentially far-fetched movie premise turns out to be based on a real-life storm outbreak that was "stranger than fiction."
Sep. 2, 2014 | Tags: cool sites, past weather, tornadoes
Question: A quick question for your from a long-time fan and NC severe weather 'enthusiast'. Looking back at past tornado outbreaks in NC, I came across March 29, 1991. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find much if any information on the tornadoes that occurred that day. Nonetheless, searching on the tornado history project (THP) website, there are a number of tornadoes across the state, including 2 fairly long track F2s near the western part of WRAL viewing area. Now the really interesting part . . . When I was searching for info on the storms, I found a clip (youtu.be/v6VPW3ir5f0) from the WRAL News from that very evening (3/29/91) that featured your weather report. Although THP data reads that the two F2s hit around 2PM, there was no mention of the activity on your evening forecast/discussion! Were you unaware that the tornadoes had occurred, or am I off on dates/times, or something else? Would love to hear what you think! Thanks! — James Hathorn
Answer: Your date is indeed correct and there were ten tornadoes reported in NC that day, including the two F2 twisters you noted just west of the Triangle. One of those originated near Farmer in southwest Randolph County and ended up damaging or detroying some 68 homes in Asheboro and doing $600,000 damage. Luckily no deaths or injuries were reported. This tornado covered a 28 mile path, while another F2 twister that formed over Chatham County near Siler City and covered about a six mile path that extended a bit into Orange County, damaging 35 homes and destroying four mobile homes along the way, again with no deaths or injuries, but about $250,000 damage. An early evening F1 tornado later that day that moved through parts of Lenoir and Jones counties did result in a reported 33 injuries. A good place to look up some of these details is the National Climatic Data Center's "Storm Events Database" at www.ncdc.noaa.gov/stormevents/. The clips of the newscast you linked to were from the 11PM news, and it seems likely the information about the tornadoes was covered in some detail during parts of the newscast that were not included, and that's probably the the reason they weren't mentioned specifically in the weathercast that came later. Thanks for the "throwback" link!
Aug. 29, 2014 | Tags: cool sites, past weather, tornadoes
Question: Do Arizona's monsoon storms produce tornadoes, and when was the last time a tornado occurred in Yuma? — Chris Filiano
Answer: The monsoon in Arizona is a time of a general south to southeasterly low-level wind flow that occurs during the summer months, bringing relatively moist low to mid-level air into the region and helping to fuel occasional strong or severe thunderstorms, with almost all severe storm reports in the Yuma region tending to occur in the months of July to September. However, the broader environment that these storms form in usually lack the kind of vertical wind shear that supports the development of rotating storms that spawn tornadoes, so they are very rare there. In checking records for tornadic activity in Yuma County, for example, we found just eight reported since 1950 (compared to 35 in Wake County, which is less than 1/6 the area of Yuma). The most recent occurred on August 10, 2006, and was an F0 tornado with a path length of 10 miles and a width of approximately 50 yards, with no damage or injuries reported.
Aug. 28, 2014 | Tags: past weather, tornadoes
Question: How is a dust devil like a tornado? — Hope Beltran
Answer: Both phenomena are made up of rotating columns of air with their base in contact with the ground, and both can be made visible by particles (usually dust, dirt or other small bits of debris for a dust devil, and dust, dirt, larger debris, and often cloud droplets for a tornado) being swept around the column by strong winds circling the vortex. Both can be capable of producing some wind damage, with dust devils usually limited to very minor levels compared to stronger tornadoes.
Jul. 21, 2014 | Tags: general meteorology, tornadoes
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Published: 2007-10-09 14:40:00
Updated: 2014-06-24 16:06:51