April 3, 2012, Dallas Tornadoes and a 1974 Super Outbreak Retrospective

Now that all the excitement is over, here are a couple radar grabs from shortly after 3:00 p.m. EST (1903z) of two tornadic supercells moving across Dallas. Click on the images to enlarge them. I was on the phone with my brother Brian at the time when I took the screenshots. He, my sister-in-law, Cheryl, and my nephew, Sam, live on the eastern side of Dallas. Worried about their safety, I gave Brian a call. It occurred to me that, once the storms had passed, Brian might enjoy seeing a couple of the radar shots that had prompted my concern. The storms fired when moist, easterly surface winds collided with an old, eastward-moving outflow boundary. There's plenty of lift and helicity in that combination, and with good instability and adequate upper-air support, supercells and tornadoes were the result. The event was extremely well-covered, as you'd expect when a major city is in the crosshairs in this age of live streaming and hi-def camcorders. Facebook was abuzz with chatter and images as the scenario unfolded. But it's all finished, and now we wait for official surveys to fill us in on the full scope of storm damage. From the videos and photos I've seen, some of the tornadoes were quite large, but for all that, it sounds like their impact was relatively minor. Of course, in the neighborhoods where homes got damaged or destroyed, it was calamitous, but considering what could have been, Dallas suffered a flesh wound, not a severed limb. So far I haven't heard reports of any injuries or fatalities; let's hope that continues to be the case. One irony of this event is that it falls on a date that affords ample grounds for comparison. Thirty-eight years ago on April 3–4, the infamous 1974 Super Outbreak claimed 319 lives, a figure only recently surpassed by last year's devastating April 27-28 Super Outbreak. One hundred forty-eight tornadoes raked a thirteen-state region in the East and South, and out of that number, six tornadoes were rated an F5 and twenty-four, an F4. Even the 2011 Southern Outbreak, violent, deadly, and prolific as it was, didn't rival that statistic, although it certainly came very close. Dallas today saw nothing like the disasters that unfolded back then in Xenia, Ohio; or Brandenberg and Louisville, Kentucky; or Monticello, Indiana; or Guin, Alabama. That's a good thing. Such benchmarks are not the kind you ever want your own town to challenge, particularly if your town is as large and populous as Fort Worth or Dallas. If you want to get a fascinating and gripping retrospective on one facet of the 1974 Super Outbreak, spend a little time listening to these recordings of the blow-by-blow radio reportage from WHAS as the Louisville tornado moved through the city. Or for a really eerie experience, turn up the volume and listen to this MP3 of the Xenia, Ohio, tornado as it approached and ultimately destroyed the apartment of a Xenia resident, who wisely abandoned his cassette recorder to seek shelter in the basement. And that's enough of that. It's time for me to pull away from the computer and go practice my saxophone.

The Historic 2011 Tornado Season in Review: A Video Interview with Storm Chaser Bill Oosterbaan, Parts 2-4

This post continues from part one of my video interview with Bill Oosterbaan on his storm chases during the monumental tornado season of 2011. Since the interview involves one chaser's recollections, it obviously can't and doesn't embrace the entirety of this year's significant tornado events, such as the April 9 Mapleton, Iowa, tornado and the April 14–16 outbreak. The latter event was historic in its own right, the worst outbreak to occur since February 5–6, 2008. During most years it would have been the biggest headline maker for spring storms; yet in 2011, it got eclipsed three weeks later by the deadly super outbreak of April 25–28; and again on May 22 by the heartbreaking disaster in Joplin, Missouri, where 158 lives were lost. The tornadoes of 2011 will long be remembered for for their violence, size, and path length; for their sheer number; and for their devastating impact on large towns across the South and Southeast. In the following videos, my friend and long-time chase partner Bill talks about his experiences in Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. If you haven't already seen Part 1, I encourage you to start there and view the entire interview in sequence. These videos constitute a person-to-person conversation, not a series of tornado clips. In fact, due to issues with his camera, Bill regretfully didn't get the kind of video record he hoped for. He did, however, manage to film the Vilonia, Arkansas, wedge; and, equipped with a new camcorder on June 20, he captured some interesting and exciting footage in Nebraska, some which you can view here and here. Bill, while I couldn't join you on most of your chases this spring, I'm glad you had such a successful season. I know the dues you've paid over the years. You're the McCoy.