April 2011: historic U.S. extremes in rains, floods, tornadoes, and fires

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 13:40 GMT le 10 mai 2011

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"April was a month of historic climate extremes across much of the United States, including: record breaking precipitation that resulted in historic flooding; recurrent violent weather systems that broke records for tornado and severe weather outbreaks; and wildfire activity that scorched more than twice the area of any April this century." Thus begins the April 2011 climate summary for the U.S. issued yesterday by the National Climatic Data Center. The month featured very cold air spilling southwards from Canada, which gave Washington, Oregon, and Idaho top-ten coldest Aprils. Exceptionally warm air flowing from the Gulf of Mexico, which had its 3rd highest sea surface temperatures on record during April, gave Florida, Louisiana, and Texas top-ten warmest Aprils. The battleground where these two radically different air masses collided featured an exceptionally strong jet stream, which set the stage for the world's two largest tornado outbreaks in history: April 25 - 28 (201 confirmed tornadoes) and April 14 - 16 (155 confirmed tornadoes.) Incredibly heavy rains also resulted, with six states along the Ohio River and Mississippi River watersheds recording their all-time wettest April in history. Eight other states had top-ten wettest Aprils, and the month was the 10th wettest April in U.S. history. Some areas along the Ohio River Valley received up to 20 inches of rain during the month, which is nearly half their normal annual precipitation. April's extreme weather can be blamed in large part on the on-going La Niña episode in the Eastern Pacific. La Niña alters the path of the jet stream, and makes the predominant storm track in winter and spring traverse the regions that saw heavy precipitation. Climate change may have played a role in April's incredible U.S. extreme weather, though a preliminary investigation by NOAA's Climate Science Investigations (CSI) team concluded that "a change in the mean climate properties that are believed to be particularly relevant to severe storms has thus not been detected for April, at least during the last 30 years."


Figure 1. Six states along the Ohio River and Mississippi River watersheds had their all-time wettest April in history during 2011. In contrast, Texas had its 5th driest April on record, after recording its driest March ever. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center.

Great Texas drought of 2011 intensifies
April 2011 was the 5th driest and 5th hottest April in Texas history, going back 117 years. Exceptionally dry conditions have parched the soil and vegetation in Texas, which recorded precipitation of just 1.68 inches (43 mm,) on average, since February 1st. This is easily its driest February-April period on record for the state, nearly an inch less than the previous record (2.56 inches or 65 mm, Feb - Apr 1996.) The six-month period November 2010 - April 2011 was the 2nd driest such period on record. Based on the U.S. Drought Monitor, 94 percent of Texas is in severe to exceptional drought.

As a result of the great drought, an all-time April record of 1.79 million acres of land burned last month in the U.S., mostly in Texas. Much of the fuel for the fires came from dried underbrush and grasses which experienced ideal growing conditions during the summer of 2010, when there was abundant rain across the region. Nation-wide, the year-to-date period, January - April, has the greatest acreage burned in history, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.


Figure 2. The acreage burned in U.S. wildfire in April 2011 was by far the highest in the past decade. Most of the damage was done by a few huge fires. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center.

April 2011 smashes all-time tornado records
The largest tornado outbreak and greatest one-day total for tornadoes in history occurred during the historic April 25 - 28, 2011 tornado outbreak, said NOAA in a press release updated yesterday. They estimate 190 tornadoes touched down during the 24-hour period from 8:00 a.m. EDT April 27 to 8:00 a.m. EDT April 28 (134 tornadoes have already been confirmed, with several weeks of damage surveys still to come.) NOAA's estimate for the number of tornadoes during the three-day April 25 - 28, 2011 Super Outbreak, is 305 (201 are confirmed so far.) This is nearly double the previous record for a multi-day tornado outbreak of 155 tornadoes, set just two weeks previously during the April 14 - 16, 2011 outbreak. There were tornado outbreaks in May 2004 (385 tornadoes) and May 2003 (401 tornadoes) that had more tornadoes, but these outbreaks occurred over an eight-day and eleven-day period, respectively, and were not due to a single storm system. Prior to April 2011, the most tornadoes in a 24-hour period, and in an outbreak lasting less than four days, was the 148 tornadoes in the Super Outbreak of April 3 - 4, 1974. The final tornado count for April 2011 will approach the all-time monthly record of 542 tornadoes, set in May 2003. The previous April record was 267 tornadoes, which occurred in April 1974. The 30-year average for April tornadoes is 135.


Figure 3. The Tuscaloosa-Birmingham tornado of April 27, 2011 killed 65 people and injured over 1000. The tornado carved a path of destruction 80.3 miles (129.2 km) long, and up to 1.5 miles (2.4 km) wide. On May 4, 2011, the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA's Terra satellite observed this segment of the tornado's track, near Birmingham, Alabama. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory.

The death toll for the epic outbreak continues to fluctuate, and currently stands at 326, with 309 fatalities during the 24-hour-period from 8:00 a.m. April 27 to 8:00 a.m. April 28. The estimated 326 deaths makes this the 4th deadliest tornado outbreak on record. Only the great Tri-State tornado outbreak of 1925 (747 killed), the 1936 Tupelo-Gainsville tornado outbreak (454 killed), and a 1932 outbreak (332 killed) had more deaths.


Figure 4. The Tuscaloosa-Birmingham tornado as it headed toward the Univ. of Alabama on April 27, 2011 (video shot by Chris England, a Univ. of Alabama student).

Mississippi River crests at Memphis: 2nd highest flood on record
The Mississippi River has crested at Memphis, Tennessee this morning, reaching the 2nd highest level on record. The flood height of 47.79' was just below the all-time record height of 48.7' set in the great 1937 flood. Fortunately, the levees constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers are much taller and stronger than was the case 74 years ago, and the mainline Mississippi River levees are expected to hold back this record flood and prevent a multi-billion dollar flood disaster. However, flooding on tributaries feeding into the Mississippi is severe in many locations along the Mississippi, since the tremendous volume of water confined behind the levees is backing up into the tributaries.

Downstream from Memphis, flood waters pouring in from the Arkansas River, Yazoo River, and other tributaries are expected to swell the Mississippi high enough to beat the all-time record at Vicksburg, Mississippi by 1.3' on May 19, by 6' at Natchez, Mississippi on May 21, and by 3.2' at Red River Landing on May 22. The Mississippi is forecast to crest at 19.5' in New Orleans on May 23. The levees in New Orleans protect the city for a flood of 20.0 feet, so it is a good bet that the Army Corps will fully open the Bonnet Carre' Spillway 28 miles upstream from New Orleans this week. The Bonnet Carre' Spillway was partially opened yesterday, and has the capacity to take 250,000 cubic feet per second of Mississippi River water into Lake Pontchartrain. This may not be enough to keep flood heights from rising dangerously close to the top of New Orleans' levees, and the Army Corps may elect to open the final relief valve they have at their disposal--the massive Morganza Spillway, 35 miles upstream from Baton Rouge. The Morganza Spillway has been opened only once in history, back in 1973. Rainfall amounts of at most 0.75 inches are expected over the Lower Mississippi River watershed over the next five days, which should prevent flood heights from rising above the current forecast.

Good links to follow the flood:
Summary forecast of all crests on Lower Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.
Wundermap for Vicksburg, MS with USGS River overlay turned on.
National Weather Service "May 2011 Mississippi River Flood" web page

Jeff Masters

RunningWater (CalicoBass)
over the road to the campground from the flooding White River. The river is still falling and should be off this road soon. Will be interesting to see how much damage is done to the road.
RunningWater

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777. MahFL
12:46 GMT le 12 mai 2011
"which runs from June 1 to November 30 every year"

Well..who knew hurricane season happened "every" year ?
lol.
Member Since: 9 juin 2004 Posts: 0 Comments: 2905
776. HurricaneDevo
12:40 GMT le 12 mai 2011
New Blog
Member Since: 19 avril 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 154
775. IKE
12:39 GMT le 12 mai 2011
NEW BLOG!

Member Since: 9 juin 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
772. IKE
12:33 GMT le 12 mai 2011
Looks like a cool-down here early next week....

Sunday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 58.

Monday: A 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly sunny, with a high near 82.

Monday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 54.

Tuesday: Sunny, with a high near 80.

Tuesday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 54.

Wednesday: Sunny, with a high near 85.
Member Since: 9 juin 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
771. emcf30
12:32 GMT le 12 mai 2011
Quoting RastaSteve:


Hey buddy was there any hail by you yesterday? I think you live near where I work.


No hail, very brief downpour. Had alot of wind and lightning. The hail core was moving south and went just to my East. I live just SE of Downtown in Conway. Maybe today.
Member Since: 7 août 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
770. Jax82
12:30 GMT le 12 mai 2011
Quoting RastaSteve:


I've had less but just a few miles east of me there was a hailstorm where I work. 81 here already with a 74 degree dewpoint and the high was 99 yesterday and 96 at OIA.


Looks like its going to cool down this weekend with a chance of t-storms everyday. I sure hope so, i'll be out at TPC sawgrass.
Member Since: 2 septembre 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 1261
767. emcf30
12:26 GMT le 12 mai 2011
BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
TORNADO WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE AUSTIN/SAN ANTONIO TX
706 AM CDT THU MAY 12 2011

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN AUSTIN SAN ANTONIO HAS ISSUED A

* TORNADO WARNING FOR...
CENTRAL UVALDE COUNTY...

* UNTIL 745 AM CDT.

* AT 704 AM CDT...NWS METEOROLOGISTS HAVE DETECTED A SEVERE
THUNDERSTORM CAPABLE OF PRODUCING A TORNADO NEAR CLINE...OR ABOUT
19 MILES EAST OF BRACKETTVILLE...MOVING EAST AT 30 MPH.

* SOME LOCATIONS IN THE WARNING INCLUDE LAGUNA AND UVALDE.
Member Since: 7 août 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
766. IKE
12:25 GMT le 12 mai 2011

Quoting RastaSteve:


Had a hailstorm yesterday here in Altamonte Springs (near the Altamonte Mall). Hail was about the size of nickels. I suspect that the coverage will be greater today as more moisture is available thru a deeper layer of the atmosphere. Oh by the way mad props to the Miami Heat. I was unsure how they would gel come the playoffs but they have proven me wrong and appear to be on the way to winning the Championship.
Agree...they're playing like a championship team.
Member Since: 9 juin 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
764. IKE
12:23 GMT le 12 mai 2011
Quoting barometric:


We sure could use it here in FLorala
I've had .60 of an inch about 15 miles south of you...here in DFS...the last 5 weeks.

Right now...it's foggy and 67.6 outside my window.
Member Since: 9 juin 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
763. WarEagle8
12:21 GMT le 12 mai 2011
Quoting barometric:


We sure could use it here in FLorala


Ditto, need precip here in Dunedin, FL, too. Upper level haze from fires in S GA all week...
Member Since: 19 août 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 120
762. barometric
12:18 GMT le 12 mai 2011
Quoting IKE:
A chance of rain here over the weekend....inland Florida panhandle....finally...

Friday: A 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms after
1pm. Partly sunny, with a high near 86. Calm wind becoming southwest
between 5 and 10 mph.

Friday Night: A 40 percent chance
of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 67.
Southwest wind between 5 and 10 mph becoming calm.

Saturday: A 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly sunny, with a high near 86. Southwest wind between 5 and 15 mph.

Saturday Night: A slight chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly cloudy, with a low around 61. Chance of precipitation is 20%.

Sunday: A 20 percent chance of rain before 1pm. Mostly sunny, with a high near 83.


We sure could use it here in FLorala
Member Since: 18 juin 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 4
761. Chicklit
12:03 GMT le 12 mai 2011
Off to an all-day meeting. Have a good one everyone.
Here's a good link for the middle and eastern part of the US; let's hope they don't get more rain in the valley.

LinkLoop
Member Since: 11 juillet 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11034
760. Chicklit
11:57 GMT le 12 mai 2011
FEMA DisasterRecoveryLocator Link

Member Since: 11 juillet 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11034
759. Jax82
11:56 GMT le 12 mai 2011
Here's a cool pic of the okefenokee fire still ragin.



Link

google earth KML

Firefighters at the Honey Prairie Wildfire burning in the Okefenokee Swamp are starting to get the upper hand as the weather in Baker County cooperates.

Because there is less wind, fewer homes are endangered and the fire is spreading slower that it did earlier this week.

The fire, which jumped into Florida after burning for nearly two weeks in Georgia, is now about 90,000 acres. Firefighters also are doing prescribed burns in Baker.

Member Since: 2 septembre 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 1261
758. IKE
11:54 GMT le 12 mai 2011

Member Since: 9 juin 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
757. IKE
11:53 GMT le 12 mai 2011

Member Since: 9 juin 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
756. Chicklit
11:50 GMT le 12 mai 2011
Excerpt from the Bloomberg Article:

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said fuel rods are fully exposed in the No. 1 reactor at its stricken Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, setting back the utility’s plan to resolve the crisis.

The water level is 1 meter (3.3 feet) below the base of the fuel assembly, Junichi Matsumoto, a general manager at the utility known as Tepco, told reporters at a briefing in Tokyo. Melted fuel has dropped to the bottom of the pressure vessel and is still being cooled, Matsumoto said. The company doesn’t know how long the rods have been exposed, he said.

...There’s no danger of another hydrogen blast, Matsumoto said at the briefing.

I heard on NPR yesterday that Japanese plans to construct 14 more reactors have been scrapped.
Member Since: 11 juillet 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11034
755. IKE
11:40 GMT le 12 mai 2011
A chance of rain here over the weekend....inland Florida panhandle....finally...

Friday: A 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms after
1pm. Partly sunny, with a high near 86. Calm wind becoming southwest
between 5 and 10 mph.

Friday Night: A 40 percent chance
of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 67.
Southwest wind between 5 and 10 mph becoming calm.

Saturday: A 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly sunny, with a high near 86. Southwest wind between 5 and 15 mph.

Saturday Night: A slight chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly cloudy, with a low around 61. Chance of precipitation is 20%.

Sunday: A 20 percent chance of rain before 1pm. Mostly sunny, with a high near 83.
Member Since: 9 juin 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
754. nrtiwlnvragn
11:28 GMT le 12 mai 2011
CPC Global Tropical Hazards Assessment

Excerpt:

During Week-2, the convectively enhanced phase for the MJO is forecast to move across the Western Hemisphere. This should yield an enhanced threat for tropical cyclogenesis across the eastern north Pacific, although chances are still quite low given that overall chances for formation of a tropical cyclone in this region, during May, are quite low. Enhanced rainfall is likely near the Gulf of Guinea and the islands of the south Pacific while the convectively suppressed area should shift northward into southern Asia and the Philippines. Drier than average conditions are expected to persist across portions of the Caribbean and Central America during Week-2.


Member Since: 23 septembre 2005 Posts: 13 Comments: 10458
753. IKE
10:42 GMT le 12 mai 2011
5 day QPF....


Member Since: 9 juin 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
752. PlazaRed
10:41 GMT le 12 mai 2011
Quoting:- 750. WatchingThisOne

So Here we are, or to put it a bit more accurately,''there they are,'' 2 months down the line and the same old new statement, IE. in a few months we will have it all under control, that is to say at least the bit of it we, {care to tell you about,} have admitted so far.

If nothing more happens from the natural disaster point of view then the situation might stabilize at a few notches above chaotic for the next decade.

The odds must be against them by now and there is every chance that more problems than solutions are on the cards for the summer.
Member Since: 21 janvier 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 1924
751. Neapolitan
10:11 GMT le 12 mai 2011
Quoting WatchingThisOne:
Fukushima reactor no. 1 - fuel rods are (and likely have been) "fully exposed" - Bloomberg

Pretty amazing, huh? Workers have been superflooding--injecting water at high pressure--into the #1 reactor for weeks now, and the water levels still haven't risen enough to even reach the bottom of the fuel assembly. Which is to say, the rods are--and have been--fully exposed for two months now. Yet we're to take solace in the fact that, well, yes, the rods are melting, but there's water at the bottom of the pressure vessel, so the molten fuel cools off once it hits that boiling water.

On top of that, as noted yesterday, workers can only spend two or three minutes inside unit #1 before being ushered away for their own safety. It's going to be difficult for TEPCO to accomplish their stated goal of a sustained drop in radiation levels by July.

In short: unit #1 is still in meltdown, and it's been spewing high amounts of radiation for many weeks, with no end in sight. Flooding is helping, but minimally. But we need nuclear power; it's our only hope. :-\
Member Since: 8 novembre 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13252
750. WatchingThisOne
08:54 GMT le 12 mai 2011
749. hurristat
05:47 GMT le 12 mai 2011
Quoting KoritheMan:

I knew I could tease you without retaliation. :P


You remember me well. XD
Member Since: 15 octobre 2008 Posts: 11 Comments: 2305
748. Jedkins01
05:13 GMT le 12 mai 2011
Quoting CybrTeddy:
Anyone in the Tampa FL area feeling not 100% up to standard the last few days? I've had a dreadful cough & fever the last two days, wondering if its allergies going around.


yeah there's definitely some nasty stuff in the air quality right now. Ive been getting slammed by the allergies, as I usually do from plants. However it has been particularly bad due the poor air quality lately.
Member Since: 21 août 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 6829
747. stillwaiting
05:02 GMT le 12 mai 2011
Quoting CybrTeddy:
Anyone in the Tampa FL area feeling not 100% up to standard the last few days? I've had a dreadful cough & fever the last two days, wondering if its allergies going around.
...down here in sarasota,been feeln the same way last week or so teddy...
Member Since: 5 octobre 2007 Posts: 20 Comments: 4970
746. KoritheMan
04:56 GMT le 12 mai 2011

Quoting hurristat:


Yeah, it is. Usually it's impeccable.

(I changed it from something else, and forgot to check subject-verb agreement)
I knew I could tease you without retaliation. :P
Member Since: 7 Mars 2007 Posts: 521 Comments: 19109
745. Skyepony (Mod)
04:54 GMT le 12 mai 2011
eddy~ It was really awesome. Been trying to see them since i was a kid. Still in awe of Bruce flying them all around in Ed Force One..


The tornado chasers really thinned out in the last few hours. Looks like the outlook for tomorrow is down to slight risk.
Member Since: 10 août 2005 Posts: 156 Comments: 36046
744. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
04:54 GMT le 12 mai 2011
iam gone for sure night all
Member Since: 15 juillet 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52130
743. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
04:53 GMT le 12 mai 2011
Quoting Skyepony:
This morning's AOI east of FL, a bit more squashed..




I saw Maiden a few weeks ago in Tampa, Final Frontier Tour... Where the Wild Winds Blow off that album reminds me of this blog.. Up The Irons!
Up The Irons
Member Since: 15 juillet 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52130
742. hurristat
04:43 GMT le 12 mai 2011
Quoting KoritheMan:

Your grammars are really off. :P :P


Yeah, it is. Usually it's impeccable.

(I changed it from something else, and forgot to check subject-verb agreement)
Member Since: 15 octobre 2008 Posts: 11 Comments: 2305
740. Skyepony (Mod)
04:33 GMT le 12 mai 2011
This morning's AOI east of FL, a bit more squashed..


Quoting eddy12:
keepers pic is from the album brave new world by iron maiden


I saw Maiden a few weeks ago in Tampa, Final Frontier Tour... Where the Wild Winds Blow off that album reminds me of this blog.. Up The Irons!
Member Since: 10 août 2005 Posts: 156 Comments: 36046
739. TomTaylor
04:24 GMT le 12 mai 2011
Quoting hurricaneben:
12-20 named storms to me is the possible range. Most likely guess is 14-17 named storms, 6-8 hurricanes of which 4-6 become major.
I think the major range of 4-6 is a little high, but other than that I agree with these numbers.
Member Since: 24 août 2010 Posts: 19 Comments: 4357
738. KoritheMan
04:15 GMT le 12 mai 2011

Quoting hurristat:
Wow, those cloud tops over michigan is really cold.
Your grammars are really off. :P :P
Member Since: 7 Mars 2007 Posts: 521 Comments: 19109
736. EYEStoSEA
04:10 GMT le 12 mai 2011
Be back even stronger tomorrow....

Member Since: 16 septembre 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1492
735. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
04:04 GMT le 12 mai 2011
Quoting EYEStoSEA:
The first avatar I remember of Keepers was the dude with the eyes and head that looked back and forth, evil looking dude
ya that was oil slick man made that one when BP blew out preventer in gulf
Member Since: 15 juillet 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52130
734. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
04:01 GMT le 12 mai 2011
enough foolin around for this night later all tomorrow is a MOD risk day

good night wunderground

Member Since: 15 juillet 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52130
733. EYEStoSEA
04:01 GMT le 12 mai 2011
The first avatar I remember of Keepers was the dude with the eyes and head that looked back and forth, evil looking dude
Member Since: 16 septembre 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1492
731. EYEStoSEA
03:56 GMT le 12 mai 2011
Quoting eddy12:
iron maiden eddie



Ahhh...ok...if ya say so....lol...I'm out of that loop
Member Since: 16 septembre 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1492
729. hurristat
03:53 GMT le 12 mai 2011
Wow, those cloud tops over michigan is really cold.
Member Since: 15 octobre 2008 Posts: 11 Comments: 2305
728. EYEStoSEA
03:50 GMT le 12 mai 2011
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
its eddy here let me get the picture for ya it was my original avatar



?
Member Since: 16 septembre 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1492
727. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
03:50 GMT le 12 mai 2011
Member Since: 15 juillet 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52130

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About JeffMasters

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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