Powerful tornadoes in 6 states kill at least 70

Heavy damage is seen downtown after a tornado swept through the area on December 11, 2021 in Mayfield, Kentucky.

Heavy damage is seen downtown after a tornado swept through the area on December 11, 2021 in Mayfield, Kentucky.
Photo: Brett Carlsen (Getty Images)

The sun has risen over scenes of widespread destruction from Arkansas to Illinois following a series of deadly tornadoes that struck Friday night.

At least 70 have died in Kentucky alone amid one of the worst December tornado outbreaks in recent memory. Powerful storms crumpled an Amazon warehouse and ripped off the roof of a retirement home. A tornado alone caused damage in four states, spewing debris up to 30,000 feet (9,100 meters) into the sky, the height that a commercial aircraft could travel. Daylight will almost certainly reveal more sorrow.

“Everything around us, as far as we could see, is completely destroyed,” Chris Jackson, a storm chaser who tracked the storms as they rolled from Arkansas to Kentucky on Friday, told the Washington Post. “It is without a doubt the worst [tornado] I have never [seen], and I’ve been chasing storms for seven years.

Catastrophic damage ranges from Arkansas to Illinois

First responders in all six tornado-affected states have been busy. Search and rescue operations are underway at the aforementioned Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Ill. And at the nursing home in Monette, Arkansas, where at least one has died.

“It’s just a lot of devastation that we haven’t seen in my years of working in the emergency department,” Bob Blankenship, Mayor of Monette, told CNN.

But police, firefighters and paramedics have deployed across the region. A candle factory in Mayfield, Ky., Is currently a major search and rescue site. There were 110 people trapped when the factory collapsed, and Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear estimated it would be a site of many casualties. Stormchaser Michael Gordon, who is at the scene, told CNN that Mayfield “looked like a war zone.” Drone dawn video shows the city almost entirely in ruins while Pictures point to flagstones where houses once stood and debris wrapped around broken trees. First responders themselves were affected, with Mayfield firefighters in front dig their way out of their own fire station.

“I would be surprised if we don’t see at least five or more” counties with deaths, “Beshear said at a press conference. Saturday morning he felt that there might be more than 100 dead, which would make this the deadliest tornado in Kentucky.

Blankenship said Monette has no electricity. This is also true for more than 300,000 households in tornado-affected states and about 100,000 more in other parts of the Midwest.

Record-breaking tornado caused much of the damage

Several tornadoes struck Friday night amid the outbreak of severe weather. But a tornado, which has been dubbed the “four-state tornado,” caused most of the damage – and it could be a record tornado.

The tornado traversed a 240 mile (386 kilometer) stretch that included both Monette and Mayfield. National Weather Service storm investigators will look to see if he’s been on the ground the entire time. If so, it would be the longest tornado trail never registered in the United States

Beyond the long track, the violent storm threw debris miles into the sky and away from the direct path of the tornado. A resident of New Albany, Indiana, reported a photo showing Dawson Springs, Ky., A city hard hit by the tornado. The distance as the crow flies between these two locations is approximately 200 kilometers.

While official ratings are forthcoming, Beshear said it was “the most serious tornado event in Kentucky history.” NWS investigators will do a formal scan to formally assess the tornadoes, but radar data captured Friday night shows the storm could have been an EF-4 on the Improved Fujita Scale and ground images endure it too. This would make it a “violent” tornado and place its winds between 166 and 200 mph (267 and 322 km / h). There was only three EF-4 tornadoes in December in the history of the United States.

Bizarre weather set the stage for the tornado outbreak

Tornadoes require atmospheric instability to form. In the United States, this usually means cold fronts that trigger storms coming in from the west and warm, humid air rising from the Gulf of Mexico. This provides both the energy needed for the strong winds to pick up and enough wind shear to cause the storms to twist as the easterly front crosses the northerly moving Gulf air. While tornadoes can form any month, winter is generally a relatively quieter time as the air over the Gulf is not warm enough to provide the necessary fuel.

But the Gulf maintained its heat and sent it trickling down to the eastern United States, like a mighty cold front that brought heavy snow to Colorado out of the west. To give an idea of ​​the opposing temperatures on either side of the front, it was 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius) in Memphis and 30 degrees Fahrenheit (minus -1 degree Celsius) in Minneapolis. These clashing air masses triggered the historic onset of storms.

People walk through the ruins of downtown Mayfield, Ky., Following a tornado.  A post office delivery truck is overturned on its side in the background.

People walk through the ruins of downtown Mayfield, Ky., Following a tornado.
Photo: Brett Carlsen (Getty Images)

In addition to the tornadoes, the thunderstorm system also illuminated the sky with lightning and caused hail to rain. Data from Vaisala, a meteorological company, detected more than 782,000 lightning bolts, which also makes it a rare event by this measurement. Meteorologist Vaisala Chris Vagasky tweeted it is one of the 10 biggest lightning outbreaks in december since at least 2015.

Climatic conditions behind severe weather

A few climatic factors are probably at play as well. This autumn, La Niña was formed. The natural climate model in the tropical Pacific can rearrange weather on a global scale, including increase the chances more winter tornadoes in the exact region that saw an outbreak Friday night.

The exact influence of climate change on tornadoes is elusive, although research indicates large clusters of twisters are more and more frequent. It is a very active area of ​​research, however.

But as with anything related to extreme heat, it’s impossible to talk about it without talking about the influence of burning fossil fuels. The increase in the global average temperature means that the abnormal heat has become both more common and more severe. We have seen it time and time once again to the point that it is impossible to speak of abnormal heat without mentioning climate change. The warm air that is currently flooding the south will push north and bring spring conditions to the northeast next week.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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