April 27, 2011 Tornado Swarm: Why So Many Deaths?

In 1974, what has been dubbed the “Super Outbreak” of tornadoes brought death and misery from Alabama to Indiana, killing 330 people and injuring over five thousand. The tornado count was 148 for those two days, still a record until this year.

 Doppler radar had scarcely been invented in 1974 and none were operational to warn the public. It was not fully deployed by the National Weather Service until the mid 1990s. So, why did a similar outbreak kill so many in 2011?

 Many of the tornadoes were huge and contained winds not survivable above ground. In May of 1999, a giant tornado swept through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore. There was plenty of warning from both the NWS and local television, but 40 people still perished.

Television meteorologist Gary England was quoted as saying the intense portion of the tornado was not survivable above ground. This same condition accounted for many deaths, but not all, in the April 27, 2011 tornado swarm.

For instance, reports posted on the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) website attribute deaths to people trapped in mobile homes or outdoors. A tornado with winds of 100mph or more is usually not survivable in a mobile home.

The event was well advertised even the previous day and all agencies were at the top of their game. The bottom line is when huge tornadoes sweep through, if you are not in an underground shelter or safe room your risk of death is much higher than in a typical "weaker" tornado.

Only 2% of all U.S. tornadoes are EF4 (166-200 mph) or EF5 (above 200 mph) strength, and there’s typically only a few dozen in the whole of America per year. We’ve seen several years worth of them in the historically tragic weather month of April 2011, and many both large and medium-strength tornadoes have been in heavily populated areas, just like in 1974.

Here in Texoma, Tushka is stark example of that fact when an EF3 destroyed half of the town, killed 2 and injured 43 on April 14.








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  • by Just Sayn' Location: texas on May 10, 2011 at 10:32 AM
    Climate change (global warming) is fueling more early powerful storms. Just like recorded setting snowfall in northest over winter bringing floods. And how about record temps. unpecedented droughts and wildfires. And flooding rains because of higher moisture in atmosphere from higher evaporation.
  • by ron Location: Howe on May 9, 2011 at 02:27 AM
    People have laughed at me because I will get out of the way of a tornado. Yes, there are some who will stand there and watch a storm like that come at them. And they are likely to receive the Darwin Award for improving the breed of Man by passing away before they can create another generation that doesn't give respect and caution to weather that is out of Man's control. And no, the weather is not caused by Mom's SUV or the mayan calendar. It's just the weather.
  • by Steve LaNore Location: KXII-TV on May 5, 2011 at 04:26 PM
    Dear Anonymous, Thanks for your note. There is no data to suggest any correlation between earthquakes and severe weather episodes, cold fronts, etc. Earthquakes are an underground phenomenon which does not cause any appreciable effect on weather patterns. Plus, we think the weather is "different" now because we are experiencing it. Many records for tornadoes, heat, cold and floods still stand from the 1930s and 1950s for instance. We also have much better detection of tornadoes now so one that would have probably escaped detection in 1930 will be tough to miss now. Take Care, Steve
  • by Anonymous Location: Springer on Apr 30, 2011 at 06:24 AM
    The weather is sooo different than it use to be.Many tornadoes,blowing wind,and alot more up and down temperatures.The earthquakes thats been going on must have something to do with this craziness.What do u you think?
  • by mike Location: madill on Apr 28, 2011 at 08:59 PM
    Steve I live in Madill now, but lived in OKC for over 40 years and was watching the 1999 tornado(s) progress thru okc.......at one point my home was directly in the path.....my point is check your weather forecasts and keep track of the potential bad periods while watching excellent news/weather TV stations like KFOR and KXII.....thank you all for keeping us all alive!
  • by Steve LaNore Location: KXII-TV on Apr 28, 2011 at 12:40 PM
    Andy, Thanks for your note; thank for mentioning the population density as this is a valid observation. However the point of my article was the low chance of surviving a large tornado above ground without regard to population density. My second point was technology only goes so far when the tornadoes are huge, so that even with advanced warning, etc. deaths were inevitable. Take Care, Steve
  • by Andy Location: Colbert on Apr 28, 2011 at 09:27 AM
    Steve, Have you checked the population totals in the US in 1974 compared to today? This huge increase, along with the migration from rural to large cities means many more people are targeted when a tornado hits a large town. And when you have 300 or more tornadoes in an outbreak, the odds are that a large town may get hit.
    • reply
      by angie on Apr 28, 2011 at 07:49 PM in reply to Andy
      You would think with all these advanced warning systems there would be fewer casualties after these catastrophic storms. However with an increase in urban populations coupled with a lack of basic shelters namely basements in these areas you will continue to see many casualties. I don't see many basements in the southern region of the US simply because it was too cost prohibitive to build them. Where you find poor building soil conditions, poor construction values, and poor location- homes built in a 100-yr flood plain you will not find basic shelters. Figure out a way to provide shelters and you will see a decrease in casualties.
      • reply
        by debra on May 1, 2011 at 06:13 AM in reply to angie
        I dont know about other people but this time of the year I keep My eye on the weather alot of the people I know dont pay it enought attention they make comments like I ts no gonna do anything they always have out warnings well I dont know but I am watchful and wish there were more shelters that peoplecould use we always take cover in a closet but looking at the desctruction of the homes that were hit I dont feel to safe.
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