Weather! The calm after the storm

Fantastic weather this weekend will help the many, many people affected by this week’s severe weather.

All across the south, people are picking up the pieces from what will likely go down as one of the biggest tornado outbreaks in the last 50 years. National Weather Service offices from Mississippi to Virginia are still performing storm damage surveys, while individuals are trying to pick up the pieces, and console, locate, or bury loved ones. As of this afternoon, the reported death toll is 318, surpassing the April 3-4 Super Outbreak of 1974, which killed 315.

One tornado out of this outbreak so far has been given the highest rating on the EF scale, EF-5. The tornado tracked through Monroe County, Mississippi, destroying virtually everything in its path. From the Memphis National Weather Service office storm survey report: AN 1965 CHEVY PICKUP TRUCK PARKED IN FRONT ONE OF THE DESTROYED HOMES HAS NOT BEEN FOUND. ALL APPLIANCES AND PLUMBING FIXTURES IN THE MOST EXTREME DAMAGE PATH SHREDDED OR MISSING. This marks the first EF-5 tornado since the Parkersburg-New Hartford, Iowa tornado in 2008, and the first EF-5 or F-5 in Mississippi since 1966.

So far the count includes seven tornadoes in Virginia, which combined have been responsible for five fatalities. Four of these took place in the community of Glade Spring in Washington County. Located along I-81 in far Southwest Virginia, only about 30 miles from Bristol and just up the road from Emory and Henry College, the tornado passed through the town, destroying homes, tossing trailers at an eighteen-wheel trailer manufacturing plant, throwing tractor-trailers off of I-81 and striking the Petro Truck Stop adjacent to the interstate just after 1:00 AM on Thursday.

The tornado continued into Smyth County, where it passed northwest of the town of Chilhowie. A storm survey conducted by the National Weather Service office in Blacksburg rated the tornado damage in Smyth County as EF2 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, with an estimated maximum wind speed of 115 miles per hour. The storm survey team observed that the tornado damaged several homes, overturned three mobile homes, and was responsible for in excess of $2 million in damage in Smyth County. Washington County is served by the National Weather Service office in Morristown, Tennessee; a storm survey released this afternoon rated the damage there as EF-3, with max winds near 140 miles per hour.

The four deaths in Washington County tie the 1993 Colonial Heights tornado as the deadliest in Virginia since a 1959 tornado in Albemarle County that claimed eleven lives.

Closer to home, the National Weather Service in Wakefield has confirmed tornadoes in Goochland, Caroline, Prince Edward, and Hanover Counties between Wednesday night and Thursday morning. The first three have all been rated as EF-1; the Hanover tornado is still preliminary and pending a further survey next week.

It’s far more death and destruction than any one community should ever have to deal with.

High pressure will take over this weekend, bringing us some cooler, drier conditions. We got to experience the beginning of this weather today; temperatures have just spiked to 74 in the last hour, and should settle in the mid 40s overnight. We’ll see highs in the low 70s on Saturday, with lows near 50, and temperatures climbing to almost 80 degrees again by Sunday. Overnight lows will fall into the upper 50s. Expect partly to mostly sunny conditions and light winds all weekend long.

We’ve got a chance for some more thunderstorms come Monday; I’ll have a full update then. Enjoy your weekend.

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Weather Dan

Dan Goff is now a two-time former Richmonder, having departed the River City yet again in favor of southwest Virginia, where he is working on degrees in geography and meteorology at Virginia Tech. Have a question about the weather or weather-related phenomena?

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