Over 300 dead in historic tornado outbreak; one violent EF-5 tornado confirmed

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:20 PM GMT en Abril 29, 2011

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Rescuers sifting through the twisted wreckage of countless towns ravaged by Wednesday's historic tornado outbreak continue to uncover bodies today, and the death toll has swollen to over 300 this morning, and may be as high as 319. Hardest hit was Alabama, with at least 213 dead. Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, Arkansas, and Virginia are each reporting 11 - 34 deaths. NOAA's Storm Prediction Center logged 211 preliminary reports of tornadoes between 8am EDT Wednesday and 8am Thursday, and 346 reports for the full 4-day period of the outbreak, from April 25 - April 28. Twenty-two of these tornadoes were killer tornadoes; deaths occurred in six states. Damage surveys will take another week to complete, but preliminary surveys indicate that at least one of the tornadoes was an EF-5--the Smithville, Mississippi tornado, which hit at 3:44pm EDT on Wednesday. That tornado killed 13 people and destroyed 166 buildings, and reportedly sucked fire hydrants out of the ground. Some well-built modern 2-story homes that were bolted to their foundations were completely destroyed, leaving only the foundation. This type of damage is characteristic of an EF-5 tornado with 205 mph winds. The Smithville tornado is the first EF-5 tornado in Mississippi since the Candlestick Park tornado of March 3, 1966. Three other tornadoes from Wednesday's outbreak have been given preliminary EF-4 ratings, with winds of 166 - 200 mph. These include the Phil Campbell, AL tornado (26 deaths), the Ringgold, GA tornado (7 deaths), the Tanner, GA tornado (11 deaths), and the Apison, Tennessee tornado (13 deaths, and possibly the same tornado that hit Ringgold.) The violent tornado that ravaged Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, Alabama, killing at least 46 people and injuring 600, has not yet been given an official rating. I expect this tornado will be rated an EF-4 (possibly an EF-5.) This tornado is likely to be the most expensive tornado of all-time, and damage from the April 25 - 28 outbreak is likely rank as the most expensive tornado outbreak in history. The current record is the $3.5 billion price tag, in 2005 dollars, of the April 3 - 4, 1974 Super Outbreak . According wunderground's weather historian, Christopher C. Burt in his post The World's Deadliest Tornadoes, the death toll of 319 makes the April 25 - 28, 2011 tornado outbreak the fourth deadliest tornado outbreak in U.S. history, and the deadliest since 1936. It is the deadliest of the past 50 years, surpassing the April 3 - 4, 1974 Super Outbreak (315 killed) and the 1965 Palm Sunday tornado outbreak (256 killed.)


Figure 1. Still frame from an animation showing the height and extent of the rain columns associated with the thunderstorms that spawned Wednesday's tornadoes. This data, taken from NASA's TRMM satellite, showed that some of these violent storms reached incredible heights of almost 10.6 miles (17 km.) Image credit: NASA/SSAI, Hal Pierce

The 4-day total of preliminary tornado reports of 346 from this outbreak is close to the 323 preliminary tornado reports logged during the massive April 14 - 16 tornado outbreak. That outbreak has 155 confirmed tornadoes so far, making it the largest April tornado outbreak on record, and 3rd largest in history. The numbers from this week's outbreak may be even higher, giving April 2011 the 3rd and 4th largest tornado outbreaks in history, and the deadliest outbreak in 75 years. According to a list of tornado outbreaks maintained by Wikipedia, only two other tornado outbreaks have had as many as 150 twisters--the May 2004 outbreak (385), and the May 2003 outbreak (401).


Figure 2. Storm chaser video from Reed Timmer and tornadovideos.net of four tornadoes that hit Alabama and Mississippi on Wednesday.


Figure 3. Storm chaser video of the tornado that moved through Philadelphia, Mississippi on Wednesday.

Unprecedented flooding predicted on Ohio and Mississippi Rivers
This week's storm system, in combination with heavy rains earlier this month, have pushed the Ohio River and Mississippi River to near-record levels near their confluence. The Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois is expected to crest at 60.5 feet on May 1. This would exceed 100-year flood stage, and be the highest flood in history, besting the 59.5' mark of 1937. Heavy rains of 10 - 15 inches have inundated the region over the past week. Additional rains of 1 - 3 inches are expected over the next five days.


Figure 4. Rainfall for the 7-day period ending at 8am EDT Thursday, April 28, 2011. Image credit: NOAA/AHPS.

Record 100+ year flood expected on Mississippi River
Snow melt from this winter's record snow pack across the Upper Mississippi River has formed a pulse of flood waters that is moving downstream. When this floodwater pulse moves south of Cairo, Illinois over the next two weeks, it will join with the record water flow coming out of the Ohio River, and create the highest flood heights ever recorded on the Mississippi, according to the latest forecasts from the National Weather Service. Along a 400-mile stretch of the Mississippi, from Cairo to Natchez, Mississippi the Mississippi is expected to experience the highest flood heights since records began 100 or more years ago, at 5 of the 10 gauges on the river along this stretch. The records are predicted to begin to fall on May 3 at New Madrid, and progress downstream to Natchez by May 20. Areas that are not protected by levees can expect extensive damage from the flooding, and it is possible that the Army Corps of Engineers will have to intentionally dynamite levees at Birds Point and New Madrid, Missouri to protect the town of Cairo from flooding. One unofficial estimate I saw on the Army Corps of Engineers web site put the cost of intentionally breaching the levees at Birds Point and New Madrid at $100 million dollars, due to damage to the croplands and structures in the flooded area. No levee has failed on the Lower Mississippi south of the Ohio River junction since 1950, and the Army Corp of Engineers has designed the levee system to contain a 500-year flood. This means that the Mississippi River flood of 2011--which will be somewhere between a 100-year and 200-year flood between Cairo and Natchez--is not likely to be a multi-billion-dollar disaster like the 1993 flood on the Upper Mississippi, where many levees failed.

The Mississippi River at New Madrid, MO, about 40 miles downstream of the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, is currently at 44.9', the 2nd highest flood in history. The river is predicted to crest on Tuesday very near the all-time record height of 48 feet. The NWS warns that at this height, "Large amounts of property damage can be expected. Evacuation of many homes and businesses becomes necessary." Previous record heights at this location:

(1) 48.00 ft on 02/03/1937
(2) 44.60 ft on 04/09/1913
(3) 43.60 ft on 04/04/1975
(4) 43.50 ft on 02/16/1950
(5) 42.94 ft on 03/17/1997

The timing of the floods crests will depend upon a complex mix a factors, including how much rain falls over the next month, the possible influence of southerly winds holding up the floodwater pulses, the potential opening of flood control structures and reduction of flows from flood control reservoirs, and potential levee failures. The Mississippi River is expected to crest at 17 feet at New Orleans on May 22, three feet below the top of the levees. This would likely require opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway 28 miles upstream from New Orleans, to relieve pressure on the city's levees. Opening the spillway drains 250,000 cubic feet per second of flow into Lake Pontchartrain.

Helping out tornado victims
For those who want to lend a helping hand to those impacted by the widespread destruction this month's severe weather has brought, stop by the portlight.org blog.

Related post: Are tornadoes getting stronger and more frequent? The answer is--we don't know.

Jeff Masters

Tornado Damage (GeorgiaPeach)
Tornado damage at County Line Road near Old Alabama Road on the Bradley/Hamilton County line in Tennessee
Tornado Damage

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Quoting HarryMc:


Geez. And how long was that track?

It appears to be from the same supercell, but I would doubt whether any tornado in that family was on the ground that entire length. And, too, my image interpretation skills are far from perfect, so I could have things wrong after Birmingham. But that is the path that supercell took on Wednesday evening.
Member Since: Noviembre 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13611
Live from ABC 33/40 now Link
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Quoting Neapolitan:
Try this: clicking the small map below leads to a much larger image that traces the path of the...


Geez. And how long was that track?
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Woohoo!!!! Looking forward to the rain.... say in about 2 hours??? LOL

Enjoy, enjoy!
Member Since: Octubre 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22576
Baha maybe you all will get some of this later tonight.

plywood, I saw that warning but have not seen hail here in Weston.



Miami International airport already had record rainfall today that shattered prev record.. and it has still been raining since this statement.

Statement as of 5:09 PM EDT on April 29, 2011


... Record daily maximum rainfall set at Miami today...

As of the 4 PM EDT climate issuance... Miami International Airport
recorded 2.00 inches of rainfall. This shatters the old record of
1.26 inches... set back in 1957.

This rainfall total is preliminary as rain continued to fall after
the 4 PM climate run. A final record event report will be sent later
tonight or Saturday morning to update the total amount of rainfall.

..
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Statement as of 4:46 PM EDT on April 29, 2011


The National Weather Service in Miami has issued an

* Urban Flood Advisory for...
eastern Broward County in Southeast Florida...
this includes the cities of... Tamarac... sunrise... Pompano Beach...
Plantation... Margate... Fort Lauderdale... Deerfield Beach... Davie...
Coral Springs...
southeastern Palm Beach County in Southeast Florida...
this includes the city of Boca Raton...

* until 645 PM EDT

* at 445 PM EDT 2 to 3 inches of rain has fallen in portions of
Broward County this afternoon and an additional 2 to 3 inches may be
possible. The thunderstorm that is over the area is nearly
stationary.

Heavy rainfall will cause ponding of water in urban
areas... highways... streets and underpasses as well as other poor
drainage areas and low lying spots. Runoff will also cause elevated
levels on small creeks and streams.

A Flood Advisory means ponding of water in urban or other areas is
occurring or is imminent. River or stream flows may also be elevated.

Lat... Lon 2618 8010 2608 8010 2601 8045 2618 8046
2632 8030 2637 8015 2638 8007 2629 8007


Tingler


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If you pull up the South Florida radar out of Miami, look for a storm labeled I believe L8. Looks like some sort of rotation going on with it, there was at one point a meso associated with it, however right now all we have is hail with this system. Its located on the western parts of Broward near the Alligator Alley or I-75
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Quoting cchsweatherman:


For the past three hours, there has been steady drenching rains and it continues to come down. Flood advisories have been issued here. This will definitely help with our current extreme drought situation down here.


We have bad parking lot and street flooding here in Weston, not sure what is going on in my neighborhood in Sunrise.

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Try this: clicking the small map below leads to a much larger image that traces the path of the Tuscaloosa/Birmingham (and beyond) tornado. And, no, the line pointed at by the yellow arrows is not a highway, a railroad right-of-way, or an electrical/gas transmission line.

Click for larger image:

Appropriate tropical weather-related image.
Member Since: Noviembre 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13611
Quoting MrMixon:


Ah, thanks for the clarification. It does make sense that the smaller twisters would be more likely to wobble around than the big guys.

Ever since I heard "Stand" by REM I've tried to be spatially aware, so I'll do my best to remember the "flee towards the equator" rule should I ever see a big one coming for me.

:)



Unless you live on the northern Gulf Coast. ;>)
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Quoting jeffs713:
The unusual tracks are probably mostly the result of small tornadoes, such as EF0 and EF1. Once you get up into the "big boys" (EF3+), and are dealing with stovepipe or wedge tornadoes... they follow a fairly straight path. Also, a lot of the confusion for their path can be attributed to panic and/or not knowing which way is north.

As a general rule, if you are trying to avoid a tornado altogether, and are in its path, go perpendicular to it, preferably south.


Ah, thanks for the clarification. It does make sense that the smaller twisters would be more likely to wobble around than the big guys.

Ever since I heard "Stand" by REM I've tried to be spatially aware, so I'll do my best to remember the "flee towards the equator" rule should I ever see a big one coming for me.

:)

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Quoting tampahurricane:
Yeah I seen that photo, and I seen the path clearly, thanks for the help. But I was talking about the photo on post #80.


Ah, okay. Then go here then click on the picture to enlarge it. Look about midway left to right. Look for area similar to picture below (my red high-lites) to see one track. Scroll down a little more for other two tracks.

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Quoting StAugustineFL:


Looks like you're getting your wish which is great news for the area.


Thank you and YES!!!
It has been pouring for over an hour now.. all over Broward County.
We are the "darkest" red county on Florida's drought map so this rain was much needed!

Hope some of the flooding helps fill up the canals and ponds!
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Quoting BahaHurican:
Looks like Broward County FL is actually going to get some rain from this one...


For the past three hours, there has been steady drenching rains and it continues to come down. Flood advisories have been issued here. This will definitely help with our current extreme drought situation down here.
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Yeah I seen that photo, and I seen the path clearly, thanks for the help. But I was talking about the photo on post #80.
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Quoting BahaHurican:
Unless, of course, you are in the Southern Hemisphere, when you should prolly head north... lol

How about just saying "toward the equator"? That should throw a few people off...
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How to Help the South's Tornado Victims [Updated]

Portlight has been added to the Good Action site.
Member Since: Julio 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
hopefully rains put out the fires



storm init to commence shortly small area across border south central region sw of smoke from fires
Member Since: Julio 15, 2006 Posts: 175 Comments: 54858
Looks like Broward County FL is actually going to get some rain from this one...
Member Since: Octubre 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22576
Quoting jeffs713:
The unusual tracks are probably mostly the result of small tornadoes, such as EF0 and EF1. Once you get up into the "big boys" (EF3+), and are dealing with stovepipe or wedge tornadoes... they follow a fairly straight path. Also, a lot of the confusion for their path can be attributed to panic and/or not knowing which way is north.

As a general rule, if you are trying to avoid a tornado altogether, and are in its path, go perpendicular to it, preferably south.
Unless, of course, you are in the Southern Hemisphere, when you should prolly head north... lol
Member Since: Octubre 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22576
Quoting tampahurricane:
I cant see the tornado paths on that satellite photo. Can someone help point them out for me? thanks


Ignoring my inability to draw a straight diagonal line, the paths are roughly in the middle of the two sets of red lines. If you still can't see it I'll look for a better picture to try on.

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Looks like the cold front will pass through here overnight. Best time to get rained on, IMO. The current cloud seems pretty dry, but the line after that might bring some moisture.

BTW, I am assuming this is the same front that caused the severe wx on Tuesday and Wednesday?
Member Since: Octubre 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22576
Quoting MrMixon:


Wow.

I know I've heard people say tornadoes are dangerous in part because you can't be sure which direction they're going to go, but judging from the damage lines we've seen "etched" into the satellite photos it looks like most of these twisters followed remarkably straight paths.
The unusual tracks are probably mostly the result of small tornadoes, such as EF0 and EF1. Once you get up into the "big boys" (EF3+), and are dealing with stovepipe or wedge tornadoes... they follow a fairly straight path. Also, a lot of the confusion for their path can be attributed to panic and/or not knowing which way is north.

As a general rule, if you are trying to avoid a tornado altogether, and are in its path, go perpendicular to it, preferably south.
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Quoting PcolaDan:
from weather.com
Tuscaloosa (Google Earth image)



Wow.

I know I've heard people say tornadoes are dangerous in part because you can't be sure which direction they're going to go, but judging from the damage lines we've seen "etched" into the satellite photos it looks like most of these twisters followed remarkably straight paths.
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2 wunderbloggers,one from Columbus,Miss and one from N.Carolina,Asheville...are combining resources to bring water into some damaged areas,after using the wunderground network,co-ordinated via Presslord.

Good networking.


If anyone else has access to resources feel free to wu-mail presslord,or advise in the portlight blog.

Member Since: Julio 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
I have been hearing a lot of people talking about building design, but its a futile discussion when the subject matter involved is an E-F4 to E-F5 tornado.

Ive heard of buildings specifically designed for handling strong winds with claims of 250 mph that fail in F4 tornadoes. A 250 mph tornado obliterates everything. I'm sorry but the energy released on the structure is overwhelming. You might as well call an an air strike form U.S. fighter jets.

I remember hearing about how supposedly the super dome in New Orleans was designed for hurricane winds. Yeah well, if Katrina actually hit that thing at category 5 a lot more people would have died in there form beyond just the filth they were trapped in. Parts of the roof were peeling in a structure supposedly able to take on winds over 200 mph. An E-F5 would have ripped apart the super dome.
Member Since: Agosto 21, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 7834
Member Since: Julio 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
Quoting PcolaDan:
from weather.com
Tuscaloosa (Google Earth image)



Wow.

That just gave me chills looking at it.
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Quoting jeffs713:

EF5 tornado, 205 mph+ winds. There isn't much that can handle those kind of forces. localized low pressure, extremely high wind speed, changing wind direction, microvorticies... yeah, all kinds of bad.



Exactly, there is nothing you can really do. Being in any structure during an E-F4 to E-F5 is dangerous.
Member Since: Agosto 21, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 7834
I cant see the tornado paths on that satellite photo. Can someone help point them out for me? thanks
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from weather.com
Tuscaloosa (Google Earth image)

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Quoting MrMixon:
137.

Well the outlook seems much better than it was for the last system, but the area outlined in green (15%) has had more than their fair share of severe weather this spring.

142.

I hadn't noticed the monitor the first time I watched. The fact that a lone computer monitor sitting in the middle of the road doesn't really stand out is telling of the scale of the destruction...

I didn't notice it on the first time through, either. Also, as Baha mentioned, its pretty much the ONLY thing that is recognizable as something other than "miscellaneous debris".
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Quoting seflagamma:
From Broward County Florida (SE FLA)

Now
Through 4 PM...showers and thunderstorms will continue to develop from northern Palm Beach south through Broward south and then to southern Miami-Dade. The strongest storms will affect areas across western Broward County and south central Miami-Dade County. These showers and storms will likely produce locally heavy rain...frequent lightning strikes and wind gusts to 40 mph.



Now if we really really get some of these storms in Broward County it would be great news.

All our storms are "spotty" while Dade had a solid line of thunderstorms move across that county unbroken.


Looks like you're getting your wish which is great news for the area.
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144. I think it stood out for me as the ONLY immediately recognisable object.

Hmm.... I think there's a real cloud overhead, which may last long enough to rain on us....

Member Since: Octubre 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22576
137.

Well the outlook seems much better than it was for the last system, but the area outlined in green (15%) has had more than their fair share of severe weather this spring.

142.

I hadn't noticed the monitor the first time I watched. The fact that a lone computer monitor sitting in the middle of the road doesn't really stand out is telling of the scale of the destruction...
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
CMC link? Is the hurracane maker wana see if it shows up.Sorry for my terrible spelling
Member Since: Agosto 2, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1960
Thanks MrMixon. About a minute or so into that clip, The president is there talking 2 some pple, and you can see in the foreground somebody's computer monitor - one of the big old ones, not a flat-screen - just sitting there, lonely, on the side of the path... for a computophile like me that's pretty poignant....
Member Since: Octubre 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22576
Member Since: Julio 15, 2006 Posts: 175 Comments: 54858
Oh... now THIS is weird....



You know I like to use the NASA GOES Interactive Data Selector website for upclose imagery. So when I went there just now, the image above is what I get... frozen at 5:55 Central Time. Then I realized that the centre is in Huntsville...

But still freaky...
Member Since: Octubre 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22576
by the way models also show a disturbance over eastern carb. on may 9 sw of PR.
Member Since: Julio 15, 2006 Posts: 175 Comments: 54858
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Quoting MrMixon:


Ha! No problem...



LOL... that's hilarious. I think it was right around the time that my parents caught me and my brother lighting candy cigarettes when they decided to quit smoking for real. And they did! No joke. Good parents.

Sorry for the silliness folks - I imagine most of you realize I mean no disrespect. It's been a tense week, no doubt. There will be, of course, further tragedies unfolding as the cleanup efforts continue. Sometimes you've just got to get a little silly to keep from being overwhelmed.

Our blue skies here along Colorado's Front Range are turning grey as the next big low pressure system pushes a cold front across the continental divide. Let's hope this next low has no idea how to form tornadoes...







Member Since: Julio 15, 2006 Posts: 175 Comments: 54858
Quoting BahaHurican:
I'm also going back to an age thing [since pple insist on bringing up the '60s lol]. A lot of the houses in the Birmingham area are older houses, regardless of method of construction. I'd think older houses would be more suseptible to wind damage, wouldn't you? Things settle and rot and don't fit the way they used to.

But then how to explain the Smithville subdivision?

EF5 tornado, 205 mph+ winds. There isn't much that can handle those kind of forces. localized low pressure, extremely high wind speed, changing wind direction, microvorticies... yeah, all kinds of bad.
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#127.

That may be the best news I've heard all week if these folks can figure out how to do it economically.

What floors me is that, despite my (admittedly short) tenure as a physics major, it never occurred to me until I read this article that our current solar cell tech only generates power using the "electric" half of all the electro-magnetic radiation that it intercepts. Duh!

This is definitely a new tech to keep your eyes on...
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I'm also going back to an age thing [since pple insist on bringing up the '60s lol]. A lot of the houses in the Birmingham area are older houses, regardless of method of construction. I'd think older houses would be more suseptible to wind damage, wouldn't you? Things settle and rot and don't fit the way they used to.

But then how to explain the Smithville subdivision?
Member Since: Octubre 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22576
From Broward County Florida (SE FLA)

Now
Through 4 PM...showers and thunderstorms will continue to develop from northern Palm Beach south through Broward south and then to southern Miami-Dade. The strongest storms will affect areas across western Broward County and south central Miami-Dade County. These showers and storms will likely produce locally heavy rain...frequent lightning strikes and wind gusts to 40 mph.



Now if we really really get some of these storms in Broward County it would be great news.

All our storms are "spotty" while Dade had a solid line of thunderstorms move across that county unbroken.
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Live NASA Press Conference @4pm EST

UStream HD


www.ustream.tv/nasahdtv
Member Since: Julio 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
Quoting MrMixon:


Ha! No problem...



LOL... that's hilarious. I think it was right around the time that my parents caught me and my brother lighting candy cigarettes when they decided to quit smoking for real. And they did! No joke. Good parents.

Sorry for the silliness folks - I imagine most of you realize I mean no disrespect. It's been a tense week, no doubt. There will be, of course, further tragedies unfolding as the cleanup efforts continue. Sometimes you've just got to get a little silly to keep from being overwhelmed.

Our blue skies here along Colorado's Front Range are turning grey as the next big low pressure system pushes a cold front across the continental divide. Let's hope this next low has no idea how to form tornadoes...



As an addendum to that, could someone make sure this system knows how to rain on SE TX?
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Quoting eddy12:
jeffs I never took your post personally. You pointed out some flaws in the design and i merely gave solutions. The real problem is people see concrete for what it was 20 years ago not for what it is nowadays.

Oh, yes, definitely. And I had a feeling you didn't take anything personally, just had to cover by bases.
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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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