Sadly, the death toll continues to climb after a significant outbreak of tornadoes that struck over the weekend. At least 88 people have been confirmed killed by the severe weather with officials reporting another 109 missing or unaccounted for. The most deaths to date were in Kentucky, where 74 people perished in the storms. An additional 6 people died in Illinois, four in Tennessee, two in Arkansas, and 2 in Missouri, making it the deadliest tornado day in December on record. Ages of the tornado victims range from 2 months old to 98. The death toll from the weekend storms also surpass the total number of tornado deaths last year, which amounted to 76. With the death toll now at 88, this outbreak makes it the 11th deadliest tornado outbreak in U.S. history.
The tornado outbreak began on Friday afternoon and ended early in the morning on Saturday. According to the National Weather Service, they received 70 tornado reports across four states:
The unusually powerful storm slammed into parts of the Midwest and Tennessee Valley on Friday and Saturday, with the National Weather Service receiving 70 tornado reports across 9 states. The National Weather Service is conducting storm surveys now to determine the actual county of confirmed tornado touch-downs, their tracks, and their intensity. As of this afternoon, the National Weather Service has confirmed 41 tornadoes. Tornadoes weren’t the only hazard from the weekend severe weather outbreak; the National Weather Service reported that there were 403 reports of damaging winds and 24 reports of large damaging hail from the severe weather outbreak.
The National Weather Service uses the Enhanced Fujita Scale to classify tornadoes. Weak tornadoes of 65-85 mph are rated EF-0 while weak tornadoes with winds of 86-110 mph are considered EF-1. A EF-2 with 111-135 mph is considered strong, while an EF-3 with winds of 136-165 mph is also considered strong. EF-4 and EF-5 rated tornadoes are considered violent; EF-4 has winds of 166-200 mph while EF-5 has winds in excess of 200 mph.
To date, the National Weather Service has confirmed 8 EF-0, 13 EF-1, 12 EF-2, and 8 EF-3. There have been no EF-4 or EF-5 tornadoes confirmed yet.
While tragic, the severe weather outbreak was well forecast. The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center issued a level four, or moderate, risk for severe weather on Friday in their Convective Outlook. The Center’s hazardous weather outlook threshold ranges from level one, or minimal risk, to level five, which is considered very significant. At level 4, tornadoes, strong wind, and severe hail is possible. During the outbreak, the National Weather Service issued a total of 149 Tornado Warnings; 8 were classified as severe “Tornado Emergencies”. In addition to the Tornado Warnings, the National Weather Service also issued 145 Severe Thunderstorm Warnings.
A powerful cold front was to blame for the severe weather outbreak. The front sliced through mild, moist area with a cold, dry front; as the two air masses collided, conditions became ripe for severe thunderstorms to form.