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The 2011 Tornado Outbreak -- One for the record books

Heading into Saturday, it was clear that this was not going to be your run-of-the-mill outbreak of storms. We'd been harping on the threat for severe weather for days in the forecast, and fully expected some heavy duty damaging thunderstorms to develop. But... I don't think anybody really thought that we would have seen a tornado outbreak this severe.

We had all the clues in place ahead of time. A strong low pressure system crossing the country, plenty of warmth and moisture being funneled ahead from the Gulf of Mexico, strong winds aloft, and a difference in wind direction that's needed to provide that "twisting" that makes twisters. The Storm Prediction Center had outlined us in an ominously rare "High Risk" category for tornadoes - and unfortunately they were spot on.

Once the storms started popping around noon, I quickly saw how bad these storms could be. Jerry came in as we realized our coverage would need to be extreme. Then, we both watched it unfold on radar and on live television as we broadcast for more than five hours continuously -- constantly reading our radar map, relaying the warnings and threat levels as they came in in real-time. It was a unique experience to say the least, and a scary one as I look back on it. I only hope some of the information was able to prevent any more lives from being lost.

Yes, April 16th, 2011 will surely go down in the history books in North Carolina. It's the headline-grabbing storm that nobody wants in their backyard. An astrounding 96 reports of Tar Heel tornadoes piled in to the National Weather Service during this one afternoon. This number will surely dwindle as storm survey teams head out into the field and find ground truth to the many claims, but it will still likely end up as a record-breaking storm. 

Here locally, we're starting to get some of the details on the storms that uprooted the lives of so many.

Storm Survey teams from the National Weather Service head out into the field to see just how strong these storms actually were, and confirm whether or not they were tornadoes at all. So far, we're finding that the two fatal tornadoes in Bladen County were EF-2 twisters, capable of winds as high as 130 mph. Other reports of tornadoes were filed on Saturday in Columbus and Pender Counties, but crews have yet to confirm any actual activity on the ground there.

Here on our desk we have a memo from the National Weather Service that says, "The NWS Recognizes WWAY as a partner working together to save lives." It's an outbreak like this that really hammers that point home. Hopefully this tragic event will serve as a reminder to us and to you the viewers that we all need to be prepared for anything Mother Nature can throw our way at any time.

- TB

 

 

By: Tim Buckley

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