Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Catastrophic December tornadoes slam Mid-Mississippi Valley
More than 100 people may have died, and one tornadic storm traveled more than 200 miles

A severe weather outbreak in the mid-Mississippi Valley more than lived up to its well-predicted potential for strong tornadoes on Friday, December 10, taking lives and raking landscapes from Arkansas to Illinois. The worst toll was in Kentucky, where Governor Andy Beshear estimated on Saturday morning that at least 70 people had been killed, perhaps more than 100. Many of those deaths were in the devastated town of Mayfield (pop. 10,000), located about 20 miles east of the Mississippi River.

Friday’s tornadoes may be the nation’s deadliest and most destructive in more than a decade, since the catastrophic EF5 in Joplin, Missouri, on May 22, 2011.

At least 33 tornado reports had been catalogued by the NOAA Storm Prediction Center through Saturday morning. That number could drop over time, as some of the reports came from what may have been a single tornado – perhaps a tornado family – affecting four states, including western Kentucky. If that tornado’s death toll exceeds 100, it would put it among the nation’s 15 deadliest on record (see image below, produced by Jeff Masters).

No U.S. tornado is known to have killed more than 80 people outside the core tornado season from March to June.

The vast bulk of Friday night’s destruction came from just two tornadic storms. One swept across northern parts of the St. Louis metropolitan area in Missouri and Illinois. The first tornado from this cell was given a preliminary rating of at least EF3, severely damaged part of a huge Amazon fulfillment center located in Edwardsville, Illinois. Heavy equipment was deployed in a prolonged rescue operation at the scene, where as many as 100 employees had been reported trapped. As of Saturday morning, at least one death at the Amazon facility had been confirmed by local police, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

About 100 miles to the south, an exceptionally intense and long-lived tornadic supercell thunderstorm spawned one or more tornadoes along most of a track extending more than 200 miles. The event is already being informally called the Quad-State storm, as it appears the supercell tracked from northeast Arkansas across the bootheel of far southeast Missouri into far northwest Tennessee and western Kentucky, moving across Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.

A nursing home in Monette, Arkansas, was heavily damaged, killing at least one resident. In Mayfield, a number of deaths appear to have occurred at a candle factory that was in operational swing-shift mode when the tornado struck, with an estimated 110 employees inside, according to Business Insider. NBC News reported that a survivor had indicated that employees were in the process of taking cover when the tornado struck.

The Quad-State event was extremely well predicted and warned, going back to a enhanced risk area issued by NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center (SPC) a day in advance, warning of the potential for strong tornadoes on Friday. A tornado watch was issued for western Kentucky at 3 p.m. CST Friday, extending to 11 p.m. The localized threat of strong, long-lived tornadoes in far western Kentucky was highlighted by SPC at 6:22 p.m. CST.

The NWS office in Paducah, about 27 miles from Mayfield, issued a “particularly dangerous situation” tornado warning for the Mayfield area at 9:04 p.m., roughly 20 minutes before the tornado reached Mayfield, noting that a “confirmed large and extremely dangerous” tornado was in progress. That warning was upgraded to a tornado emergency at 9:26 p.m., as the twister was passing through Mayfield.

An exceptionally strong and prolonged tornado
On radar, the Quad-State supercell thunderstorm exhibited some of the most violent tornadic fingerprints ever seen by meteorologists. This included debris vaulted as high as 37,000 feet and a pixel-to-pixel wind contrast possibly among the largest ever recorded in the history of National Weather Service Doppler radar.

The storm’s tornado vortex signature was virtually continuous for more than 200 miles and more than four hours. Although that signature by itself does not guarantee a continuous tornado path, it implies one or more very long-lived twisters likely occurred.

Based on the radar clues and the initial damage reports, especially from Mayfield, it seems very likely that EF4 damage occurred. It will likely take several days for National Weather Service storm survey crews to fully assess the complex track(s) left by this high-end tornado or tornado family. One of the markers of EF5 damage is a well-constructed home being destroyed and swept clean from its foundation. Naked slabs have already been found in Mayfield, but storm surveyors will need to assess whether the destroyed buildings were well built and well anchored in order to confirm EF5 damage.

On average, about one of the nation’s 1,000-plus tornadoes per year is rated EF5, the highest category on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. However, many years go without a single EF5. In fact, the most recent confirmed EF5 struck Moore, Oklahoma, on May 20, 2013. The subsequent EF5 “drought” of more than eight years has been the longest in U.S. tornado history, going back officially to at least 1950 and perhaps to the late 1800s.

A horrific multi-state analog

The Quad-State label alludes to the infamous Tri-State Tornado, an F5 tornado that killed 695 people (still the U.S. record for a single tornado) on a rampage from southeast Missouri to southern Indiana on March 18, 1925. Although the Tri-State Tornado was long considered to have a 219-mile path, a subsequent analysis identified many gaps in the damage path. That study concluded that a single tornado might have covered at least 174 miles of the path.

The month of December averages about two dozen U.S. twisters per year. On December 16-17, 2019, a swarm of 40 tornadoes tore across the Deep South, taking three lives. However, it’s quite uncommon for intense tornadoes to strike as far north as Illinois and Kentucky in early winter. According to Harold Brooks, of NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory, the longest continuous path in meteorological winter (December to February) ripped across 122 miles of northern Arkansas on February 8, 2008.

The closest recent analog to Friday’s long-track tornado(es) in the month of December occurred on December 23, 2015. An EF3 that tracked for 63 miles across northwest Mississippi, killing two, was succeeded within a few miles by an EF4 that covered 75 miles, killing nine.

It’s truly shocking to see U.S. tornadoes this catastrophic in December, and yet this is a month that’s so far produced more than 3,000 daily record highs and just 11 record lows. That said, as discussed in a recent Climate Explained post, the links between tornadoes and climate change are more nuanced than for phenomena such as heat waves or extreme rainfall.

* Fortunately, there is no sign that the number or intensity of the most violent tornadoes (EF3+) is increasing. *

However, tornadoes are becoming more tightly packed within outbreaks, and there are longer stretches in between, leading to more variability from quiet to violent periods and vice versa. Prior to Friday, the U.S. tornado death toll for 2021 was only 14, the third lowest in data going back to 1875. (The lowest on record was 10, set in 2018.)

There’s also been a distinct multi-decadal trend for recent outbreaks to shift into and east of the Mississippi Valley, particularly over the Mid-South, as opposed to the more traditional territory of the southern and central Great Plains.

Rural areas are typically more populous in the Mid-South than in the Plains, and this area is also more prone to tornadoes developing and striking after dark, a key factor in the Quad-State disaster.

As for seasonal timing, it’s never been impossible to get a violent tornado in December, even as far north as Illinois. At least two F5/EF5 tornadoes are on the record books for December: one in Vicksburg, Mississippi on Dec. 5, 1953, that killed 38 (the deadliest December tornado on record up to this year), and one on Dec. 18, 1957, that struck Sunfield, Illinois, as part of the state’s most severe outbreak on record so late in the year.

This December has been strikingly mild across most of the United States, and warm, moist surface air streamed into Friday’s tornadic storms, fueling their power. It’s not hard to imagine the springtime peak and the autumn second-season peak of tornado season edging closer to winter as greenhouse gases continue to warm our climate globally, nationally, and regionally. Such a shift in tornado timing has been difficult to confirm thus far, though.


No, Science Doesn't Confirm Climate Change Causes Tornado Carnage

In the wake of a devastating and deadly tornado outbreak in Kentucky and a handful of other states, Democrats and mainstream media figures have returned to their old trick of standing atop life-altering tragedy to advance their partisan political agenda.

As Rebecca reported, President Biden was asked about the storms and — despite admitting he couldn't give "a quantitative read" on what role climate change may have played — said "the fact is that we all know everything is more intense when the climate is warming — everything. And, obviously, it has some impact here," he added. Except it's not obvious and it's not a settled fact.

As an Associated Press report explained, "Attributing a specific storm like Friday's to the effects of climate change remains very challenging" because "Less than 10% of severe thunderstorms produce tornadoes, which makes drawing conclusions about climate change and the processes leading up to them tricky," according to the National Severe Storms Laboratory's Harold Brooks.

USA Today also published an op-ed on the topic of whether the recent outbreak of tornadoes qualifies as "unprecedented" or a new development due that's attributable to climate change: "Historically, tornado outbreaks have occurred on nearly every day of the year – if the conditions are right, any day can produce devastating tornadoes," USA Today's report says. "We know that long-track tornadoes have occurred in the past with path lengths exceeding 100 miles," it adds. As for whether climate change played a role, USA Today is blunt in its denial that such a conclusion can be easily surmised:

Event-based attribution for climate change is still in development, particularly for tornadoes that need fine scales to model. Given the historical precedent, it would be misleading to definitively state a relationship to climate change without further assessment.

Also chiming in: The New York Post Editorial Board with a piece warning against "pseudo-scientific hype" concluding that tornado outbreaks are tied to climate change. "The fact is that tornados are not becoming more frequent; the average remains about 1,200 observed each year, ranging from 900 to 1,600 or so," writes The New York Post. "Warming might change when 'tornado season' hits, but no scientific studies have yet shown any such link."

Steve Milloy brought receipts in a Twitter thread to make a similar point: while tragic, this weekend's tornado outbreak is not unprecedented, nor is there a definitive or provable link between climate change or global warming and tornado frequency.

As, albeit more reluctantly, even The Washington Post admitted, "scientists say link between climate change, storms unclear."

What's more, available data suggests that there hasn't been an uptick in the frequency of tornadoes in recent years, nor has an increase in greenhouse gas emissions made tornadoes worse, at least according to the data Milloy included in his thread.

The data and expert insight shows that the science of climate change's impact on tornadic activity is far from settled. But don't hold your breath hoping Democrats and liberal media will stop using the death and destruction across the South to advocate for more government-expanding Green New Deal policies.


Joe Biden spins tornado misinformation

Gregory Wrightstone

President Joe Biden wasted no time in politicizing the recent tornado tragedy that claimed nearly 100 lives in Kentucky, Illinois, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Missouri. Speaking less than 24 hours after the devastation of communities and lives, Biden linked the storms to man-made climate change.

image from

No link at all

“All I know is that the intensity of the weather across the board has some impacts as a consequence of the warming of the planet and climate change,” Biden said. “The fact is that we all know everything is more intense when the climate is warming. Everything. And obviously it has some impact here.”

Is that really the case? Have violent tornadoes been increasing? The answer to that question is clear, but you won’t find the answer at the agency most responsible for monitoring such things. It appears that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is playing games with tornado data. In 2017, while researching tornado data, I archived the NOAA site’s page on tornadoes and data. At the time, NOAA specifically warned that pre-Doppler radar records of tornadoes (before 1995) are unreliable:

“One of the main difficulties with tornado records is that a tornado, or evidence of a tornado, must have been observed. Unlike rainfall or temperature, which may be measured by a fixed instrument, tornadoes are short-lived and very unpredictable. A tornado in a largely unoccupied region is not likely to be documented. Many significant tornadoes may not have made it into the historical record since Tornado Alley was very sparsely populated during the early 20th Century.”

Because of this, NOAA recommended (at the time) only using the strongest tornadoes as a measure of pre-Doppler numbers and provided this chart that documented an overall decrease in the number of strong and violent storms that were categorized as EF3

Accessing the very same link for NOAA today takes one to their latest iteration, which showcases a chart of ALL tornadoes dating back to 1950 and shows a steady and significant rise in the number of tornadoes from 1950 to the late 1990s. Bear in mind, that just a few years ago, NOAA specifically warned against using exactly this data because it would under-count the numbers before 1995.

Updated data on tornadoes through 2020 is available at and showcases just why using pre-Doppler data is misleading. Figure 3 shows the pre-Doppler numbers of tornadoes reported. Importantly, this is not capturing increasing actual numbers of tornadoes that occurred, but rather increased reporting.

All of this begs the question: Why would a government agency promote flawed data? The answer is simple: It “confirms” their preconceived notion of increasing severe weather and provides support for alarming claims of ever-increasing death and destruction.

You can be sure that Joe Biden will not be the last to use these deaths and this tornado deception to spread fear and alarm to support their plans to spend trillions of dollars to solve a non-existent climate crisis. The Biden administration should “follow the science” and get to the business of helping the victims and stop spreading misinformation.


There’s a Massive Gas Tax in Biden’s Spending Bill

President Joe Biden is desperately trying to get his multi-trillion dollar spending package passed on Capitol Hill before Christmas, but according to the Wall Street Journal, Build Back Better includes a significant tax on natural gas.

"It could be a rough winter for energy prices across the U.S., and the Democratic spending plan will make it worse. The House passed what it calls a 'fee' on methane that amounts to a stealth tax on natural gas and everyone who uses it," the Editorial Board writes. "The bill slaps an escalating tax on methane emissions by oil and gas producers that will reach $1,500 per ton by 2025. The fee is meant to be President Biden’s contribution to the recent Glasgow vow to reduce global methane emissions 30% by 2030. The tax is estimated to raise $8 billion over 10 years."

"Producers will naturally pass the cost of the tax along to customers. Some 180 million Americans use natural gas to heat homes and run appliances, while some 5.5 million businesses use it to run their workplaces and manufacturing facilities," they continue.

As I wrote in my VIP column last week, the pain of Biden's energy plan is the point. The administration is punishing Americans for using traditional energy sources in order to transition the country to a Green New Deal utopia of wind and solar.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office has scored the bill and shows it will add $3 trillion to the deficit.




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