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Category: Weather History

The Rapid City Flood

| 10:00 am June 9, 2014


On this date in 1972, the Rapid City flood devastated much of the South Dakota city. The disaster occurred after the Canyon Lake Dam failed in the wake of 10-15 inches of rain, sending a wall of water down the already swollen Rapid Creek at 10:45 p.m. Frantic evacuation orders were issued at 10:40 p.m., giving precious minutes for people to flee.

A total of 238 people died.

Canyon Lake is dammed once again and now the flood plain is a series of parks, golf courses and bike paths, which should minimize damage from future floods.

Nationally, the 1970s were the worst decade for flash floods in U.S. history. Devastating floods struck Buffalo Creek, WV (125 fatalities), Big Thompson Canyon, CO (145 fatalities), Johnstown, PA (76 fatalities), Toccoa Falls, GA (39 fatalities) and Kansas City, MO (23 fatalities), as well as the Rapid City Flood.

Flash floods killed an average of 127 people each year in the United States between 1972-2001. Improvements in forecasting and warning have been effective in reducing the death toll since then. No single flash flood has killed more than 100 people since 1980.

Between 1984-2013, that 30 year average dropped to 85 and the ten year average is now down to 75.

Remembering the Greensburg EF5 (2007)

| 9:36 am May 4, 2014

On the morning of May 4, 2007, it was evident that an outbreak of severe weather was imminent across the Plains states of the U.S.

The Storm Prediction Center realized the threat and posted a Moderate Risk outlook for the region from the Texas Panhandle and western Oklahoma into Kansas and Nebraska. A powerful upper level trough was over the West with strong low pressure over Colorado with very moist Gulf of Mexico air being drawn northward. Instability values were sky high, with CAPE values running as high as 5,500 j/kg! An approaching dry line triggered supercell thunderstorms during the evening from north Texas to southwestern Kansas. With plenty of wind shear, the storms quickly became severe.

I was manning the blog on the evening of May 4, 2007 as events unfolded in Kansas. Here is a post as the tornado approached Greensburg.

I was manning the blog on the evening of May 4, 2007 as events unfolded in Kansas. Here is a post as the tornado approached Greensburg.

One tremendous supercell storm formed about 5 p.m. in the Texas Panhandle and moved northeast. CAPE values were around 5,200 j/kg over Southwest Kanasas, and the 0-2 km helicity was 240 m2s2. This made the EHI 7.8! Readings over 2 are nearly always associated with big tornadoes. The storm that this environment produced would bear twenty tornadoes during its long life, including four massive tornadoes that were on the ground continuously for three hours.

The largest tornado in the family touched down in Comanche County, Kansas at 9:03 p.m. and crossed into Kiowa County a short time later. The first tornado warning for Comanche County was issued at 8:13 p.m. The first tornado warning for Kiowa County was issued at 8:55 p.m. Another warning was issued at 9:19 p.m. that specifically mentioned Greensburg and stated that it was a confirmed tornado. A call was placed to Kiowa County. Sirens started sounding.

The massive tornado entered the south side of the town of Greensburg at 9:45 p.m. It would plow directly through the heart of the town and it’s tree lined streets. It took several minutes for the giant lawnmower of a storm to roar through Greensburg, destroying ninety five percent of the town. When it was all over, virtually nothing was left standing in the 1.7 mile wide path.

The Greensburg tornado was the first to be rated as an EF5 on the new enhanced Fujita scale was implemented and the first tornado rated at the top of the scale since the Oklahoma City tornado in May 1999. Winds were estimated at 205 mph.

The warnings from the NWS, dissemination from the media and coordination with emergency management were superb and sirens sounded twenty minutes before the twister struck. Countless lives were spared by the advance warnings, but still eleven people died in the horrific destruction, some in basements. The disaster presented town officials and residents with a unique opportunity to rebuild, and leaders are choosing to do it in a green manner using environmentally friendly practices.

Alabama’s Deadliest 1991 Tornado was an F1

| 12:14 pm March 29, 2014
From The Tuscaloosa News

From The Tuscaloosa News

Hoyt Watts awakened around 5:35 a.m. on the morning of March 29, 1991 in his home on Highway 21 in Mumford in Talladega County.  It was storming outside.  Storming bad.  The wind was roaring loudly and lightning was flashing as thunder sounded continuously.  He looked out the window and could not believe his eyes.  A mobile home was flying through the air.  Airborne.  Sixty or seventy feet in the air.  As he watched in shock, the trailer home exploded in midair.

It was the mobile home of his son Ronnie.  He dressed frantically and rushed to search for his son and his family.  Ronnie’s wife Lisa and their sons had been at home.

They found Lisa dead, blown about 75 yards, with her one of the children in her arms.  Over a quarter of a mile away, they found Ronnie’s body with the remains of the mobile home.  The other son was critically injured, but died later.

How could it have happened?  Ronnie knew that mobile homes were vulnerable to high winds.  He had taken extra care to tie down their home with steel straps, as was the recommendation.  But the tornado snapped those straps and sent the trailer flying like a crumpled ball of aluminum foil.

Four people died in this one home.  A fifth person died in another mobile home.

When the National Weather Service did the storm survey, it was hard to imagine this would turn out to be the deadliest tornado of the year in Alabama.  The tornado was only on the ground for one mile and had a path width of just 300 feet.  But it found eight mobile homes with deadly accuracy.  In addition to the five fatalities, there were 13 injuries. 

Perhaps the most amazing fact was that the tornado only attained an F1 ranking.  This serves as a powerful reminder that even small, weak tornadoes can kill…

Twenty Years Ago Today…

| 6:18 am March 27, 2014

A series of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes moved across Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. These storms accounted for injuries to at least 422 persons, including 47 fatalities. Here in our state, the biggest tragedy was an EF-4 tornado that destroyed the Goshen United Methodist Church building during the morning worship service. Twenty people died inside the church, all part of an Easter drama that was in progress that Palm Sunday morning. Ten of those who died were children, including four year old Hannah Clem, the daughter of Pastor Kelly Clem.

A tornado warning was issued 12 minutes before the church was hit, but they never heard the warning. Another reminder that every church in Alabama must have a NOAA Weather Radio.

Below is a special put together ten years ago by Bill Castle of ABC 33/40 that looks back at this horrible day.

1941: One of America’s Greatest Blizzards

| 10:00 am March 15, 2014


Many people were enjoying a Saturday night out on the town on this date in 1941. It was a chance to get away from the ominous news out of Europe. Nazi planes were again bombing England. The Brits had landed 100,000 troops in Greece. President Franklin Roosevelt was speaking to the nation that evening at 6:30 p.m. in one of his Fireside Chats about providing $7 billion to aid the Allies.

The weather forecast for Bismarck, North Dakota was for snow and colder overnight with a predicted low of 10F. But a forecast of snow is unremarkable in that part of the country. Snow doesn’t faze them. But there was much more than snow in the offing. It would be one of the greatest blizzards in American history.

Across North Dakota and Minnesota, temperatures dropped 20 degrees in fifteen minutes in many places as arctic air moved in. The fast moving storm brought 50 mph sustained winds to a wide area and 85 mph wind gusts were recorded in Grand Forks. White out conditions were recorded as what would be known as the “Ides of March Blizzard” raged.

The high winds blew the snow into seven foot high snow drifts. Some twelve foot drifts were recorded in North Central Minnesota.

The powerful low pressure system early on the morning of 16 March 1941.

The powerful low pressure system early on the morning of 16 March 1941.

Thirty nine people died in North Dakota alone with another thirty two perishing in Minnesota, making it one of the deadliest storms on record in the region. A total of 151 people died in the storm.

Changes in how the U.S. Weather Bureau handled forecasts came about as a result of the storm. Critics rightfully claimed that forecasters in Chicago were more concerned about their local conditions than they there were about those in areas that were impacted by the storm. As a result, local offices were given more autonomy in issuing warnings.

The 1998 Elba Flood

| 9:30 am March 8, 2014

On this date in 1998, three days of heavy rain sent floodwaters from Beaver Dam Creek churning through the small South Alabama town of Elba as a levee gave way.

2,000 of the town’s 4,000 residents had to evacuate as the downtown area was under 6 feet of water.

Very cold weather would follow the flooding just three days later with temperatures in the area dropping into the middle 20s.

Five people died across South Alabama from the flooding.

It was the third flood in the small town in 8 years. In 1990, the town was inundated when a levee on the Pea River broke, with only rooftops poking through a sea of floodwaters. The Corps of Engineers reinforced that levee after the 1990 flood.

The 1998 flood happened suddenly with little warning, so even though the flood crest was less than during the 1990 flood, the 1998 flood caused more damage. With more warning in the 1990 flood, people had time to move their belongings to higher ground.

Of course, Elba was certainly no stranger to floods. In 1865, a flood shortly after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln destroyed the town. On March 15, 1929, the Pea River crested at 43.5 feet. Airplanes had to be employed to drop supplies to the marooned town. Other floods occurred in 1938, 1959 and 1975.

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