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Monster Alabama Tornado Spawned by Rare “Perfect Storm”

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Buildings in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, lie in ruins on April 28, a day after a tornado demolished the city. Photograph by Marvin Gentry, Reuters

The monster tornado that devastated Tuscaloosa, Alabama, (see map) on Wednesday was spawned by unusual “perfect storm” conditions, experts say.(See pictures of the Alabama tornado.)

Those conditions—which stretched across MississippiAlabama, and Georgia—included warm, moist air rising and mixing with colder, dry air at higher altitudes.

Unfortunately for those living in the tornadoes’ path, “weather conditions came together perfectly,” said Tim Samaras, a Denver, Colorado-based tornado expert and producer of the tornado-research website TWISTEX.

“Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia had that down to a T. It was a very, very rare day for everything to come together for this type of event,” said Samaras, also a National Geographic Society Emerging Explorer. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)

Upper-level winds known as the jet stream also caused the storm system to rotate, according to meteorologist Jeff Masters, director of the website Weather Underground.

Rotating thunderstorms—known as super cells—spawn tornadoes. In the South on Wednesday, such storms spawned an outburst of a hundred or more twisters, which barreled through six states and killed at least 283 people.

“This is a history-making tornado outbreak,” Masters said. “You don’t see many like this.”

Tuscaloosa Tornado Shattered Record?

The mile-wide (1.6-kilometer-wide) Tuscaloosa tornado may have had winds exceeding 260 miles an hour (418 kilometers an hour), which would make it an F5 storm on the Fujita scale. The scale ranks tornadoes from F1 to F5 based on wind speeds and destructive potential.

(Learn what happens inside a twister.)

Investigators are trying to determine how long the tornado, which originated just southwest of Tuscaloosa, stayed on the ground.

Tornadoes usually touch the ground for only a few miles before they dissipate. But favorable meteorological conditions may have sustained the Tuscaloosa twister for a record-breaking trek of 300 miles (482 kilometers) across Alabama and Georgia. (See more tornado pictures.)

“There were no limitations,” said tornado chaser Samaras. “It went absolutely crazy. It had nothing but hundreds of miles to grow and develop.”

The current record for a tornado’s ground time is three and a half hours, set in 1925 by a twister that killed 747 people as it moved 219 miles (352 kilometers) across Missouri andIllinois before falling apart in Indiana.

Wednesday night’s tornado outburst was the worst since April 3, 1974, when 330 people were killed from Alabama to Indiana (see map), experts say. (Also see pictures: “Tornadoes Ravage U.S. South” [2008].)

The outbreak was also the second to strike the South in fewer than two weeks. On April 16, a similar system of violent thunderstorms spawned about 140 tornadoes, killing 22 people in North Carolina….

Via Monster Alabama Tornado Spawned by Rare “Perfect Storm”

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Written by Nokgiir

May 2, 2011 at 5:34 am

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